For the next few blogs I'm going to focus on aromatherapy. I love using aromatherapy and I use it everyday in some form - whether it's wearing one of my natural perfumes/remedies, using my face oil, diffusing essential oils, having an aromatherapy bath, giving an aromatherapy massage or having a massage myself. This is a huge topic, and something that I believe should be explored in enough depth that you can feel confident using essential oils. I feel this is important because with the rise in popularity of essential oils there is a lot of misinformation out there. For this month, I'm introducing aromatherapy and discussing how to use the essential oils. I'll go more into the Science in next month's blog. I hope to help my readers get started with using essential oils in the most beneficial, safe and effective way possible.
What is Aromatherapy?
This is a question I get asked quite often. Aromatherapy isn't just about beautiful, natural aromas. It is an actual therapy, meaning that it may assist with relieving a disorder and bring about wellbeing as part of an integrative healing approach. In aromatherapy, volatile plant oils, otherwise known as 'essential oils', are used with different application methods to assist with a particular health issue (such as pain, headaches, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, mood disorders, insomnia, colds/coughs, etcetera), or to influence the mind and body to a particular wanted emotional state (calm, happiness, energised, focused), etcetera.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated natural essences from plants that are extracted through the process of steam distillation or cold expression of plant material such as flowers, leaves, grasses, trees, fruits and roots – from a single botanical source. Essential oils are highly aromatic, making their application very enjoyable. Each (true) essential oil is comprised of a different combination of natural (unaltered) chemical constituents that determine both its aroma and its synergy of therapeutic value. Essential oils directly affect the limbic system in the brain via the olfactory nerves and reach into the psyche, to relax the mind and uplift the spirit. I'll be discussing the limbic system in the next blog.
Essential oils are used widely in perfumery and for flavouring food. However the majority of a perfume is comprised of synthetic chemicals so people who don't like that chemical smell you get from perfumes and other synthetic fragrances (like myself!) will usually enjoy the smell of pure essential oils.
Are all Essential Oils labelled "100% pure" actually natural and therapeutic?
The short answer is no. Adulterated essential oils are usually created by mixing other cheaper essential oils together and/or synthetic chemicals to produce a similar scent. Some companies do this to maximise profits as it is cheap to do. I've had an experience with this when I tried a different brand and put an essential oil in the bath. I broke out in a painful rash all over my body when I had never experienced a reaction to that essential oil in the bath before. At that point I realised how different the oil smelled from the last bottle I had used, from a different brand. I felt powerless to do anything about it and it was disappointing.
It's important to source essential oils from a reputable company, as a synthetic substance does not contain any "life force" and if it's just a fragrance rather than a natural plant oil, it will not have therapeutic value. There are quite a few brands that can be trusted, so I wouldn't trust a sales person who says that theirs is the "best" brand. The essential oils that I use in my practice are Essential Therapeutics, which are TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) listed, have the country where it was sourced from, the expiry date, and the full botanical name. It is a trusted brand, started in 1987, and the first Australian company to source medicinal quality oils for Australian practitioners. TGA listed means that they have been tested for purity and the manufacturing conditions are witnessed and comply with TGA standards, on a consistent basis.
Price isn't necessarily a reflection of quality of essential oil. Some companies are selling essential oils with huge mark-ups (e.g. MLM companies). I don't blame the people selling for these companies as the marketing has been so effective so as to convince them that the price is fair, and that they are qualified to not only sell the essential oils but also give advice (sometimes unsafe advice) on how to use them. There also seems to be a trend in MLM companies to try to get people to buy lots of essential oils at once. The truth is you could start today with just one essential oil and find it makes a difference in your life. If you really want to utilise aromatherapy regularly anywhere between five to ten essential oils would be enough to start with. If you become an aromatherapy addict (like me!), you'll probably want more but it feels good to really get to know each oil and so acquire your collection more slowly rather than purchasing thirty oils straight away and not really knowing how to use them. Generally, you'll want to use most of the essential oils in a year. Some last longer (e.g. Patchouli can last around ten years!) but the citrus oils will expire sooner so it's best to acquire a collection that you'll actually use in that time. Note that in the rare instance that you don't get through the whole bottle of essential oil before its expiry date, you can use it as a cleaning product, so it never goes to waste!
What is an Aromatherapist?
A qualified Aromatherapist (such as myself) would usually have studied a minimum of a Diploma of Aromatherapy, where they have studied anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, the chemistry of essential oils, massage therapy, case studies and research, the therapist-client relationship, application methods, the role of olfaction and the limbic system, how essential oils influence the systems in the body (digestion, endocrine, muscular, nervous system etcetera), the effects on the emotions and psyche, as well as contraindications (some essential oils should not be used during pregnancy, epilepsy, etcetera). In addition there would be many supervised clinic hours successfully completed.
Generally, if you have a health issue that aromatherapy is known to help with, it is beneficial to see an Aromatherapist for a massage or consultation and to have a synergistic essential oil blend created especially for you that would be used during the massage and sometimes a take-home remedy. Aromatherapy massages are a very effective treatment for stress; and a blend of oils will be chosen to help with other health issues you may have, too.
Can someone untrained in aromatherapy use it?
Yes. Anyone can utilise aromatherapy at home and gain many benefits. However, they are not qualified to give other people advice on how to use essential oils because you need to be a health practitioner trained in Aromatherapy to give such advice. Considering that every essential oil is comprised of different natural chemical constituents, some knowledge is required to utilise it safely and effectively. Just because it is natural, doesn't mean it is weak. Actually, quite the contrary - essential oils are seventy times stronger than the plant source and are very concentrated so they need to be diluted. That is why it is best to purchase essential oils from an Aromatherapist and ask for advice on how to use your oils, as well as to read about Aromatherapy from a reputable source. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation on the internet, most of it from non-Aromatherapists selling essential oils or people earning commissions from affiliates. I list my references at the end of this blog if you want some suggestions for some good books - but if your interest isn't that strong and you just want to use it at home with little effort - just ask an Aromatherapist for advice. When a client sees me for an aromatherapy massage or to purchase essential oils I'm always happy to advise how to use the essential oils.
Aromatherapy - art or science?
I consider aromatherapy to be a holistic healing art and therapy that has scientific evidence supporting it. It allows me to be creative, while I use my knowledge and skills to assist people with various health issues or to reduce their stress. It is considered a complimentary therapy so it can be used in conjunction with other natural therapies or with allopathic medicine. Many of my clients enjoy having aromatherapy massages to reduce their stress levels and to help balance their hormones and mood. People going through a tough time, such as grief, break-up, life-changes or ongoing stress, also tend to find aromatherapy massages very helpful, as well as using essential oils at home.
How do I use Essential Oils?
There are many application methods when using essential oils, and all include inhalation. These include massage, bath, vaporisation, steam inhalation, sprays, natural essential oil perfume, moisturisers, gels, ointments and compresses. You can even use essential oils to clean your house and get rid of those harmful cleaning products! I'll explore a few application methods here to get you started.
The easiest way to use essential oils at home is via vaporisation. You can use the traditional method of an oil burner, with a tea-light candle and some water with 5-10 drops of essential oils (when using a candle ensure you never leave it burning unattended). Or you may prefer an electronic diffuser and there are many varieties to choose from. I have a diffuser that is also a humidifier and air purifier, which I find very good, and the essential oils remain cool and therefore chemically unaltered. However I also enjoy using my oil burner.
Steam inhalation is great for when you have a cold/cough/flu or sinus infection. Add 3-5 drops of essential oil (such as Eucalyptus) to a bowl of steaming water and place a towel over your head, keeping your eyes shut. Eucalyptus oil will speed your healing and help clear the airways. I think every household should have Eucalyptus oil because it is an excellent air-antiseptic (helping to stop the spread of germs), and it helps to reduce the severity of a cold, and you can even use it to clean the house!
As I write this, I'm inhaling spearmint oil to uplift my mind and avoid mental strain. I've diluted some spearmint oil (2 drops) in carrier oil (almond oil, 5ml) and rubbed it on my chest. So this is a topical application as well as an inhalation at the same time. I wouldn't use peppermint oil the same way as it is harsher on the skin (and I have sensitive skin). However I would use peppermint oil in a vaporiser to relieve a headache or massage my calves to reduce muscular tension (with an appropriately diluted mixture).
You can create a home-made chest rub by diluting eucalyptus oil and lavender oil in a carrier oil and rubbing on the chest to help with a cough/cold.
You can treat skin issues such as acne and eczema by using essential oils in vegetable oils topically too.
In truth, there are endless topical applications and essential oils are also great to use in beauty products, properly diluted. That's why I'm creating a range of face oils that are mostly organic, made of vegetable oils that are highly beneficial for the skin; as well as herbal extracts and essential oils. It's basically food for the face and in addition to moisturising the skin, it helps the skin to heal fast, reduces scars, reduces wrinkles/slows ageing, reduces inflammation, fights free radicals (has antioxidants), and helps acne, problem, and sensitive skin. I've been experimenting with face oils for a year now and found they helped my skin a lot. I have sensitive skin that is prone to acne. I've stopped using other moisturisers and just use my face oil now. The skin is an organ so it is important to use natural products on it wherever possible, as it will absorb what you put on it.
I've also created my own custom roll-on perfumes so I use these regularly to apply essential oils to my skin so I receive the benefits of aromatherapy throughout the day. The blend I'm using at the moment contains clary sage, rose geranium, roman chamomile and bergamot to balance my hormones, calm my nervous system, and uplift my mood. I create custom perfumes for my clients too.
As essential oils are so concentrated and strong, they do need to be diluted. For example, when massaging I use a dilution rate of 2.5% - 3% (unless my client is pregnant, or if I'm working on a child, then I use a lower dose). So approximately 97.5% of the mixture is made up of natural vegetable oil (such as apricot kernel oil or almond oil) and only 2.5% is essential oil. Really, that is all that is required for it to have an effect on the body; to have a beautiful aroma; and to ensure that it is not too strong for the skin. For application on the face, a lower dilution rate is used: 0.5% - 1%. During an aromatherapy massage the essential oils make their way into the blood stream via the hair follicles in the skin and you inhale the aroma at the same time - so double the benefit! Massage is very calming for the nervous system and therefore very beneficial for balancing hormones, and mood. Aromatherapy massage is also great for muscular pain.
My favourite application method, other than aromatherapy massage, is to have an aromatherapy bath. This way you receive benefit through the skin and via inhalation; while warming muscles and relieving muscular tension. Although when having a bath you'll need to use a dispersing agent - so the essential oils don't sit on top of the bath water with the potential to irritate skin. Hot water actually magnifies the absorption of essential oils.
Keep in mind that some essential oils should never be used in the bath, such as citrus oils, and peppermint as well as some spices like cinnamon and clove. Using those oils in the bath would irritate the skin.
Health Issues and Application Methods
Here are just some of the disorders that aromatherapy can assist with and I'll list the best application methods for them:
- Colds/viruses: Any of the inhalation methods - diffusers, chest rubs, steam inhalation, etcetera. In France, medical doctors also prescribe essential oils internally. However, you should never ingest essential oils without the guidance of a medical Aromatherapist. Essential oils are pretty much never prescribed internally in Australia. Also please note that you should not have a massage when you are sick - you put the massage therapist and all their clients at risk.
- Muscular pain and spasm: The best application method is a massage, followed by aromatherapy baths with added epsom salts. Topical applications, compresses and local massage also helps.
- Digestive issues: Any inhalation method and abdominal massage. Ingestive therapy under professional guidance only.
- Skin disorders, such as acne and eczema: Natural face and body oils created by an Aromatherapist. Inhalation and massages will also help to reduce stress levels in the body - stress can impact hormones and contribute to skin problems.
- Hormonal issues such as PMS, menopause, and irregular periods: Aromatherapy massages, inhalation, aromatherapy baths, topical applications.
- Headaches: Aromatherapy massage that includes the neck, upper back and head. Regular massages can prevent headaches and migraines, depending on the cause. Inhalation will also help, as well as topical applications to the back of the head and compresses.
- Stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders: Aromatherapy massage, aromatherapy baths, inhalation, and topical applications.
Please note that generally essential oils should not be ingested. Essential oils are used in the food industry to flavour food but they are used in very small quantities. Essential oils are not water soluble so ingestion of an essential oil in a bit of liquid can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract and nausea/vomiting. There is the possible destruction of essential oil constituents by stomach acidity and digestive enzymes. The best application method is through inhalation or through the skin.
In France essential oils are commonly used internally to treat illness, such as a virus, but these remedies are made by medical doctors and are administered appropriately in capsule form where the essential oil has been dispersed. So please don't drink essential oils in a glass of water. The molecules stay together and do not mix with the water, so It's not good for you! It's aromatherapy, not ingestive therapy, unless administered medically, prescribed by a suitably trained ingestive therapist.
The reason I'm advising this is because some companies are encouraging their distributers (people not trained in aromatherapy) to advise people they can ingest the oils. For example, one well known company states on their website (as checked on 14 October 2017): "Add essential oils to water, smoothies, milk, tea, or other drinks". This advice is unsafe. They also advise "The recommended dilution ratio is typically one drop of essential oil to three drops of carrier oil." (This equates to a dilation rate of 25% - which is generally not safe for the skin). Just be aware that sales people (non health professionals) want you to use essential oils as quickly as possible so that you will buy more oils. A little goes a long way so be careful where you source your information and remember this is aromatherapy, not ingestive therapy.
I believe aromatherapy is a highly beneficial treatment on it's own but I know that the best health outcomes will come from an integrative approach. What I mean by this is that you will experience greater changes in health by following a holistic approach. This means eating a whole-food mainly plant-based diet; using herbal medicine where necessary; exercising; having body therapies such as massage and acupuncture; adopting mindfulness practices, breathing exercises, and meditation; and practising yoga. That list may seem overwhelming to people who aren't doing any of those things yet, but by incorporating one thing per month and sticking with it, you can experience life changes and health benefits in a relatively short period of time. Aromatherapy is something that can be used to enhance some of these things too such as in massage, or to create a sacred space for meditation and yoga. As always, if you have a medical condition you should consult with your doctor before adopting lifestyle changes.
I don't want to overwhelm you with information so I'll be exploring the science of aromatherapy in the next blog.
If you are Brisbane based and interested in purchasing essential oils (Essential Therapeutics), please send me an email and request a price list/order form. Or better yet, book in for an Aromatherapy massage. Currently I'm only selling essential oils and my custom-made products to people in Brisbane because that way I can concentrate on being the best therapist possible and provide a personalised service. The face oils I'm creating are high potency - they are mostly organic and comprised of only active ingredients and synergistically balanced. My products are preservative free, completely natural, vegan and made with love and care. My custom made perfumes are made with organic jojoba oil and a unique blend of essential oils for you. I'm currently creating a range of natural perfumes as I find they smell a lot nicer than a chemical based perfume and they are good for you as they double as a remedy.
For a massage appointment or to set up a time to buy products directly from me, I can be contacted on: 0433 523 678 or you may contact me via Facebook Messenger.
Battaglia, S (2003). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (second edition), Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy
Price, S, Price L. (2007) Aromatherapy for Health Professionals (third edition), China: Elsevier
Mojay, G (1997) Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, China: Gaia Books Limited
Worwood, V, (1990) The Fragrant Pharmacy: A complete guide to aromatherapy & essential oils London: Macmillan London Ltd
Sellar, W (2005) The Directory of Essential oils, London, UK: Random House.
I'm not the only one talking about MLM companies. Check out this blog by Katherine Maslen, a naturopath. Her post focuses on ingestion and how it is unsafe.
Information provided by Essential Restorative Massage is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a health condition or symptoms of one, please consult with your doctor before using complimentary remedies and therapies.
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