Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that involves the use of essential oils. It’s used to treat various mental, emotional and physical conditions.
It’s not clear how aromatherapy works, but researchers believe that the smell of certain plants may stimulate brain cells that store emotions and memories. Studies have shown that chamomile oil can help people sleep better, and that a combination of roman chamomile, lavender and neroli oil can reduce anxiety.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts distilled from the leaves, roots, flowers, seeds and bark of various plants. They can be used in a variety of ways, including aromatherapy.
They are very strong and can burn or irritate the skin, so they should always be mixed with a carrier oil. Carrier oils are plant-derived vegetable oils, such as coconut or avocado oil, that dilute the potency of essential oils.
Inhaling the scents of essential oils can help stimulate and calm the mind. They can also affect our bodies by stimulating olfactory receptors in the nose, which send a signal to our brains that cause us to feel certain ways.
For example, rosemary oil is known to increase brain function and improve memory, while bergamot reduces anxiety, depression and stress. These oils are often combined with other natural ingredients to create blends that offer a wide range of benefits. Always choose quality oils and purchase them from a reputable company. They should be stored in dark glass bottles to protect their quality.
How do I use them?
A popular way to use essential oils is to put them into an oil diffuser, which dispenses the fragrance as tiny drops of oil imbued with water particles. Another option is to apply the oils directly onto your skin. You can also try inhaling the scent by putting a few drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot water, covering your head with a towel and breathing in the steam.
Ingesting essential oils is typically not advised, and most experts recommend keeping any oil bottles out of the reach of children. It’s also important to know that some essential oils, including tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia and eucalyptus Eucalyptus spp., can cause poisoning if ingested too much.
Pregnant women are generally advised against using aromatherapy because it may be absorbed through the placenta and harm the baby. And people who have allergies should avoid it, as many of the compounds in the oils are known to trigger them.
What are the risks?
Many essential oils are generally considered safe, and they have been used for thousands of years in medicine, perfume and cooking. However, they are not regulated as medications in the United States and may interact with certain drugs. People with sensitive skin or who are taking any medicines should avoid contact with them.
If you are using aromatherapy with children, it is best to limit their use to those that have been clinically studied and found to be safe for them over the age of 3. Inhaling undiluted essential oils can irritate the mucous membranes, and putting oil on broken or damaged skin increases the risk of allergic reaction.
If you do experience a negative reaction to an aromatherapy treatment, call the Victorian Poisons Information Centre Tel. 13 11 26, seven days a week, 24 hours a day for advice. The poison centre also can answer questions about bites and stings, mistakes with medicine and other general poisonings.
What should I avoid?
As with any new therapy, it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying aromatherapy. It’s especially important to avoid certain oils if you have any medical conditions or are taking medications that may react with them. For example, people with a history of seizures should avoid hyssop oil, while those with high blood pressure should avoid stimulating essential oils such as rosemary and spike lavender. Women who are pregnant should avoid oil that acts like estrogen, such as fennel, aniseed and sage.
It’s also a good idea to disclose any allergies to your massage therapist or aromatherapist, since some oils contain nut or seed components (such as tea tree Melaleuca alternifolia or eucalyptus Eucalyptus globulus). Swallowing essential oils can be dangerous and even fatal in some cases.