That a question that comes back often “do aromatherapy and essential oils really work?”
To be honest, 10 years ago I had no idea until my wife started using essential oils at night in a diffuser – she called it aromatherapy and I was clueless – it does happen when you don’t know.
Aromatherapy and essential oils stimulate smell receptors in the nose thus the name derived from the word aroma. Those receptors send messages to the limbic system, part of the brain that controls emotions and memories. The oil molecules also go through our lungs and end up in our bloodstream.
Good examples are smelling freshly baked cookies brings back childhood memories and calm down anxieties or popcorn smell makes us want to watch a movie – weird but true, I’m sure you experienced it.
Don’t go bake cookies yet 🙂 Modern aromatherapy uses essential oils which are also used during massages to help relax tight muscles.
How do you use aromatherapy and essential oils?
Essential oils used in aromatherapy are concentrated extracts from plants – it can be from flowers, leaves, or even stems. To extract oils it’s “easy”:
- Steam Distillation – Steam breaks the oil’s cells of the plant which is later collected through a condenser – about the same process as alcohol stills.
- Expression – an old word that means squeezing – oils are squeezed out of the plant then collected.
- Enfleurage – another old and long process that involves fat to absorb oils then alcohol to dissolve the oils. Not used industrially but I visited a few labs that manufacture essential oils this way.
- Maceration – used to make diluted oils by macerating pant in vegetable oil – very slow process and mostly for massage and also very long.
- Solvent Extraction – not my favorite as it’s a chemical process that produces”absolutes” that are then used to manufacture essential oils – this process extracts up to the last drop of oil and is mostly used for jasmine, tuberose, etc. These flowers are pricey to produce.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction – this modern way is the best as CO2 is completely inert and is used at a low temperature (33 °C or about 91°F) and high pressure some 200 times the normal atmospheric pressure – in these conditions the liquid CO2 becomes a solvent. To harvest the oils, the pressure is released and the CO2 evaporates.
The latest, more industrial provides the best and purest oils as they are not heated or dissolved. Expression is a great process but it takes many more plants for the same result.
Now that we saw how to make essential oils, let’s see how to use them. A common way, if not the most common is to inhale these oils, open one, and sniff deeply. We also use essential oils in diffusers and humidifiers, as well as diluted with a carrier oil and applied to the skin.
One I did and it was a mistake was to add drops at the entrance of my nostrils… these oils are very strong and it burned. I put one or two essential oil drops to the palm of my hands and deeply breathe in them.
The idea is not to use too many drops… 🙂
Aromatherapy and essential oils have a large spectrum of medicinal and healing properties. They are antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral making essentials oils a must-have in our medicine cabinets.
Do aromatherapy and essential oils really work?
Yes, but they do not work for everything and if issues persist, check with a qualified medical doctor or an aromatherapist.
Let’s see the major essential oils and their effects – but first let’s check if you are allergic to that specific oil… I am allergic to Eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil which both have many similar compounds. They make me sneeze like there is no tomorrow.
The best is to put a drop of the essential oil mixed with vegetal oil and apply it to an area the size of a quarter on the inside of the forearm. Wait for 24 to 48 hours to see if any reactions occur. In my case, Eucalyptus oil shows a nice pinkish circle where the mixture was applied.
Did you know that essential oils are mostly used for their fragrances? To make soap, perfumes, deodorants, and anything with a great smell.
A very short list of essential oils – I know about 338 between organic, CO2 extracts, blends, etc.
- Lavender oil: Many find lavender smell relaxing. We used it to relieve stress and anxiety thus promote good sleep (it works for us in a night diffuser quite well).
- Tea tree oil: This essential oil is used for acne, athlete’s foot, and insect bites – I’m allergic to it, the smell makes me sneeze.
- Peppermint oil: I sniff it when my nose is clogged, works like a charm. Some use it topically for headaches.
- Lemon oil: Some find the scent of lemon oil a spirit booster. When I lived in Africa, we used it as an insect repellent and it does work very well.
- Neroli Oil: oil from the flower of the bitter orange tree. It’s quite rare and the essential version is a bit expensive (Organic Egyptian Oil $344 for 1oz) and is mostly used for depression, anxiety, etc.
Careful, many sell “Neroli Essential Oil” for less than $15/oz but it’s an absolute with much less potency than the real essential oil.
- Agarwood Oil: Used for mental relaxation and focus. Agarwood is an extraordinary oil for meditation. Also appreciated purely for its fragrance. Many use it in a personal inhaler. Originally from Southeast Asia (Vietnam), Agarwood is at the center of the Arabian perfume called Oud. quite expensive at $711 for 1 oz.
- Helichrysum Italicum Oil: is the golden sun of Italy – used for perfumes and skincare, many call it the super arnica of aromatherapy. But it comes with a price tag of around $200/oz 🙁
- Jasmine Oil: THE feel-good oil which is used in 80% of the perfumes in the world… thus the “real” essential oil comes with a price tag of around $250/oz while cheaper versions sold on Amazon are at $5.5/oz…
- Yuzu oil: citrus with origins in Tibet and Central China but mostly cultivated in Japan and Korea. The oil has soothing effects and can help reduce tension and anxiety. Not a cheap one @ $82/oz
Many types of oil to choose from some are inexpensive, some are extremely expensive. In any case, avoid oils too cheap to be real, often they are vegetable oils mixed with essential oils at 1 or 2% dilution.
How to use aromatherapy and essential oils?
Three main ways:
- Aromatically – this is the most well common way by using a diffuser, that fills the air with the essential oil. It lets it into your lungs through your nose and finally, it ends in your blood.
A water-based diffuser works well in the bedroom, just be mindful of the oil to water ratio. A bowl of hot water, a few drops of oil, and a towel works fantastically for nose congestion and sinus infections – see picture
During the day, I like putting a few drops into the palm of my hands. Cup them around my mouth and nose and take deep breaths in. Works like a charm for cold, allergies, etc.
We will bring back the plastic pocket inhaler.
- Topically – this is becoming a very popular way to enjoy essential oils benefits. Place drops of oils on your forehead, behind your ears, wrists, etc.
If the smell is too strong, dilute the oil with an unscented carrier, such as coconut oil, grape seed, etc.
I use topical oils at night and they works well when I had a tough day 🙂
- Internally – this option is getting some buzz even though I am not confident it’s 100% safe. Some ingest essential oils by adding drops as ingredients – a few brands got the FDA approval to use their oils in recipes. Ingestion provides more benefits for the oils at the fastest rate. We do not sell these oils but I’m sure, It will be coming soon.
I would recommend using aromatherapy and essential oils at first then using skin application and why not adding a few drops of FDA approved oils in your favorite recipe. A warning though, what works for me might not work for you!