Aromatherapy is a unique and exciting practice and one which has been in existence for at least six thousand years. The people of Ancient Egypt used fragrant oils, powders and resins to treat people who were suffering from illness of any kind, from minor conditions through to much more serious ones. These same oils would also be used to embalm and preserve the dead too, which is why we see so many beautifully preserved mummies from the time. Far from being gruesome, the dead were afforded as much courtesy as the living and as such these oils were used with great reverence. The antiseptic properties of the natural substances used to prepare the body meant that thousands of years later when unearthed, they were still perfectly preserved.
The practice of aromatherapy today centers on the use of essential oils which come from plants.The oils are extracted from the leaves or flowers by distillation. These oils are then used to benefit the health and well-being of the ‘whole person’ and can be used to help prevent and treat minor medical conditions as well as being an effective tool for relaxation and stress relief.
Basic oils and their uses:
Below is a list of the most popular and well known oils that can be used in aromatherapy. This list is by no means complete. There are many hundreds of different oils that can be used – at the end of this article you will find a link to a much more complete list of FDA approved aromatherapy treatments. As a rule of thumb it is a good idea to follow your nose when choosing an oil to use on yourself or a loved one:
- Lavender: A relaxing oil with calming properties. Use in the bath to unwind at night, or place a few drops on your pillow to aid sleep.
- Tea Tree: Antibacterial, antifungal and germicidal. Tea tree is a must for everyone’s first aid cabinet. Use on pulse points to stop insect bites or in the bath to cool and soothe sunburn.
- Chamomile: An excellent oil for relaxation and also to aid in the healing of wounds.
- Sage: Perfect for clearing ‘mind fog’ and easing anxiety, when inhaled from a tissue or used in an oil burner.
- Sandalwood: A wonderful ‘ambience’ oil, it creates a sensual mood when used in an oil burner and can be used in conjunction with other relaxing oils for a massage.
- Eucalyptus: For anyone suffering from a cold, this will help to unblock sinuses and ease breathing. It can be used in an oil burner or inhaled from a tissue.
The following points should be noted:
There are certain groups of people that should avoid using aromatherapy oils: Young children, the elderly or frail, people with pre-existing medical condition/s and pregnant women. If you have sensitive, allergy prone skin, seek medical advice before using oils, or go to a properly qualified aromatherapist who can make you specific blends that will aid the skin. Citrus oils (ie lemon, lemongrass, mandarin, orange, lime etc) should not be used on the skin prior to sun exposure as they can cause photosensitivity or create a situation in which the skin is more likely to burn and scar.
To make an oil blend for massage:
If using aromatherapy oils for massage or for moisturization purposes, then you need to know how to blend them properly. Most oils cannot be used neat on the skin or hair. The exception to the rule is Tea Tree, though even with this caution must be exercised. Every other oil needs to be put into something called a ‘carrier/base’ oil.
- A carrier/base oil is a bland, fragrance free base which is used to deliver the power of the fragrance oil properly.
- Typically, you could use almond oil, apricot kernel oil or even something like groundnut oil as your base.
- If you are allergic to nuts, you can use sunflower oil.
- Oils such as Jojoba, Rosehip and Coconut are also all suitable to use in small quantities within your base oil (think about adding between ten and twenty percent to your mixture) and will provide intense hydration to the skin and hair.
To make a mix you will need:
A small glass mixing bowl
Some small, dark glass bottles with droppers/pipettes
Aromatherapy oil/s of choice
- Simply pour out around 50ml of your chosen base oil into the bowl.
- Take your chosen aromatherapy oil and add in around 20-25 drops. This may not sound like a lot, but they are all very powerful and a little goes a very long way.
- Swirl the oils to mix and decant into your bottles. If they are stored like this and kept out of heat/light they will be fine for up to three months. If you simply opt to keep your mix in the glass bowl, covered over, they will only last for two to three days.
Ideas for blends:
Listed earlier were some of the most common and well known oils for massage and other health uses. Here are a few ideas for blends to aid various health worries. Take your base oil and add:
Aching muscle blend: 5 drops of lavender, 5 drops of chamomile, 5 drops of Bergamot and 5 drops of Marjoram
Energy blend: 5 drops lemon, 5 drops lime, 5 drops ginger, 5 drops sage
Relaxation blend: 5 drops lavender, 5 drops sandalwood, 5 drops sage, 5 drops orange
Detoxification mix: 5 drops juniper, 5 drops lemon, 5 drops orange, 5 drops clary sage.
These mixes can be used for massage purposes as appropriate.
Useful links and resources for anyone who is considering trying aromatherapy: