Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils (which are derived from plants) as a complementary health approach. Essential oils used in aromatherapy are extracted from various parts of the plant and then distilled. The highly concentrated oils can then be inhaled directly or indirectly or applied to the skin through massage.
Does it work?
Research on the effectiveness is limited. Well controlled studies are expensive to conduct, and many essential oils are not that expensive leaving little margin for a company to perform such a study.
Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system - the part of the brain that controls emotions.
Aromatherapy may not work for everyone, but there is no harm in trying them as long as you use them in a safe way. Even if all they do is boost your mood, that alone can have a substantial positive impact on your overall health and well-being.
How to get started?
Probably the most common way to get started is with the use of an essential oil diffuser. To use this you would add about 100mL of water, and 2-3 drops of essential oil then turn it on. A whisp of "smoke" will start to come out of the top of the unit. The smoke is really just a cool mist of water, it is more like a fog than actual smoke. The essential oil is carried along with the cool mist. This is an easy way to get started with aromatherapy, and will freshen up your home at the same time. If you already have the essential oils, you don't absolutely need to purchase anything in order to start enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy.
You could simply unscrew the top of the bottle and smell that directly. You could also apply a drop or two of essential oils to a cotton ball to have something that you could take with you. You can use a drop of a carrier oil with properly diluted essential oils on the palm of your hand. Simply rub your hands together and then cup your hands under your face and breath deeply.
You could also start to enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy by selecting products that you use every day that are scented only with essential oils. Lotion scented with essential oils makes a great way to enjoy aromatherapy daily. You could enjoy aromatherapy daily in your shower with an essential oil soap and shampoo. Or take a bath with an essential oil scented bath bomb, bath tea, or bath oils.
Many essential oils have been shown to be safe when used as directed. It might be best to be cautious and avoid using essential oils if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or with small children. Also, don't forget about your pets when choosing to use essential oils. Cats and birds do not metabolize many essential oils very well. We have three cats, and use an awful lot of essential oils in our home, and the cats are fine. Our cats also spend a lot of time outdoors, and we tend to use most of the oils in places where the cats don't tend to hang out.
Not all essential oils are safe. Tea tree is poisonous if ingested. It should not be used on dogs or cats without proper veterinarian supervision either. If someone may have swallowed tea tree oil, it is recommended that they call poison control. Many other oils need to be properly diluted before applying them to your skin. Use a drop or two per teaspoon of carrier oil and see if that gets the job done before trying something with a higher concentration. Many oils such as peppermint, clove, and cinnamon can be irritating if applied directly to the skin. Many citrus oils can also be phototoxic, which means they can release toxic compounds when exposed to sunlight. Don't apply a large amount of citrus oils to your skin, and then go lay in the sun immediately after for a few hours. The toxins released from the oils could create a burn (similar to sunburn).
While some advocate the ingestion of essential oils for therapeutic purposes, a licensed aromatherapy professional would not recommend this practice. This idea may have been started to increase a customer's consumption of essential oils, and may not be in your best interest.
Essential oils are very concentrated plant material. It takes about 2000 rose petals to produce 1 drop of rose essential oil for example. The toxicity of a chemical is all about concentration. Water can be toxic under the right circumstances; luckily it is considered one of the least toxic chemical compounds. We just don't consume enough of it on a normal basis to reach a toxic level. Without getting into the specifics we think that the concentration levels of essential oils is high enough that they don't belong as part of our diet.
If you are interested in ingesting something like essential oils, we recommend looking into hydrosols. After the plant matter is distilled, the oil that floats to the top is skimmed off to make essential oils. The water that remains is called a hydrosol, and still has many of the same properties as the essential oil, it is just less concentrated. Taking the plant matter directly is also a good approach for ingestion. There are many herbal remedy information sources out there as well.
Disclaimer: We are not providing medical advice, this is for informational purposes only. Please contact your health care professional for help with making decisions about your medical care.