Aromatherapy is the science of using essential oils to evoke the powerful olfactory sense (sense of smell) to create balance and healing in the human system of physical and mental wellbeing. Aromatherapy sounds like it just refers to scents and smelling – and often it does – but really it refers to all use of essential oils, including using them topically or internally.
Research indicates that doctors who have been providing treatment to patients suffering from anosmia (loss of sense of smell) have repeatedly found that this deficiency is linked to high incidence of mental/psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression and paranoia.
How does aromatherapy work?
On closer examination of the olfactory faculty in humans, it is interesting to note that we have the ability to distinguish more than 10,000 diverse smells.
The mechanism of smelling works in this manner – when a particular smell comes in contact with the limbic system, via the network of fine hair called cilia which form the inner lining of the nose, it reaches the part of the brain which also controls moods, memory, emotions and learning, which is also the center of the brain which processes olfactory stimuli.
Via this process, an olfactory stimulus is translated into an actual olfactory experience. Hence it becomes evident that the olfactory center is also linked to emotions, learning, alertness, memory, and moods.
Aromatherapy research regarding brain wave frequency has validated this theory, and further studies have revealed that inhaling the fragrance of lavender immediately spikes up alpha waves which signify deep relaxation. Another similar example reveals that inhalation of the jasmine fragrance stimulates beta waves on brain wave frequency mapping studies, which is indicative of alertness and a sharp state of mind.
These and other such scientific studies reveal that the constituents of essential oils are chemical compounds that have a very specific and focused impact on the combined states of mind and body.
The effects of aromatherapy are as varied as the types of oils available, and it is important to understand what your requirements are, what effects you would like to see and experience, and based on the same, the essential oil can be chosen to bring about the desired effect.
Different oils bring different health and medical benefits of aromatherapy. Some oils have a relaxing effect, some revitalizing, some stimulating, and others antiseptic, etc. They can thus be used for varied aromatherapy remedies.
When talking about aromatherapy, essential oils are mainly discussed; however, essential oils are just one aspect of this branch of healing. Aromatherapy includes all the different types of oils, and it is important to understand their uses, and the effects of aromatherapy that are caused by them in the human body.
At the top of the list are essential oils which are extracted from herbs / plants via a process of steam distillation. The fragrance of the essential oil is used for medicinal purposes.
Absolutes are a different element of aromatherapy oils, and are more potent than essential oils. The method of extraction is different in that it is extracted through chemical expression.
Absolutes bring about different effects of aromatherapy as compared to essential oils. They contain trace quantities of solvent, which could potentially trigger allergic reactions, so caution should be exercised when used. Due to the chemical process required for extractions, Absolutes are not nearly as natural as essential oils. They are viscous, thick and highly potent.
Hypercritical carbon dioxide or CO2s
This is a type of oil that requires extraction by utilizing pressure to convert gases in plants to liquid. The CO2 in plants is subjected to extreme pressure to bring about its liquidation. In the process the essential oil contained within also gets dissolved in the extracted liquid CO2.
Through a process of removing the pressure, the pure essential oil is separated from the carbon dioxide since CO2 evaporates when pressure is normalized.
This category mainly comprises of volatile compounds found in plants which could not be extracted by any of the other available methods. This type of aromatherapy oil is thick and viscous.
Hydrosols or hydrolytes is the leftover liquid which is a by-product of the process of extraction of aromatherapy oils via steam or water distillation.
This is the floral water which will have a strong fragrance of the extracted oil, as also the some of the attributes, a milder version of the essential oil. These find their way in cosmetic products such as skin astringents, toners and perfume sprays. The effects of aromatherapy of these oils would not be strong as those of the essential oils.
This type of aromatherapy oil is created by heating the selected herbs in carrier oil so the attributes of smell and flavour of the herb is infused in the oil.
This is a simple method of obtaining the effects of the herb and enjoying the effects of aromatherapy without having to go through the elaborate process of steam distillation, and can be made at home for use as massage oils, etc.
Carrier oils are used as a base for other essential oils in aromatherapy. A neutral of mild fragrance oil is frequently used as carrier oil, e.g. jojoba, almond, etc.
Strong and powerful essential oils cannot be used directly on the skin and have to be blended with a carrier oil to avoid the possible negative effectives of aromatherapy, for example risk of allergy, irritation, etc. Carrier oils are generally used for massage oils, perfume oils, etc.
Resins are the sticky substances that one sees oozing from trees when they are injured. Obviously they have healing properties which are used in aromatherapy.
These resins are extracted by solvent or alcohol since they cannot be used directly in aromatherapy oils. Liquid resins are used in aromatherapy for medicinal / healing purposes.
Blends, as is suggested by the term, are mixtures of two or more essential oils. They can also be essential oils that are mixed with carrier oils or distilled water. Different blends are used to produce the desired effects of aromatherapy.
Understanding and classifying the chemistry of essential oils is complicated since the classifications include different types of chemical compounds such as alcohols, ketones, aldehydes, esters, and terpenes.
However, the science of aromatherapy has studied and recorded the chemical composition of each one of these classifications, and today, is a vital part of alternative medicine therapies offered to the public worldwide.
Types of Aromatherapy Chemical Compounds
Aldehydes impart the benefits of anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and sedative properties, and hence are used to treat conditions that require the aforementioned attributes.
The essential oils contain these active constituents possess a lemony fragrance and found in herbs such as lemon grass, lemon balm, citronella and eucalyptus.
Alcohols impart the benefits of stimulant, energizing, vitalizing, antiviral and diuretic properties.
Alcohols are found in rose, rosewood, peppermint, myrtle, patchouli, ginger and sandalwood.
Phenols impart the benefits of antibacterial, tonic, stimulant, immune-system boosting, invigorating and warming properties. It is frequently used in soothing salves, balms and lozenges and cough drops. Over-use can sometimes produce toxicity.
Phenols are found in clove, cinnamon, thyme, cumin and oregano essential oils.
The first among the various types of aromatherapy chemical compounds to be covered is Ketones. Ketones or Cetone have the properties of wound healing, stimulant (new cell growth), mucolytic and is used in nail polish.
Ketones are present in the essential oils of camphor, rosemary, eucalyptus, sage and hyssop.
Terpenes impart the benefits of stimulant, soother of skin irritation, and anti-viral attributes. These compounds are found in lemon grass, black pepper, nutmeg, bergamot, and angelica.
These impart the benefits of anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, sedative, immune-system boosting, and bacteriostatic properties.
These active chemical compounds are found in chamomile, tansy, yarrow and immortal.
Esters impart the benefits of calming, sedative, spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.
These chemical compounds are found in the essential oils of Roman chamomile, petitgrain, bergamot, sage and clary.
Lactones impart similar benefits as esters and are part of the same group. They impart the benefits of anti-inflammatory and mucolytic properties.
These chemical compounds are found in arnica and elecampane.
Ethers are the last major group of the various types of aromatherapy chemical compounds and have a harmonizing effect on the nervous system, as well as antiseptic, expectorant, stimulant, spasmolytic and diuretic attributes.
These compounds are found in clove, anise, tarragon, parsley and sassafras.
Thinking of mixing your own aromatherapy oils?
Once you have understood the fundamentals of aromatherapy such as what is aromatherapy, how does it work, what are the types of aromatherapy and other such information, you may want to mix your own aromatherapy oils at home.
If this is the case, it is important to assess what your needs are, and then proceed. Absolutes, resins and CO2s are concentrated essential oils and will need to be used only if that particular essential oil is not available.
The best bet when you want to make your own oils is infused oils which can be made at home, as also hydrosols which have a mild, diluted effect, of that particular essential oil.
As stated earlier, it is important to assess your requirement and then go out and purchase just one or two that you need to make a blend at home. There is no need to go out and buy a whole bunch of essential oils, which you may never use, if you are not clear what the purpose is.
When mixing your own aromatherapy oils, i.e. mixing two or more essential oils, it is important to have a balanced, harmonious blend of oils for the desired effects. This blending of oils if done perfectly is called synergy.
Items Needed for Mixing Your Own Aromatherapy Oils
The tools required to mix your own essential oils are measuring spoons, small clean bottles that can hold up to 30 ml of oil for mixing, and if the essential oils that you purchased did not come with droppers (which they usually do), then you will need droppers, one each for each oil.
Procedure for Mixing Your Own Aromatherapy Oils
The process of mixing your own essential oil is as described below. This process will give you a 2.5 % dilution.
- Carefully measure 4 teaspoons (or 20 ml) of any carrier oil of your choice into a dark colored glass (dark brown preferably).
- Add about 10 drops of essential oils.
- This mixture should be blended well by shaking.
- Ensure that the bottle is tightly screwed on to avoid spillage.
- This new blend of oils will need to be used within 1 month.
- This strength of dilution is best suited for massage purposes.For a blend of 1% dilution, the same process is to be followed. However the quantities will change. Mix 4 drops of essential oils with about 20 ml of carrier oils.
This type of diluted blend is best for children upwards of 3 years to 10 years, and also for pregnant women.
Some of the general guidelines to follow while mixing your own essential oils are:
- To wash your hands before and after mixing the oils.
- Exact measures as indicated should also be used, so drops should be counted carefully in the preparation process.
- Further, the dropper should be held correctly so the hole on the top should be uppermost, to avoid excess drops flowing through when dropper is squeezed.
- Also, once blended, the essential oils should be kept in dark colored, tightly capped bottles, in a cool, dark place. They can last for years if stored correctly.Other general guidelines for mixing your own aromatherapy oils are:
- To never ingest essential oils (diluted or otherwise).
- Concentrated oil must never be used on skin directly.
- Carrier oils should be used to dilute.
- If there is likelihood that you could be pregnant, caution should be exercised since certain essential oils could be dangerous.
- Also, if there is a pre-existing condition like hypertension, expert medical advice should be sought prior to commencing aromatherapy.
- Always read and follow the warnings regarding each oil. These are powerful substances and need to be respected.
Are you looking for some simple aromatherapy home recipes or easy aromatherapy recipes for the house?
Making use of aromatherapy at home has many beneficial effects. It can harmonize and make the atmosphere very pleasant and uplifting, which is a great mood enhancer for all family members.
If it is a general pick-me-up that you or anyone in your family needs, aromatherapy can create the right ambience in any home.
A simple recipe for aromatherapy air freshener that is made by blending oils is to add 8 to 10 drops of any essential oil in a cup of water and fill this in a spray mist bottle. After shaking the bottle well, this spray can be used as a misty fresh air spray for the home and pet area.
Another aromatherapy home recipe for a home spray is to carry out the following:
- You will need a 4 ounce clean spray container and a blend of essential oils of your choice. To this you will add 3 ounces of distilled water.
- The essential oils that can be used, for example, are 20 drops of orange essential oil, 14 drops of bergamot, 4 drops of ylang ylang and 2 drops of rose.
- When mixed in the manner described, you will have your orange blossom air freshener, which will make your home a fragrant heaven.
- Similarly, you can create as many blends, aromatherapy formulas or aromatherapy recipes as you like with other essential oils. The process will remain largely the same.Other general guidelines for easy aromatherapy home recipes are as follows:
- Synthetic air fresheners are bad for the environment. Replace them with air fresheners made with essential oils such as lavender, geranium and rose.
- Cedar wood balls are a good, natural aromatherapy substitute for insecticide filled moth balls. Cotton balls dipped in a bit of lavender oil also make great closet fresheners.
- A good deodorizer is to drop lemon oil in the water prior to mopping. This will also sterilize your floors besides making it smell good. Use natural cleaners. Alternatively, simply use vinegar, lemon juice and borax. For carpet cleaning solution, you can put 10-15 drops of lemon oil in each gallon to help pull out stains and brighten the rug. This also leaves a fresh smell in the room.
There are little or no dangers to using these simple aromatherapy home recipes or easy aromatherapy recipes for the house, so feel free to try them. They can help turn your home into a healthy and fragrant haven.
Part II: Medical benefits of aromatherapy, research, aromatherapy for stress relief and more.