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Used to treat medical conditions and enhance mental well-being, aromatherapy oils are extracted from the flowers, fruits, roots, wood or leaves of plants. You can apply the oils in the form of lotions, shampoos, body oils and creams; dissolve them in a bath; burn them as incense; or inhale them, depending on the type. It's also easy (and fun) to make your own aromatherapy products from scratch — a few basic ingredients are all you'll need.
How did aromatherapy start?
The word "aromatherapy" was coined in France in the 1930s, but the practice goes back to the earliest civilizations. Scented oils were used to worship gods. The Egyptians, for example, burned incense created from herbs and spices as offerings. The ancient Greeks frequently used aromatic oils as well. In the first millennium, the Persians made important contributions to the field of aromatherapy, and, in the Middle Ages, Europeans used herbs to treat all kinds of illnesses.
Benefits and uses of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is most often used to promote relaxation, although some people also use it as an alternative therapy for stimulating the immune system, improving circulation, encouraging new cell growth, eliminating toxins and many other purposes. While not medically proven, aromatherapy may be helpful for a range of health problems, from arthritis to indigestion.
Essential oils can be expensive due to the difficult process required to create them. But while they can be somewhat pricey, they are also very effective in the practice of aromatherapy. Each essential oil has a different effect on the body and mind, and different essential oils can be combined to create a unique blend. However, it is important to understand the oils' characteristics and properties, and what they generally are used for, before combining for aromatherapy use.
Oils are often described by their "note," which is the length of time the fragrance will last. A top-note oil lasts between three and 24 hours and therefore tends to have a very strong scent. Peppermint is a good example of a top-note oil. Middle-note oils, like chamomile and lavender, last between two and three days. Base-note oils can last up to one week; these tend to have a comforting effect on the body. Rose, ginger and clove are examples of base-note oils.
Dozens of plant oils are used in aromatherapy. Here are examples of the most popular, along with a few of their traditional properties:
- Bergamot: mood enhancer; also used for colds, sore throat and acne
- Eucalyptus: stimulating, antiseptic; also used for headaches, asthma and flu
- Jasmine: relaxing; also used for anxiety, headaches and tension
- Lavender: calming; also used for insect bites, burns and colds
- Peppermint: stimulating, decongestant; also used for indigestion, muscle/joint pain and nausea
To make your own aromatherapy products, you'll just need a combination of essential oils, along with a carrier oil, such as grapeseed oil, olive oil or sweet almond oil. Many recipes are as simple as adding a certain number of drops to several ounces of the carrier oil or lotion, then mixing gently.
For inexpensive, go-anywhere aromatherapy, simply soak a cotton ball in your favorite oil and pop it in a plastic bag to take with you.
Whether you use them to treat specific conditions or just to make your house (and yourself) smell good, aromatherapy products are ideal for the home. Try aromatherapy candles, diffusers, bath salts, room sprays and incense to create a fragrant living environment. Understanding the variety of essential oils and aromatherapy products available will help you choose the best combination of products for you.
Use of the word "aromatherapy" to describe products and practices is not regulated in every country. Some aromatherapy products contain artificial additives in addition to natural ingredients, making it important that you research the various aromatherapy products on the market before choosing what is best for you. Read the ingredients listed on the package to ensure you have found the right product for your needs.
The practice of aromatherapy is not limited to the use of only essential oils and oil blends. Other aromatherapy products include soaps, lotions, bath salts, incense, natural herb teas. These products are designed to soothe your body and mind. Some aromatherapy products focus on naturally reducing stress and anxiety, while others help naturally reduce pain and tension or depression. An aromatherapy pillow liner can help you get to sleep, or use an herbal shoulder wrap to relax.
Aromatherapy soaps provide benefits beyond their pleasing scent. Although the fragrance is important, you should also make sure the aromatherapy soap you choose is made from natural ingredients. Aromatherapy soaps made with natural ingredients — meaning no chemicals — won't irritate your skin like other soaps. In fact, the oils in these soaps make them great for moisturizing, in addition to their aromatherapy benefits.
Combining aromatherapy with childhood comfort, aromatherapy bears are quite soothing. Some aromatherapy bears can be put in the microwave for added warmth. Heating the aromatherapy bear will also release the scent of the herbs — lavender and buckwheat are popular ingredients, while many other scents are also available. Aromatherapy bears can help comfort children during times of stress, sadness or illness.
Dispensers for aromatherapy oils come in all shapes and sizes. There are aromatherapy dispensers that fit in your pocket for traveling, as well as larger vessels made for the home or spa. A dispenser allows the soothing aroma of the oils to circulate throughout a chosen area.