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What is Aromatherapy

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of naturally extracted aromatic plant essences to support health and wellness.  Essential oils, the most widely recognized aromatic essences, are used in traditional, alternative and complementary therapies.  Aromatherapists use essential oils as part of a holistic approach to health and wellness that recognizes the mind-body connection.  Taking care of yourself through exercise, nutrition, social support and proper medical care and simply treating yourself well all work together to your benefit.  Based on the properties of each essential oil, appropriate use can  provide support and the pleasant fragrances contribute to a sense of well-being.  What are essential oils and how can they help?

Essential oils are distilled or expressed aromatics extracted from plants.  Oils can be comprised of over 200 individual chemical components.  Chemical components are important because they determine the behavior and aroma of essential oils. There are 10 primary chemical families with generalizations that can be made about each.  For instance, monoterpenes (ex: citrus oils) are great airborne deodorizers.  Essential oils may have components from many chemical families or may contain components that are primarily from one chemical family.  Aromatherapists understand these components and are trained in their effective use.

Methods of Delivery

Essential oils can be delivered to your body through inhalation or topical application.  They can be added to a room diffuser, steamy shower, aromatic sprays, foot soak or bath salts, skin-nourishing jojoba or other carrier oils and lotions and convenient personal inhalers. There are different styles of jewelry and sports wrist bands designed to safely hold essential oils so they are not in direct contact with skin.  The purpose of the essential oil blend as well as personal preference play a role in determining which delivery method is most appropriate.

Appropriate aromatherapy can create a supportive environment for a variety of issues, complementing medical care by:

  • creating a pleasant, calming environment for bedtime and during times of stress
  • providing topical blends to massage sore muscles and joints 
  • soothing you during cold and allergy seasons
  • providing pleasant fragrances for belly issues and headaches
  • So much more….

Essential Oil Quality

Terms such as ‘therapeutic grade,’ ‘medical grade’ or ‘pharmaceutical grade’ are not regulated nor defined and are used as a marketing tool.  Essential oils must be pure and of high quality. By “pure” we mean a lack of adulteration by synthetic fragrance oils or other contaminants and that the oil in the bottle is the same as that listed is on the label.  Adulteration is an increasing issue as demand increases for these often limited resources.  Adulterated oils are less effective and have the potential to cause skin sensitivity, headaches and other symptoms often associated with synthetics.

At a minimum, essential oil labels should contain the common name of the plant from which the oil was extracted, the botanical name, country of origin, method of extraction (ex: steam distilled, absolute, CO2 extraction or cold-pressed), lot number or other tracking method as well as any required precautionary statements.  Suppliers should be able to provide a GC-MS (Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry) analysis to show the naturally occurring chemical components of the oil.  These reports help validate the source plant, country of origin and can help identify adulteration.  GC-MS cannot identify most pesticides and herbicides, hence the emphasis on using organic oils or those extracted from crops grown without sprays or synthetic treatments.

Safety & precautions

Many of us turn to aromatherapy and essential oils as we search for natural products and begin to reduce the 'load' on our bodies. With that in mind, using more of a product, even a natural product, defeats the purpose. Trained aromatherapists generally use blends containing from 1% to 3% essential oils.  More is not necessarily better as your body has to work to eliminate an excess of anything.

Essential oils should be used with an awareness of safety.  With very few exceptions, oils should not be used ‘neat’, without proper dilution.  Care must be taken with children, the elderly and those who have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medications.  Some oils can make you more sensitive to the sun or light used in tanning booths. Additional information can be found on the Essential Oil Safety information sheet provided during appointments with Brandywne Botanicals and on the NAHA web site.