I’ve been loving learning about essential oils and aromatherapy recently, so I decided it was time to share my current understanding and discoveries as I dip my toe into this practice.
I was first introduced to essential oils when I was a teenager and often had difficulty sleeping. Mum gave me my own little lavender roller ball which I rubbed onto my wrists and behind my ears before bedtime. I didn’t really think a whole lot more about this until more recently when I experienced it being used in yoga classes and diffused within different studios. I decided I wanted to find out more about using these remedies – the science, the benefits and what I could actually do with these cool little smelly bottles.
What is an essential oil?
Aromatherapy is an old alternative medicine practice that uses your olfactory sense (your smell). The tiny molecules are taken in through your nose or skin and stimulate the part of your brain which is connected to memory and mood.
An essential oil is a liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Essential oils are often used for aromatherapy in which healing effects are attributed to that plant. You can also use essential oils in other ways – for example, as an alternative to using chemicals when cleaning.
What’s the science?
Scientifically speaking, there aren’t many large-scale official studies that have been done on the effects of essential oils on overall health, however, on a small scale there are several studies which do suggest that essential oils when used in aromatherapy and when used correctly, do have some healing properties. For example, ‘a study from the Mie University School of Medicine found that patients with depression needed smaller doses of antidepressant medications after citrus fragrance treatment. Another study from the University of Vienna demonstrated that when the scent of orange oil was used in dental clinics, female patients exhibited decreased anxiety. These studies suggest that some fragrances may have a clinically quantifiable effect on mood.’
In another interesting study on the effectiveness of aromatherapy for depressive symptoms, scientists found that ‘aromatherapy showed potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects.’ This study found that with regular use, essential oils can have an impact on mood particularly when used in combination with massage.
Some advocates for using essential oils and brands themselves do claim that oils can help for things like pain management and preventing illness or disease. I haven’t personally been able to find evidence for this when conducting my own mainstream/Western medicine research, other than the research conducted by the the brands themselves. That said, one article from Yale Scientific stated ‘aromatherapy may not have been proved to reduce pain, promote health, or prevent hair loss at the very least, it can improve your mood.’ There’s therefore no need to be completely sceptical in my eyes and if something as simple as using an essential oil can provide a little ‘pick me up’ or a means to help ease tension I’m all for it! Perhaps I’m just one of those people that prefer many tools to my ‘emotional balance kit’. Pile ‘em all in I say!
How do you use aromatherapy oils?
There are 3 ways you can use/take good quality essential oils.
Internally – Ingested (check that you can ingest on the label as you can’t do this with all oils/brands).
To do this you can combine 1 drop at the bottom of a glass and then fill the rest of the glass with water. Alternatively, you can add 1 drop to your hand and then transfer the drop to the roof of your mouth to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Topically – This means directly to the skin for example on your pulse point or chakra points.
Aromatically – From the bottle, from your hands, from a diffuser or in the bath with Epsom salts (helps to disperse oil.)
What oils should I be using?
One thing to get really clear about is that the quality of the oil you use will have an impact on its level of effectiveness. Using an aromatherapy oil which is mixed with other chemicals or artificial fragrances (and therefore far removed from the plant’s essential extract), means that you can’t guarantee the same benefits.
When looking for a brand or product, you want to opt for a certified essential oil producer like DoTerra. A good quality oil will be strong/potent – 1-2 drops should be enough and if using a single source oil i.e lavender oil (not a blend), then that is basically all you should see on the ingredients list – lavender. Simple really.
If using a blend like a ‘sleep’ blend or an ‘energy’ blend, the ingredients list should still be simple and should include only ingredients that make up this aromatic blend – no chemicals or unusual additives.
For great ‘on the go’ use, I opt for roller bottles. Rollers like the ones from DoTerra are diluted in fractionated coconut oil and are great for travelling, at your desk or just pulling out of your bag when you’re moving about. Fractionated coconut oil (liquified coconut oil with no smell) is the perfect oil when combining with neat essential oil and can also be used for massage. An example for this would be when using aromatherapy oil on your feet. Just add 2-3 of drops of the fractionated coconut oil mixed with 1 drop of the neat essential oil to help you spread and massage into the area.
As a side note, children should only use diluted oil and never neat. It’s also important that you follow the instructions given on the bottle when using oils as improper use can cause things like irritation.
Basic starter oils and their uses
Below you’ll find a few of the most common essential oils and suggested uses. Hopefully they’ll help to give you an initial guide on how to begin incorporating aromatherapy oils into your day to day.
- Internal for fresh breath. Use a drop of Peppermint with Lemon in water for a refreshing mouth rinse or place one drop in hand and transfer to the roof of your mouth. (An alternative to chewing gum).
- Rub into palms of hands and take 3 yogic inhalations.
- Use topically on your temples or on your throat first thing in the morning.
Great for – Cooling down the body, clearing your breathing and freshening breathe. Can also help to ease things like bloating or digestion issues when ingested.
- Rub into palms and breathe in 3 times.
- Place 1-2 drops in palm of hand, rub hands together to warm and then rub into the crown of the head (*warning will give you greasy hair*).
- Diffuse before bed in a diffuser or rub into your wrists or temples.
- Add a few drops to pillows, bedding, or bottoms of feet at bedtime.
- Freshen your linen cupboard, mattress, car, or the air by combining Lavender with water in a spray bottle.
Great for – Relaxation, easing tension and soothing occasional skin irritations.
- Massage on hands and nails with fractionated oil to soothe skin.
- Roll on to the on the creases of your arms and down your spine for relaxation.
- Apply to the bottoms of feet.
Great for – Meeting you where you’re at and creating balance on an emotional level. Also, for relaxation.
- Add Lemon oil to a spray bottle of water to clean tables, countertops, and other surfaces. Lemon oil also makes a great furniture polish – just add a few drops to olive oil to clean, protect, and shine wood finishes.
- Use a cloth soaked in Lemon oil to preserve and protect your leather furniture and other leather surfaces or garments.
- Diffuse to create an uplifting environment.
Great for – Focus. Helps with transition from one activity to another. Antiseptic and antibacterial good for sterilising things and using in cleaners.
Although this is a basic starter to using essential oils, I really hope it’s helpful for those interested in playing around with aromatherapy and oils. As always, I would recommend doing your own research and finding what works for you. Try using a few of the basic oils consistently for a few weeks and see how it impact your mood. Does it help you to feel relaxed or energised or have you found other ways to use the oils that help you in your home or day to day? Let me know how you get on.