What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a treatment method that has to do with the absorption of active ingredients to treat something. It can be through the skin, for example by mixing with another oil during a massage or by adding the active ingredient to the bathwater and taking a long bath. It can be done by absorption of active ingredients through the lungs, for example by a diffuser. Through inhalation, by directly smelling from the bottle or spraying the active ingredient in the air. Another way is to prepare a perfume according to personal preference and put it on the skin (this way the active ingredients are absorbed through the skin and the airways by smelling).
Aromatherapy is done with essential oils. The active ingredients of aromatherapy are essential oils and the specific active ingredients in every oil.
Essential oils are basically the distilled essences of plants that are produced from the leaves, flowers, stems, fruits, and roots of plants. They are the most basic and distilled essence of a plant.
If you want to get a subjective practical idea about it you can take a handful of rosemary or lavender leaves and put them in a small saucepan with water. Put the pot on the back burner and let it warm up slowly. Within a few minutes, you will start seeing small drops of oil floating on the water. It’s rosemary or lavender essential oil. This is the essence of the plant. You can collect it with a spoon and use it, but my recommendation is to buy essential oils. Why? Because the professional production of essential oils doesn’t use heating (which kills some of the plant’s active ingredients) and therefore the oil contains everything the plant has to offer. In addition, you get only the oil without residual water and small floating particles that appear in homemade oils. Even though in the past, before the advancements of the industrial era, that was the production method of those oils. And to produce enough of the oil so you can work with it, you have to cook quite a bit of the plant. So if you are interested in seeing the process, then have fun, but I really don’t recommend that you start producing essential oils at home.
Back to business, the essential oils are the essence of the plant, but what makes them so amazing and different from the plant itself?
Difference Between Essential Oils and Plants
The molecules of essential oils are so small that there are a few billions of them in one drop. Because of this very small size, the active ingredients can be easily absorbed through the skin and lungs. This is actually why aromatherapy is so effective. Because of the rapid absorption of the active ingredients that reach the lymphatic system and from there the bloodstream. When they reach the bloodstream they begin to repair the body from within. They fight infection, reduce inflammation, neutralize oxidants, repair imbalances, etc.
Essential oils are filled with all kinds of active ingredients (each essential oil has a specific set of active ingredients that address specific adverse conditions). They also have an ingredient called Terpene (if now it’s a misunderstood word, it will be clarified later).
These terpenes do all kinds of things in our bodies and they’re the ones that make the essential oil so effective.
There are disinfecting terpenes (antiseptic), for example in the essential oils distilled from lavender, eucalyptus, tea tree, lemon, and pine. That’s what makes these specific oils great as antiseptics. That is why they are so popular in products for acne treatment and in detergents.
There are terpenes the reduce inflammation, for example, lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood. Therefore, these oils are popular in natural mixtures for the treatment of various skin inflammation and also used in aromatherapy (absorption through the lungs) for the treatment of various inflammation inside the body. For example, if there is pneumonia, it is excellent to put an oil burner in the room, and in the water of the burner add 5 drops from one of the oils indicated here. This shortens the recovery time considerably.
There are terpenes that affect the nervous system and muscles, so they are excellent for people suffering from insomnia and help sick children sleep better. In this category the are oils from geranium, ylang-ylang, lavenderand Clary Sage.
The essential oils are always mixed with a carrier oil – see an explanation in the article Essential & Carrier Oils in Natural Cosmetics & Safety Measures,in a section called “carrier oils.”
Before you start using essential oils, there are some basic safety measures that need to be observed:
- Buy essential oils only from respectable and well-known suppliers/sellers. Each country has it’s own known and respectable sellers of natural medicine and essential oils. Usually, it will be either a big and respectable company, or a local homeopathic pharmacy with years of good reputation. I like the sites I Herb and Amazon because they are reputable. A company that specializes in essential oils that I love very much and order most of my oils from is dōTERRA. I mainly recommend them because they really specialize only in essential oils and this is one of the largest companies in the market in this field. There are also smaller companies to order essential oils from, and in many cases these are serious and respected companies. So don’t be afraid, simply research the subject.
The reason for this warning is that in the fields of essential oils, because those are expensive products, there are a lot of counterfeit oils. Or, in some cases, essential oils that are 50 essential oil and 50 or more synthetic substance that has a similar odor to increase the volume. Because those are substances that absorbed through the skin and the lungs very easily and really affect the whole body, it is not advisable to take chances. Pay a few $ more and know that you getting the real thing.
- You must do a sensitivity test. Before using any oil for the first time, you must check for sensitivity (it’s not advisable to discover it through a puffy red face). Put one drop of essential oil in 15 drops of any carrier oil – for this test you can use one of the cooking oils you have at home if you don’t have a carrier oil, and spread over the upper part of the arm beneath the shoulder before bedtime. If you wake up in the morning and everything is fine – there is no redness, itching, or any other allergic reaction, the oil is safe to use.
- Essential oil must be diluted to a proper degree. The dilution is counted in percentages against the carrier oil. One drop of essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil is a 1% dilution, 2 drops in a teaspoon of carrier oil is a 2% dilution, and so on.
Or alternatively, one drop of essential oil in 5 ml. of carrier oil is a 1% dilution, 2 drops in 5 ml. that’s 2% and so on.
Because the quantity of 5 ml. is not very comfortable to work with or measure, usually start the measurement from 10 ml. (which you measure with a syringe) and then 2 drops is 1% dilution, 4 drops 2%, and so on.
The most common and most recommended dilution by alternative healers or in natural cosmeticians is 5-7, 2% considered the safest dilution, and there are situations the recommended dilution goes up as high as 10% or sometimes even higher.
I personally usually go for a dilution of 5% for an oil I use only occasionally, and the dilution of 3% for an oil I use a lot like camomile. Only if I treat a very specific thing on a small area of skin – like a pimple or a burn – I go up to a 10% dilution.
The only oil that is the exception to the rule is lavender essential oil which can be used undiluted on burns, cuts, insect bites, scratches, or chafed skin. If used undiluted, you spread it only on the damaged area with a cotton swab.
[Don’t get spooked if this sounds a bit complicated. All the natural cosmetics recipes and all the natural cures in the blog published with the correct dilution. The formula is given here for those who want to experiment and develop things on their own.]
- Pregnant women and people with epilepsy or high blood pressure should work with essential oils very carefully. It is recommended that you consult a natural naturopath/healer first and not exceed the dilution of 1% (explanation of the percentages in the previous section) unless explicit approval is given to increase the dosage.
- Must, must, must be kept out of reach of children.