Aromatherapy for beginners

frequently asked questions and answers

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More and more people are becoming interested in aromatherapy and essential oils, and the beneficial effects they can have on their lives, but how do they begin? Be reassured - you do not need to have studied aromatherapy in depth before being able to use certain essential oils safely and effectively.

To help those taking their first steps into the wonders of aromatherapy, we have put together this article on aromatherapy for beginners. The article aims to answer a few of the frequently asked questions about aromatherapy:

First, however, a word of warning...Essential oils may be natural, but even natural products can have side effects if not used properly, and some degree of care is needed when handling them. Essential oils should not (in general) be used in their undiluted state internally or on the skin. Keep them away from children, who can be fooled by thinking that their wonderful smells make them good to drink! Essential oils are also very volatile and, therefore flammable - keep them away from naked flames. If you are pregnant or already taking medication it is advisable to consult a qualified practitioner before using essential oils.

What is aromatherapy?

Although the term 'aromatherapy' didn't come into use until about the 1900s, the use of essential plant oils to promote physical and mental well-being and healing, has been practised since ancient times.

We are all aware that certain smells can trigger certain memories. Why is this? Our sense of smell is a powerful thing, and the most over-looked of our five senses. When we breathe in an aroma, the particles that make up the aroma bind to the part of the brain that governs our sense of smell and emotions, having an almost instantaneous effect on our moods and emotions. Inhalation is therefore the most direct route between our brains and the outside world.

Different aromas can have different effects on our moods and emotions, and essential oils, which contain the pure 'essence' of a plant and are highly aromatic, have been found to have both psychological and physical effects on our system.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, natural plant products, long-recognized for their medicinal and mood-enhancing effects. They are produced from specific parts of particular plant species; for example, lavender is produced from the flower, grapefruit from the peel and eucalyptus from the leaf, and the range of essential oils currently available is enormous.

What to look for when buying essential oils?

Essential oils are widely available, from chemists, health shops, via mail order and on the Internet. For the best effects, always buy pure essential oils; products containing artificial ingredients will not provide the same degree of benefit. Check the bottle carefully before you buy - just because the labelling mentions the word 'aromatherapy' is not a guarantee that the oils inside are pure and natural. Be wary of any product that does not list its ingredients as being pure essential oils (especially if buying a blend of oils) or one that uses the word 'fragrance' on its label. Keep your oils away from direct sunlight and in the container in which you bought them.

How do I use essential oils?

Essential oils can be used in a number of different ways. The main ways are by inhaling their vapour or by absorbing the oils through your skin during an aromatherapy massage.

This is the most effective and quickest way to absorb the effects of essential oils into your body. Essential oils are highly volatile, which means that they will vaporise into the atmosphere even if you simply leave the bottle open or sprinkle a few drops on a tissue. In order to speed this up and enable you to inhale the aroma more quickly it is best to gently warm the oil.

This can be a wonderfully relaxing way to experience aromatherapy. The essential oil (or usually a blend of oils) is diluted in a good quality carrier oil (such as almond oil, or a good quality olive or other vegetable oil) and then gently massaged into the skin. As a beginner, getting the right blend and ratio of oils can be difficult and it is probably best to visit a qualified aromatherapy practitioner to get the best effects, but you or a partner can still get benefit from a gentle massage at home with some muscle tension remedies and/or blends for that romantic mood. (see the table below for a few ways in which essential oils can be used

Many essential oils have medicinal effects. Most are antiseptic to some degree, notably eucalyptus, tea tree and thyme. Others have actions against bacterial (lavender) and/or viruses (eucalyptus and tea tree). Some have effects when diluted and massaged into the skin.

Here are a few ways in which essential oils can be used.

Uses What to do
Sore throat/mouth ulcer Add five drops of tea tree oil to a cup of water. Gargle with sips of the water for a few minutes until all the water is gone
Stings/bites/minor burns Drop lavender essential oil (one drop only required) directly onto the spot. Gently rub with one figure tip (Note: This is one of the few times that it is OK to use the pure essential oil directly on your skin.)
Sleeplessness/insomnia Sprinkle 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow just as you go to bed
Colds/flu Sprinkle 2-3 drops of eucalyptus essential oils on your pillow just as you go to bed or on a tissue to carry with you throughout the day
Anxiety Sprinkle 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil onto a tissue and breathe in deeply for a few minutes
Muscle aches and tension Massage the area gently with a blend of rosemary and lavender diluted in a carrier oil, such as good quality vegetable oil (1 drop of each essential oil in 1 dessertspoon of carrier oil). Other combinations you could try, in the same amounts, are sage and eucalyptus or cypress and thyme
General stress/tension Soak yourself in a long warm bath containing 2 drops of lavender, 3 of ylang ylang, 2 of rose or 2 of sandalwood
Romantic mood Sprinkle 2-3 drops of ylang ylang on the bed or pillows. Ensure the room is warm, and use nightlights for added romance

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