What Basic Information Should You Know?
Aromatherapy is the skilled use of essential oils to enhance a person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
The use of plants and their fragrant extracts dates back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, but it wasn’t until 1928 that that the word aromatherapy came into use. French scientist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse coined the term in his landmark book Aromatherapie. Gattefosse furthered the study of lavender essential oil after discovering for himself the skin healing properties of this particular extract. Gattefosse’s work sparked renewed interest in the art and science of aromatherapy, notably in Dr. Jean Valnet. Valnet studied, researched and taught aromatherapy to the medical community throughout France.
Essential oils are the volatile aromatic molecules inside various parts of plants giving each one their distinctive scent. The five main sources for essential oils are bark, leaves, roots, rinds, flowers, and herbs. These highly concentrated fragrances from nature are extracted many ways, although steam distillation remains the most important method today. Some essentials, such as rose and jasmine are extracted several ways making them available as both absolutes (highly concentrated liquids) and as essential oils. A person may choose one form over the other based on scent preference, intended use, and cost.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils are believed to be effective, because the molecules are small enough to pass through the mucous membranes in our noses as well as through our skin. When odors are inhaled, the receptors located at the top of the nasal cavity in the olfactory bulb signal nerves to carry this information to various parts of the brain, including the limbic system. This system, which is a part of the hypothalamus, monitors a person’s emotions and responses. The hypothalamus also affects the functions in the body through the autonomic nervous system and regulates hormones released by the
pituitary gland. Odor information is also sent through the thalamus to the neocortex where scent perception occurs. Essential oils travel below the skin’s surface to fatty areas and through the blood stream. Application applied with heat (warm compresses, baths) accelerates the rate of absorption. Essential oils are generally expelled from the body within 12-24 hours through normal body functions.
Although unregulated in the United States, Aromatherapy in other countries, especially Western Europe, is used by physicians as a complementary medicine. It is important to keep in mind that essential oils can have very positive effects on our clients, or potentially negative effects, when used carelessly, as well. With some common sense guidelines however, aromatherapy could be used as a wonderful enhancement to your existing therapeutic and pampering treatments.
How Should You Select Essential Oils?
Knowledge is gained through information and smelling different essential oils to determine quality and purpose. Prices vary according to where the plants are grown, yield, availability and methods of extraction. Essential oils should be bought from reputable dealers. Due to their ability to evaporate when exposed to air, essential oils should not feel greasy.
In many cases it is important to not only know the botanical species of the plant used to create the oil but also the exact part of the plant from which the oil was derived. A good example of this is cinnamon. While oil extracted from both the leaf and the bark of the cinnamon tree would have the same botanical name, Cinnamomum verum, each has very distinct properties and should be use for different indications. Oil extracted from the leaf, among other things can be used for rheumatism and gout while oil of the bark would have no effect. The bark oil however, may affect fevers, and depression, while the leaf oil would not. So for many oils, it may be important to ask, “From which part of the plant is the oil derived?” Check the labeling on essential oils. You should find both the common name, such as Chamomile, and also the Latin name which has two parts, the genus and the species that further clarifies the type of Chamomile it is.
For essential oils to retain their potency and fragrance they should be stored in tightly capped dark glass bottles away from light and any other source of heat. Keeping them in the refrigerator is an option, but not always necessary. Bottles should be filled to the top as much as possible, especially if the oils will not be used in the near future. This will cut down on oxidation, which will change the chemical composition and scent of essential oils. Generally, the shelf life is a couple of years after the bottles are first opened after purchase. Although citrus oils are considered to have a much shorter shelf life. On the contrary, a number of plant extracts are considered to become better with age, like a fine wine. These include sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver as well as resins such as frankincense and myrrh, among others.
How do you Extract Essential Oils from their Sources?
Steam Distillation- Essential oils present in plant material are freed when the plants are heated by steam. As the steam rises away from the heat source, it cools and condenses back into a liquid form. Because the oil and the water are of different densities, they naturally separate. The pure and potent oil is siphoned off while the remaining water, which retains trace essential molecules, is known as a hydrosol. Steam distillation yields the purest oils for therapeutic use.
Expression ?X Used for citrus oils, expression is the simple process of pressing the rind of the fruit until the oil is released.
Solvent Extraction- Absolutes and concretes are produced when their essential molecules are extracted with a chemical solvent. This process in its simplest form is the introduction of a chemical solvent to either plant material or resin. The solvent, usually hexane, absorbs the fragrant molecules out of the material. This solvent is then separated from these molecules leaving just the essential elements. This process is largely used to extract essential molecules from plants that are extremely delicate or would not yield enough essential oils to distill in larger quantities.
Other Extraction Methods- Traditionally animal fat was used in a process called enfleurage to soak up the fragrance from plants. But because this method requires a number of weeks, it has largely become outmoded. More modern techniques such as CO2 and phytol processes also add to the choices that are now available.
How Do You Use Essential Oils?
The potency of the essential oil blend is also a factor to consider when enhancing a treatment with aromatherapy. For most people, essential oils can safely make up 2-5% in a base oil or lotion (less when working on the face). In a one-ounce bottle, that would approximately equal 12-30 drops of an essential oil. The potency and purpose of the individual essential oil needs to be considered as well as the fragrance when creating an essential oil blend.
Essential oils are usually measured in milliliters (mls). There are approximately 25 drops in one ml and 30 mls is equal to about one ounce. Some oils are very thick, like vetiver while others are extremely thin such as citrus oils, therefore the viscosity must also be considered when creating blends. Less potent blends should be created for the young, the pregnant, the elderly, or the seriously ill, consider 1% or less. It may be best to avoid aromatherapy in these cases altogether.
Contraindications and precautions should always take priority when creating an aromatherapy blend for an individual. Of the almost 300 essential oils that are used therapeutically, half have serious contraindications. In the beginning it is probably best to avoid using essential oils on people who have epilepsy, hypoglycemia, serious allergies, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, are pregnant or nursing. Also, only use essential oils of which you have a comfortable understanding.
A simple starter kit of oils can include lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, cedarwood, and orange. By just having these oils on hand you could create several blends that span a variety of common conditions.
Aromatherapy is Your Business
There are numerous ways to enhance your client’s wellness experience with aromatherapy. A customized aromatherapy blend gives the client a sense of personalization and attention that few other treatments allow. As a businessperson and therapist, you know that this type of personalization commands a premium among consumers. The more personalized the treatment, the more a consumer is willing to pay. Ideally you may want to introduce aromatherapy to your clients in little ways at first and as acceptance grows you can expand into the more exotic. Here are just a few ways that aromatherapy can work to both personalize and wellness enhance a treatment.
Environmental Fragrancing ?X Introducing a client to aromatherapy can be as easy as diffusing the essential oils into the treatment room or space. A candle based or electric diffuser can be utilized while performing face or body treatments. A quick and clever alternative to the diffuser can be made by adding an essential oil blend to water bottle that can be spritzed throughout the room prior to the treatment.
Baths ?X Adding an aromatherapy blend to a hydrotherapy bath can add a new dimension to this treatment. Also consider adding essential oils to the foot and hand soak portion of pedicures or manicures to elevate these treatment to the wellness spa level.
Unscented lotions, creams and oils ?X The most natural fit for customized aromatherapy is massage. By adding a blend of essential oils to therapeutic massage, the treatment can help a client achieve their physical, emotional and spiritual objectives. Reflexology, or the mini-massage portion of manicures and pedicures, too, can be enhanced by the use of aromatherapy.
Muds or masks ?X Unscented mud products can be combined with essential oils to add another level of wellness to face and body treatments. It is very important that one have extensive knowledge of essential oils, however, before applying them to the face.
Other ways to enhance treatments ?X Try infusing a hot hand towel with essential oils for an unexpected treat. Spritz sheets with water infused with essential oils. Add essential oils to a steam canopy. Or attach a cotton ball soaked in essential oils to a facial steamer.
Not only do personalized treatments increase profits, but they also create customers for life. Once a client begins to share very personal information, it would be difficult to begin that process elsewhere. The only way a client will share this information, however, is if there is a direct benefit to them. Customized aromatherapy is that benefit. Clearly the more information a client lends to the process, the more customized a blend can become.
Although the process and practice of aromatherapy has been made |simple in the above article, aromatherapy can be complex. In addition to knowing the specifics about each of the most common essential oils, a solid grasp of personality analysis should be attained. Knowledge of the major chemical constituents of each of the oils is central in choosing those oils that can work together efficiently. And lastly and most important a complete understanding of the numerous contraindications, is vital.
Because of the widespread popularity of aromatherapy, educational sources are more readily available now than ever before. Beginner to advanced books are available in even non-specialty bookstores. The Internet can serve as an excellent resource for learning about aromatherapy, especially for essential oil profiles. However, should you be up to the challenge of becoming a certified aromatherapist, correspondence courses abound, taking about twelve to fourteen months to complete.
Regardless of the path you chose to learn aromatherapy, one thing is true. Clients are demanding customization and wellness. They want treatments that are tailored to their very personal needs and they want those treatments to have an impact on their well-being. There is simply no better way to satisfy both of these demands than with the addition of aromatherapy.
Cheryl Sott is the president of AromaWorks Software and developer of AromaPro, the software program that creates completely customized aromatherapy on your computer. Ms. Sott has researched aromatherapy methods and essential oils for the past five years and is dedicated to enabling access to this powerful therapy. Ms. Sott lives and works in New York City.
Helen Lee is a certified aromatherapist, an AromaWorks Software Partner and educator. She has studied aromatherapy and perfumery in New York City and abroad. She is currently implementing aromatherapy for nursing homes in New York City.