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Despite the comforts of modern life, we all feel that our strength and wellbeing depends on nature. Even when we can’t be close to nature we can mimic its effects by building wonderful gardens or swimming pools, listening to recordings of animals or running streams, changing the weather indoors by using air conditioning, bringing in artificial grass and flowers, or even paying for a massage session. But what about the soothing aroma of nature?
The term aromatherapy means literally “treatment by scents”. It has been practised in one form or another since the very beginning of civilization. Aromatherapy is the art and science of using oils extracted from aromatic plants to enhance health and beauty. Apart from the physical benefits, essential oils have subtle effects on the mind, improving emotional wellbeing and restoring bodily balance. Aroma oils work like magic for stress-related problems, psychosomatic disorders, skin infections, hair loss, inflammations, and pains arising from muscular or skeletal disorders.
Essential oils are aromatic essences extracted from trees, flowers, herbs, spices, fibers, bark, fruit, and seeds, usually by distillation, expression or solvent extraction. They have been described as the “life force” of these, being essential to the plants’ biological process as well as the substances that confer them specific scents. More than 150 types of oils are commonly extracted and applied in aromatherapy. These oils have unique therapeutic, physiological, and especially psychological effects that ameliorate health and prevent illness. All essential oils have unique healing and valuable antiseptic properties. Some oils have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, anti-depressant, stimulating, relaxing, expectorating, digestion-promoting and diuretic properties.
Some of these aroma oils are very expensive. They are extracted using maceration. A special purification process called defleurage is employed, and in some cases fat is used instead of oil. Then this process, called enfleurage, is used for final purification.
Some of the common essential oils used in aromatherapy for their versatile application are: Clary Sage, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, Petitgrain, Rosemary, Tea-tree, Ylang Ylang.
Essential oils are generally safe to use and have many applications, the only caution being they should never be used directly because some oils may irritate sensitive skin. They should be blended in adequate proportion with “carrier” oils (see below), and a patch test is usually required to rule out any reactions. Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways. Some of them include:
Inhalation: Add 2-3 drops of essential oil to hot boiling water, lean over it, and start inhaling the steam after covering your head with a towel to stop the steam from escaping. Steaming also helps open the pores of the skin, augmenting the beneficial cosmetic effects of the oil. The bowl with the hot water and the essential oil could be left under the bed so that the room is enveloped in a soothing fragrance. A drop or two sprinkled on a handkerchief can give a lasting benefit of the aroma oil. For a serene and mellow sleep, you could use one or two drops of essential oils on a tissue kept inside your pillow or cushion.
Massage: The most effective way of using the essential oils is probably massage, because it combines the benefits of gentle touch therapy and scent therapy. Massage improves the circulation of the blood, relieves muscle tension, and tones the body. Meanwhile, the fragrance triggers a sense of pleasure and well-being. However, essential oils should not be used for massage directly; instead they should be diluted with some odorless carrier oil such as grape seed, sweet almond, peach kernel, coconut or olive. A dilution of 3% essential oil to carrier oil is a recommended starting point (less if using on sensitive skin such as babies). This is approximately one drop essential oil to two milliliters of carrier oil (6 drops in two teaspoonfuls).
Baths: Using oils in baths is a simple, effective and pleasant way to relax and receive the therapeutic effects. Water itself has therapeutic value, which enhances the powers of the oils. To use this method, add 6 to 10 drops of essential oil – fewer for bathing babies – to the surface of the water which has already been run. Don’t add any other substances, such as foam or bath oil. Then immerse yourself for about 20 minutes, whilst you inhale the vapor.
Foot Bath: You can immerse your feet in a bowl of tepid water to which 2-3 drops of essential oil are added. This is a very refreshing experience after a hard day’s work, and especially beneficial if your feet are sweaty and smelly.
Bed Time: Sprinkle 2-3 drops on the pillow cover or on a tissue that can be placed under the pillow or cushion cover and inhaled just before sleeping or while sleeping. This can be very useful in treating headaches, stress and tension and in boosting confidence. Some of the essential oils, such as ylang ylang, are also said to act as aphrodisiacs.
Compresses: Both cold and hot compresses are good. Add 2-3 drops of aroma oil to a bowl of hot (depending on how much heat you can withstand) or warm water and dip a hand towel or piece of cotton to enable it to absorb the mixture then squeeze out the excess water and place the towel or cotton on the area to be treated. Leaving the compress on the area for 2 hours is quite beneficial. Lavender is often used, as it provides relief when used over bruises and skin problems and can alleviate pre-menstrual stress. To make a cold compress, add 6 cubes of ice to a bowl with 2-3 drops of essential oil and dip a hand towel or a piece of cotton to absorb the mixture. Then squeeze out the excess water and place the towel or cotton on the area to be treated. Cold compresses are most helpful in treating burns, sore feet, hangover, sprains and headaches.
Beauty Treatment: Essential oils have been used as an application for the skin from ancient times. As they are highly soothing in treating and enhancing the natural beauty of the skin they can be safely incorporated in facials, massages, manicures, pedicures, scalp treatment, hair wash, hair treatment along with other creams and oils. Rose, chamomile, lemon, lavender, geranium, and sandalwood are some good oils for facials irrespective of the fact that beauty treatment is given to normal, mature, dry, oily, sensitive or problematic skin. Either one of these or a blend of two of them could be used. The carrier oils that are helpful in a beauty treatment are sweet almond, wheat germ, peach kernel, apricot kernel, and sunflower. Steam facials with essential oils are also rejuvenating and help improve the complexion.
Room Sprays: Using oils to scent a room is more environmentally friendly than aerosol sprays which deplete the ozone layer. They can be used liberally to deodorize a room, freshen and scent your bathroom, living-room, bedroom, dining-room, office, etc. Some 10-12 drops of aroma oil in half a liter of water sprayed around from a dispenser could significantly refresh the atmosphere in your house. Oils such as lavender, lemon, peppermint, pine, and rosemary are the best for this application. Cupboards and wardrobes can also be disinfected. If the air is constantly musty and the walls of the rooms are moldy in your home, at your workplace or anywhere else you spend quite some time, you can easily replace these sensations with totally fresh ones brought by a few drops of essential oil mixed with water and sprayed around.
Insect Repellents: Essential oils are excellent fragrant dispenser and non-toxic insecticides. Just 2-3 drops of essential oil can be used on pillow covers, mattresses, and mosquito mats or applied to the exposed skin after blending with carrier oil before going to bed to repel insects. Lemongrass is best for flying insects, tea-tree for ants and fleas, thyme for crawling pests, camphor for moths and citronella for mosquitoes.
Perfumes: Make your own distinctive "Natural" perfume by blending different oils. (Many commercial perfumes use synthetic concoctions for their scent.) Try experimenting with different combinations, which can be mixed with a carrier oil or non-fragrant alcohol.
By Denis Dilion