Have you ever walked into a room where an aroma sweeps you off your feet? It creates a warm fuzzy feeling inside, or a sense of calmness throughout. Maybe it reminds you of days past or of good things to come. It can trigger both positive and negative thoughts, and can have an effect on both our physiology and psychology.
Our sense of smell is one of the earliest to develop: in utero, smells cross the amniotic fluid and a three-month-old fetus can smell the foods its mother is eating; and week-old babies can tell the difference in smell between their own mother’s breast milk and another woman’s.
Essential oils, fragrant oils derived from plants, tap right in to that powerful sense of smell to soothe, invigorate, or balance us. They have been used since the times of the ancient Chinese and Egyptians. They are often used in modern massage therapy treatments to affect the senses and aid in relaxation. At home, essential oils can be enjoyed in baths, or in diffusers to fill rooms with their fragrance. They can also be used to create all-natural skin care recipes and chemical-free cleaners.
When using essential oils, it is important to dilute them with a carrier oil – ideally a fragrance-free vegetable based oil such as sunflower, almond, jojaba, hemp or grape seed oil. Using essential oils without carrier oils is called using them “neat” and is not recommended in most cases as their full strength can aggravate the skin if applied directly. When trying new oils, it is always wise to do a patch test on the skin before proceeding with a broader application.
Lavender – Fresh, floral, sweet, and calming is the smell of lavender. A beautiful aroma, along with its sedative qualities, make lavender a great choice to use if you’re looking to relax. Lavender is also antibacterial and can be applied to minor cuts, scrapes and bruises. It also makes an effective bathroom cleaner: a few drops left to sit and then scrubbed away will leave your bathroom fixtures clean and smelling good.
Mint – Invigorating and refreshing. Pure Japanese mint oil is known for its penetrating properties and circulatory effects. It is an ideal oil to use for rheumatic pain, strains, and sprains. It increases local circulation, alleviating muscular cramps and aches. Mint oil is also known to decrease chest and sinus congestion.
Tea tree – Earthy, herbaceous, and wild is the scent of tea tree oil. Its medicinal properties make it a good choice to use for a variety of ailments such as insect bites, acne, and cold sores. Its bold scent can be overpowering, so it is best to dilute and use sparingly.
Ylang ylang – Delicate, floral, and fruity. Ylang ylang’s essence is known to calm the body, decrease stress, and alleviate anxiety. Purported to be useful during menopause, it calms the mood and eases hot flashes. Its is also an aphrodisiac – a substance that may enhance sexual desire and arousal. Ylang ylang has also been utilized in many perfumes, most notably Channel No. 5.
Rosemary – Refreshing and sweet, rosemary is known for its stimulating and medicinal properties. It has an invigorating scent, making it a great choice for long drives and ambitious study sessions. Rosemary is also used to improve circulation, decrease muscle cramping, and alleviate joint pain. As a result of its stimulating properties, it is also beneficial in promoting memory function.
Aromatherapy has even been researched in its ability to treat infantile colic (when a baby cries more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week). A recent study found that babies who received aromatherapy massage using lavender oil, cried less frequently than babies who did not.
While essential oils have many purposes, it is important to understand that they should be used as a complementary therapy in conjunction with other health care. Aromatherapy can provide psychological and physiological effects but should not be used as a stand-alone therapy for serious conditions. If you are ever concerned about a health issue, it is best to consult your physician.
Remember, less is more and when diluted properly, essential oils can be enjoyed regularly as a part of a healthful and holistic lifestyle. Some of our RMTs use essential oils in their massage practice, and would be happy to offer you a naturally scented treatment. Ellen Symons, RMT offers a wide variety of pure aromatherapy essential oils and customized blends to those clients who would like to add this element to their treatment.