Essential oils work on two distinct levels, the psychological and the physical. Imagine some of your favorite aromas. How do they make you feel? Certain smells can trigger happy memories of places or people, taking you back to early childhood, to the kitchen at home, perhaps, or to a particular person, such as your mother. Some smells will make you think of a certain time of year – the freshness of spring or the sun-baked days of summer. Other smells that you find enjoyable might be harder to explain – they simply make you feel good. If you are trying to sell your house, the estate agent may well tell you to put a pot of coffee on the stove before prospective buyers come to view, or make some bread or cakes to fill the house with the scent of fresh baking.
Scent of Essential Oils
Smell is a primitive and powerful sense. Not only can it alert us to danger (think of the odor of meat that has gone bad or the smell of a gas leak), it can also trigger memories, alter our moods and either attract us to, or put us off, potential mates. Recent research has shown that human beings have not yet become so sophisticated that the sense of smell has become irrelevant in the process of sexual attraction. No matter how beautiful, intelligent and witty you might be, the object of your heart’s desire will still be affected by your own, very individual smell.
The fragrant essential oils of many plants can have quite a powerful effect on the mind, altering mood quite noticeably when they are inhaled. This is what makes aromatherapy particularly useful in the treatment of mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety and the consequent effects these problems have on the individual’s ability to function properly. Some oils will have a definite sedative, calming effect, whilst others are useful for their stimulant properties, increasing mental and physical energy. Certain oils are particularly good at helping to focus the mind; such oils are often burned in incense, as an aid to meditation. Some oils will stimulate sexual appetites and can be used as aphrodisiacs.
How Do Essential Oils Enter the Body?
There are three ways by which essential oils can enter the body. The first of these is by inhalation, which allows for the oil molecules to enter the body through the tiny capillaries supplying the respiratory organs.
Essential oils can also be absorbed into the body by skin absorption – by bathing in hot water to which oils have been added, by applying essential oils in topical preparations or in compresses, and by massage.
The third means by which essential oils can enter the body is by ingestion. Some qualified aromatherapists will prescribe the use of some essential oils in this way, but on the whole massage is the preferred method of treatment. Ingestion of essential oils is potentially very dangerous and should never be tried in the home.
Enhancing Immune System
One property that many essential oils have in common is the ability to stimulate the body’s immune system, that is, to encourage the body to heal itself. Antiseptic and bactericidal properties are also common to most essential oils eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil being particularly useful in this respect. Many oils (tea-tree oil falls into this category too) have antiviral and/or fungicidal properties.
Antibiotics have for many years been an invaluable weapon in the war against many diseases, but overuse has led to an increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Antibiotics also kill off many other, harmless and/or beneficial bacteria, leading to problems such as Candida albicans; or thrush, and they can have unpleasant side effects. When suffering from a relatively minor infection that is likely to respond well to treatment with essential oils, it makes a lot of sense to choose this option rather than resorting to antibiotics
Application Methods for Essential Oils
There are several ways for how to use essential oils. Among these, massage is the most common practice. However, it is also possible to benefit from essential oils by way of inhalation. Moreover, bathing should also be mentioned as people tend to use aromatherapy in connection with spa as well. Let us go deep into detail about these now 🙂
Massage with Essential Oils
This is the main method of treatment used by qualified aromatherapists. Massage allows for a combination of the beneficial effects of the absorption of essential oils through the skin and those of therapeutic massage; as the therapist’s hands work on the patient’s body, circulation and lymphatic drainage will be stimulated and the patient’s muscles will relax. At the same time, helped by the heat caused by the friction of the therapist’s hands on the patient’s body, the oil molecules can enter the body through the skin and will start to take effect on the patient. The patient will gain further benefit as he or she breathes in the fragrance.
While not all the oils that are used by aromatherapists in practice are recommended for use in the home, there is nonetheless a wide variety of essential oils that can be used perfectly safely by people who lack the aromatherapists’ expertise but want to derive some benefit and pleasure from home massage. Essential oils for massage can be diluted in a base oil, either singly or blended with one or two other harmonizing, synergistic, oils.
Base oils suitable for aromatherapy include almond oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil, and wheatgerm oil. Doubtless you will have your own preferences, but each has its own qualities; avocado, for example, is beneficial to dry skin. Try to establish that the base oil you intend to use has been cold-pressed and preferably is organic and thus as pure and chemical-free as possible. When it comes to the dilution quantities, 1-3 per cent essential oil to base oil is generally a safe option, but if you have any doubts, you can check with an aromatherapist.
Inhaling Essential Oils
Steam inhalation is used mostly for the treatment of respiratory disorders. To prepare, fill a fairly large bowl with very hot water and add a few drops of the essential oil, or oils, of choice. Drape a towel over your head and ‘tent’ it all round the bowl then breathe in the scented steam deeply. Continue treatment for a few minutes, but stop if you feel too hot. Place the bowl on a surface at a height that does not require you to bend over it. Raising your head suddenly, especially if you have been bending over, might cause dizziness. Steam inhalation is beneficial to respiratory ailments in two ways. Firstly, the steam moistens the airways and helps to loosen mucus and clear blocked sinuses. Secondly, the essential oil vapors will enter the bloodstream rapidly and work their own individual ‘magic’, whether this is to promote expectoration or fight off infection.
Dry inhalation is also beneficial with certain aromatic oils and can be useful in the treatment of asthmatics, whose lungs may be irritated by steam inhalation. A few drops of essential oil can be applied to a handkerchief that is then held a few inches under the patient’s nose as he or she breathes in. Alternatively, a few drops can be placed on the pillow (away from the eyes) at bedtime. Eucalyptus oil is a favorite for use in dry inhalation to ease the discomfort of blocked noses. Lavender oil on the pillow will help promote restful sleep.
If you are treating oily skin with aromatic steam, it is pleasant to finish treatment with a refreshing splash of rose water, which will tone the skin. Steam treatment is not recommended if you suffer from thread veins or if you have any inflammatory skin condition.
Steam Facial with Essential Oils
A steam facial, taken in much the same way as a steam inhalation, can be a very effective way of opening the pores and cleansing the skin, particularly skin that is prone to oiliness and spots. There are several essential oils that can be used in this way. It is pleasant and refreshing to finish off the treatment with a splash of rose water.
Do not use steam facials if you have broken veins or very sensitive skin.
Bathing with Essential Oils
Aromatic bathing is a wonderful way to treat yourself and do yourself some good at the same time. Bathing with essential oils allows for the oil to be absorbed firstly through the skin and secondly, as the oils evaporate in the steam from the bath, through inhalation of the fragrant steamy atmosphere in the bathroom. This form of treatment has the advantage that, unlike massage, it can be done without the help of another person.
Run a hot bath with the door and windows closed and add a few drops (3-10, depending on the oil or oils of choice) of essential oil into the water. Make sure that the oil is thoroughly dispersed in the water to avoid the possibility of concentrated amounts of oil coming into contact with the skin. Prolonged and frequent use of essential oils can damage the surface of some baths; make sure the bath is thoroughly cleaned out afterwards. To avoid problems with sensitive skin, and also to preserve your bath, dilute the essential oil in a base oil before you add it to the bath. You can also dilute the essential oil in milk.
Choose your essential oil or oils according to the desired effect you wish to achieve – rosemary to revive your flagging spirits, perhaps, or chamomile to set you up for a good night’s sleep. Take all the time you need – lie back in the water and breathe deeply – an aromatic bath should be a very pleasurable experience.
A Little Note for Bathing
Don’t use soaps, bath oils or shampoos in an aromatic bath. If you want to clean yourself with soap, or wash your hair, do this beforehand – have a quick shower or wash before you run your aromatic bath.
An aromatic footbath is also a soothing and refreshing way of treating tired, aching feet and will benefit not only your feet but also your whole body. If you only have a shower at home, treat yourself to a footbath from time to time. Lavender, peppermint and rosemary are particularly beneficial at the end of a long day. Footbaths can also help to warm cold feet, and the addition of appropriate oils will stimulate the circulation.
Sitz baths, or hip baths, are particularly beneficial in the treatment of menstrual disorders, thrush, cystitis, hemorrhoids and constipation. When treating hemorrhoids or vaginal thrush keep the water around body temperature, but otherwise the water should be quite hot. Tea tree oil is particularly useful in the treatment of thrush.
Some problems respond well to treatment with compresses, made by soaking cloths or towels in either hot or ice-cold water – whichever is appropriate – and adding a few drops of essential oil. Cold compresses are useful for treating headaches, fever and pain from recent bruising or muscle strain. Hot compresses, applied to the relevant parts of the body, can alleviate menstrual cramping and muscle and joint pain and can be particularly soothing for chronic pain caused by arthritis and rheumatism. Hot compresses can also be used to treat boils.
To prepare a compress, fill a bowl with either hot or iced water, according to your needs. Soak a folded cloth in the water and wring it out. Add three or four drops of essential oil to the water in the bowl and swirl it round to disperse it thoroughly. Lay your cloth lightly back on the surface of the water, then wring out again and apply to the affected part for treatment.
If you are using a hot compress, place some polythene or clingfilm over the compress with another cloth on top. This will help to retain the heat.
If you are treating headache with a cold compress, make sure that the compress is well wrung out and will not drip. It is important that the essential oil is kept away from the eyes.
Mouthwashes with Essential Oils
Some essential oils can be added to warm water and used as mouthwashes or gargles to combat gum inflammation, bad breath, oral thrush and mouth ulcers. In order to avoid irritation of the mouth, the oil should be first diluted in a small amount of alcohol – vodka is generally recommended. Add two drops of essential oil to a teaspoon of vodka and mix into half a glass of warm water to prepare your mouthwash. Tea-tree oil is safe to add to warm water without alcohol, but this is the exception.
But you should always be careful not to swallow!