Aromatherapy, a practice which can be traced right back to the ancient Egyptians, is something that, with a little understanding of the subject, anyone can use at home. It involves the use of essential oils which are extracted from plants, flowers, fruits herbs and trees. The oils have various therapeutic qualities and can help your body in various ways, both physically and psychologically. Depending on which oil or combination of oils you use, the effects can be stimulating or calming, and can help digestion, memory and breathing.
How to use essential oils
The most popular way to use oils is by massage. For a full body massage, 4 – 6 drops of essential oil should be mixed with a carrier , such as grapeseed or wheatgerm oil. This can be made up of up to 3 different oils; there are several books available in libraries, bookshops or from oils suppliers, which suggest good blends. These will also give you a comprehensive list of the properties and precautions associated with each oil.
Another good idea is to add 4 – 6 drops of oil to your bath water. These should be added to the water after you have run the bath, as adding it under the running tap breaks up the molecules and reduces the therapeutic value of the oil.
A third way is to vaporise the oil. This is done by adding a few drops in water to an oil burner, which can be purchased in most shops which supply the oils, or in many gift shops.
You can also create your own shampoos, body lotions and bath foams, by buying unperfumed base products and adding oils at a dilution of around 30 drops of oil to 100 ml of the base. Note that for massage or use in the bath, the dilution of the oils should be halved for children under 2 years and the elderly.
Good oils to start with
Lavender: most people find this very relaxing. It can be used in the bath or for massage. Avoid this one in early pregnancy.
Eucalyptus: this is great for clearing your airway – try putting a drop on a tissue or cotton wool ball and putting it under your pillow to help you sleep when you have a cold or catarrh.
Rosemary: this is said to help the memory, so is useful when you are studying. Don’t use this, however, if you have high blood pressure or epilepsy.
Bergamot: this is an uplifting oil from the citrus family, and is good if you’re feeling lethargic or run down.
Chamomile: another oil that soothes and relaxes. This is a good alternative if you don’t like the smell of lavender.
A good idea is to get to know 3 or 4 oils really well – what they can do and how they blend together. After that, try a couple at a time and pretty soon you will have a good knowledge of what suits you best.
Precautions when using essential oils
- If you are pregnant, it is essential that you consult a qualified aromatherapist before using oils, as there are many which are not suitable during certain parts of pregnancy. This also applies if you have epilepsy or high blood pressure.
- With the exception of tea tree and lavender, never apply any essential oil directly to your skin.
- Do not use more than the recommended doses as stated above – remember that less is more!
Buying essential oils
- Buy only pure essential oils to achieve results. Oils that are labelled ‘fragrance oil’, ‘nature identical oil’ or ‘perfume oil’ are not pure; they are oils that have been combined with chemical additives.
- Choose oils sold in dark-coloured bottles, as these help the oils to maintain their potency. Oils sold in aluminium containers are also fine, provided that the aluminium is lined on the inside.
Do’s and Dont’s
- DON’T: Don’t buy essential oils with rubber dropper tops. The oils will turn the rubber to a gum and ruin their effects.
- DO: Be choosy about where you buy your oils. As with any purchase, you get what you pay for, and oils that seem unusually cheap have probably been mixed with other chemicals.
- DO: Store your oils in dark glass (amber or cobalt blue) and in a cool, dark place.
- DO: Pay special attention to all safety information on all essential oils that you use. This is even more important if you have any medical condition or are pregnant.
Last but not least – have fun experimenting and getting to know what you like!