What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts like essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being. Look for a blend that lists pure ingredients and avoids chemicals, like fragrance oil.

Aromatherapy can help relieve pain, improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. It can also interact with certain medications, so talk to your healthcare provider before trying it.

What are essential oils?

Aromatherapy is a practice that uses extracts from plants to promote health and well-being. These concentrated plant oils are called essential oils. They come from plant parts like bark, roots, seeds, leaves, and flowers. Each oil has its own unique scent that can have different effects on your body.

They can be inhaled, used topically (like a perfume), or added to food or drinks. However, you must always dilute them in a base oil before use on the skin (like coconut or almond oil) to avoid causing a skin reaction. It is also not recommended that you ingest essential oils or inhale them through a diffuser without proper instruction from a qualified professional.

You might have already experienced the power of essential oils in your life — the calming scents that fill a room when a lavender sachet is opened, or the aromatic feeling you experience during a massage. It is thought that when you smell these oils, they can help stimulate certain brain cells and create feel-good chemicals in the limbic system of your brain.

How do I use essential oils?

Essential oils can be used in many ways, but always dilute them before applying to the skin. Diluting means adding a carrier oil, such as jojoba, avocado, grapeseed or apricot kernel, to the oil. A general rule of thumb is 1 drop of essential oil to one teaspoon of carrier oil.

Inhaling: Put some drops in a diffuser or onto a cotton ball and inhale the aroma. Some people also dab the oils on their wrists or neck for direct inhalation.

You can also mix a few drops with massage oil and enjoy an aromatherapy-inspired massage. (Note that it’s best to use a professionally trained massage therapist for this type of treatment.) If you’re taking medication, consult your doctor before trying aromatherapy, especially if you take blood thinners. The chemicals in some essential oils can interfere with certain medications. And don’t let kids get their hands on undiluted oils, as they can be toxic if ingested.

How do I choose an essential oil?

It’s important to know what you want from your oil. For example, lavender, chamomile and basil oils are generally thought to have calming effects, while bergamot and peppermint oils can help with depression. But choosing the right essential oil for you is highly individual and it may be worth consulting with a naturopath or aromatherapist.

Avoid cheap, mass-produced oils (that are also often overpriced). Instead look for dark glass bottles that include the Latin name of the plant, type of extraction, net contents and country of origin.

Ideally, you should always choose organic and pure essential oils. Then, dilute them in a carrier oil (like almond, coconut or olive) before using for any kind of aromatherapy. Keep in mind that even diluted, essential oils are potent and can cause a variety of reactions when ingested or applied to the skin. A naturopath or aromatherapist can help ensure you’re using the right amount and avoid any possible negative side effects.

How do I get started with aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote healing. It can be used by itself or in combination with other forms of treatment.

The oily substances in essential oils are absorbed through the nose or skin. They smell pleasant and may help you relax. They might also help relieve anxiety or nausea. Some people use them to soothe aches and pains, such as headaches or back pain.

Scientists don’t know exactly how essential oils work, but they believe the “smell” receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain that control emotions and memories (like the amygdala and hippocampus). This communication might influence your behavior or mood.

If you want to try aromatherapy, talk with your healthcare provider first. They can let you know if it’s safe for you, especially if you’re pregnant or have any other medical conditions. Also, be sure to follow the directions on the bottle carefully. Some oils can be toxic if ingested, and others could interfere with certain medications you take.