Aromatherapy: Essential Oils. What are they and how do they work?

Lavender Oil

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural scents, usually those derived from plant extracts [essential oils], to promote (and enhance) overall well-being. There's been a lot of buzz about aromatherapy over the past few years. It seems the interest and curiosity surrounding aromatherapy has grown with the rise of holistic and alternative medicine. However, aromatherapy isn't a new phenomenon; it has been around for thousands of years. Some of the earliest recorded uses of aromatherapy date back to ancient cultures in China, India and Egypt. Using resins, balms and oils incorporating plant components these ancient people would perform medical procedures and religious ceremonies.

The term "aromatherapy" was coined by French perfumer and chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in a book he wrote on the topic that was published in 1937. The book explains the use of essential oils in the treatment of medical conditions. One such example is when the chemist discovered the healing potential of lavender in treating burns.

Essential oils play a huge part in aromatherapy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what essential oils are they can best be described as the "essence" of a plant extracted and concentrated in a liquid form. The process of distilling essential oils has been around so long that no one really knows where it originated but we do have records showing that the Persians were practicing essential oil distillation in the 10th century.

With concerns like the rise of the opioid epidemic people are turning to more holistic and natural alternatives to treat symptoms and conditions that would otherwise be treated by pharmaceutical medications. Aromatherapy has been proven to be beneficial in treating several ailments; including but not limited to are....

⦁ Pain management
⦁ Improvement in quality of sleep
⦁ Reduced stress (agitation/anxiety)
⦁ Treating headaches and migraines
⦁ Alleviation of chemotherapy side effects

Experts believe that the smells used in aromatherapy activate areas in the nose called smell receptors. These smell receptors send signals through your nervous system to your brain. In the brain different regions are triggered by these signals. One of these regions is the limbic system, which plays a role in our emotions. Another area of the brain affected is the hypothalamus, which may respond to the smell(s) by creating 'feel-good' brain chemicals like serotonin. Other applications of essential oils in aromatherapy involve their use when being applied to the skin at various parts of the body, like the joints. When applying essential oils to your skin it is wise to first preform a skin patch test to ensure that you are no allergic to the essential oil you plan on using.

There are a number of products available that allow the absorption of essential oils through olfactory (smell) and skin absorption. Some of the most common are...

⦁ Diffusers
⦁ Aromatic spritzers
⦁ Inhalers
⦁ Bathing salts
⦁ Soaps
⦁ Body oils, creams, lotions, etc.

These products and others can be used alone or in a combination with others; combining essential oils to create a synergistic blend creating even more benefits.
When it comes to choosing the right essential oil for you there are a couple things to consider. One of the first is the fragrance itself. Do you like the smell? The other involves your reason for wanting to use an essential oil(s); is there a particular symptom or ailment you are trying to ease. Some of the most popular essential oils include:

Lavender oil: Many people find the lavender scent relaxing. It's often used to help relieve stress and anxiety and promote good sleep.

Tea tree oil: Also called melaleuca, this essential oil was used by Australia's aboriginal people for wound healing. Today, it's commonly used for acne, athlete's foot and insect bites.

Peppermint oil: There's some evidence peppermint essential oil helps relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms when taken in an enteric-coated capsule (from a trusted health supplement provider). It may also relieve tension headaches when applied topically.

Lemon oil: Many people find the citrusy scent of lemon oil a mood booster. It's also often used in homemade cleaning products.

As great and beneficial as essential oils can be for various ailments they should not be used without caution. Children and women who are pregnant or nursing should only use essential oils under a doctor's supervision. Individuals who are taking prescription medication should also consult with their primary care provider and avoid certain oils. When it comes to the application of essential oils on human skin always use a carrier oil to help dilute the potency. Undiluted essential oils have been known to cause allergic reactions when in contact with skin. Some of these reactions include skin irritation and rashes. Even when diluted some oils should still be used with caution. For example citrus oils may make your skin more sensitive to the sun, oils like these should be avoided if you'll be exposed to sunlight.

In Conclusion...

Aromatherapy has had a long and enduring presence in human history. From its uses in the simple application of improving a person's or areas overall scent to religious ceremonies and practices. As you explore the uses of essential oils and other aromatherapy methods pay attention to how the different scents and methods affect you. Always talk to your doctor before starting any aromatherapy regimen. Remember aromatherapy is meant to be a complementary therapy and not meant to replace any doctor-approved treatment plan.

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