By Victoria Chen; First Year Project Manager
Aromatherapy is one of the more popular and well-known types of alternative therapies used today. It involves the use of plants and aromatic plant oils in order to help improve a person’s psychological or physical well-being. Rene-Maurice Gattefose, a French perfumer, and chemist first coined the term “aromatherapie” in his book where he documented the clinical findings of using essential oils in treating physiological ailments. His main intention with the term aromatherapy was to emphasize the difference of using essential oils for medicinal purposes versus perfumery applications.
Though the term wasn’t coined until 1937, essential oils have been used for centuries, dating back to ancient civilizations around the world, to the Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Indians. Essential oils were used for a variety of purposes including cosmetics, preservatives, a form of payment, and most importantly, medicine.
Essential oils are made from a variety of plant parts such as roots, leaves, seeds, or plant blossoms. Each oil mix is different, and the plants used in each determine the use of the oil. Some are used to promote physical well-being and others can be used for emotional health. Various plants and flowers will lead to various reactions. Today, aromatherapy can be found in candles, lotions, and other various health and beauty products.
Though it’s not entirely clear how aromatherapy works, experts hypothesize that the main factor is due to our sense of smell. Smell receptors communicate with the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain that are responsible for emotions and moods as well as memory. The scents from the essential oils are thought to stimulate parts of the brain that can affect physical, emotional, and mental health.
Common usages of aromatherapy in everyday life can be seen by walking into a store like Bath and Body Works. There, aisles upon aisles of candles and soap are advertised to help relieve stress or promote calm or relaxed feelings. Popular scents for “calming” items include lavender, rose, sandalwood, and bergamot. Clinical studies have suggested that these scents can help relieve anxiety, stress, depression, and fear. Eucalyptus oil is another essential oil that many will recognize. Eucalyptus oil has been used as a decongestant and is beneficial during cold and flu seasons. During those times, older Asian parents and grandparents are likely to have a small bottle on them and offer it to anyone around them. Ginger is also commonly used within Asian communities. It has been shown to help with digestive problems and can be used to help relieve pain.
Essential oils can be used aromatically and topically. Aromatically, essential oils can be enjoyed using a diffuser; just add a few drops of essential oils to water! If you do not have access to a diffuser, you can add a few drops of essential oil to a cotton ball and place it where you would want to spread its scent. When using essential oils topically, make sure to dilute them with carrier oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil. Carrier oils help to ensure a comfortable topical application of essential oils, since some may irritate the skin if used alone or in a more concentrated form. Essential oils can be applied to most of the skin on the body, especially the head! They can be applied to on the neck, behind the ears, and to the temples. Different types of essential oils may have different effects when massaged into the skin: lavender may help calm; peppermint may help rejuvenate; tea tree oil may reduce the appearance of blemishes.
Here are some examples of uses for different essential oils:
- Headache relief: peppermint, sage, basil, lavender
- Digestion relief: peppermint
- Muscle tension relief: chamomile, clary sage, peppermint, ylang ylang, eucalyptus
- Relaxation: chamomile, clary sage, lavender, lemon, geranium, ylang ylang
- Colds: rosemary, thyme, bay laurel, eucalyptus
While essential oils can be good for relieving pain, stress, and other symptoms, it is good to be cautious since they are potent. With essential oils, less is more! Make sure to dilute essential oils in carrier oils when applying it to the skin and to avoid use on sensitives area of the skin and body. Next time you have a headache or would like to relax, try aromatherapy!