Aromatherapy. You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen its benefits, and your clients are asking for it.
Maybe you even carry shelves of products with luxurious botanical aromas or have employed an aromatherapy spritzer to prepare your space before each client’s arrival. You are not alone in your awareness of essential oils.
In recent years, the use of aromatherapy within the spa, beauty and wellness industries has grown substantially, and everyone is trying to keep up with the trend. However, many practitioners are left in the dark as to how aromatherapy works—and how it can benefit more than just their business.
We Evolved with Plants
The therapeutic nature of aromatherapy lies in the chemistry of essential oils and how they interact with our bodies. When we inhale their aromas or use products containing them, we activate receptors in our brain that impact our emotional, mental and physical health.
As humans and plants evolved together, these extracts are easily recognized by our biology. When used correctly, they can provide many opportunities for healing. However, great care should be taken when beginning to use essential oils for yourself, as they are highly concentrated and are not created or indicated equally.
Starting small and mindfully expanding your knowledge will ensure that you can safely and successfully incorporate aromatherapy into your life as not just a trend but a useful and practical therapeutic tool.
Essential oils are primarily produced by steam distillation, in which water vapor is carried through fresh plant material, extracting both its oil-soluble and water-soluble constituents. At the end of this distillation process, what remains is a portion of water (called hydrosol) topped with a layer of oil (the essential oil).
Both forms of this plant extract can be utilized therapeutically in similar ways, but the essential oil is far more concentrated and should be handled with care.
Many plants, like Rosemary or Peppermint, are naturally abundant in oil, so their distillates are often plentiful. On the other hand, botanicals like Rose require at least 40 rose buds to produce just one drop of essential oil.
This is why when shopping for essential oils you will often see the same quantities of oil with vastly different pricing. Market prices for aromatherapy oils depend on crop yields, availability and how much plant material goes into the production of each oil.
As interest in plant-derived products grow, overharvesting is always a concern, so make sure the company you purchase from prioritizes sustainability and responsible sourcing.
TIP: If you discover essential oils like Rose (Rosa damascena) or Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) listed at the same price as something like common Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) or Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), those products are likely adulterated extracts or synthetic fragrance oils.
One great place to start experiencing essential oils is in your everyday products. As practitioners, the frequency with which we wash and replenish our hands is often copious, so using hand wash and hand lotion made with pure essential oils creates the perfect opportunity for enjoying aromatherapy on a regular basis.
If you are concerned about these products interfering with your practice with your client, it is certainly good to be mindful of what scents may offend them. However, pure essential oils will not wear as heavily as synthetic fragrance, and many are likely to lighten up or dissipate by the time client contact is made.
Do some research to find trusted brands that offer your favorite scents, but that use real essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance oil in their formulas.
Indulging in a facial cleanser or moisturizing cream scented with essential oils can also be a wonderful way to start and conclude the day, as essential oils offer as many benefits for the skin as they do the senses. Find a botanical skincare line to work into your facial regimen that supports your skincare needs with an added aromatherapeutic touch.
Plant-based skincare has been significantly growing in popularity, so there are many lines to consider. If you sample one that you like, ask about the company’s formulas and get to know the company practices, as a business’ dedication to personal and environmental wellness is just as important as their product.
Start to personalize your essential oil education by getting an aromatherapy diffuser for your home or workspace. These are generally very affordable, low-maintenance and easy to use. My personal favorites are steam diffusers (also called humidifiers and vaporizers).
Other methods for diffusing essential oils that are growing in popularity include atomizers and nebulizers, aromatherapy spritzers, jewelry and keychain diffusers, and office products like aromatherapy pens and USB drives.
Investing in the diffusing method of your choice allows you the freedom to explore and discover your favorite single essential oils, experiment with combining scents, and collect your personal set of aromatherapy allies to have at the ready for more advanced applications.
TIP: When using a diffuser, confirm that your essential oil is pure and does not contain any carrier or fixed oils like jojoba or sunflower, as those ingredients can quickly damage your equipment.
Building a diverse collection of essential oils for your personal-care toolkit greatly extends your options past simply diffusing them within a space. Many essential oils can be used topically for first aid applications to cuts, scrapes and bruises, while others are wonderful go-to inhalations for emotional soothing in instances of anxiety or fatigue.
Aromatherapy oils are an excellent addition to such other therapeutic remedies as muscle soaks to address aches and pains, as well as in cosmetic applications to improve the look of hair texture and skin tone. Essential oil perfumes are another luxurious way to indulge in aromatherapy, and creating your own personal recipe can be a fun and easy project for yourself and others.
TIP: Save yourself the heartbreak of “the blend that got away.” When making your own essential oil blends and perfumes, always remember to label the bottle. Including the full drop-by-drop recipe is the best way to keep a record, but at the very least, simply listing all ingredients used on your label will save you confusion later. This is especially important if using them on others—even if just friends and family—as allergies are always possible. Safety and comfort is the number-one priority.
Again, the appropriate application of essential oils comes down to their chemistry. Essential oils contain a variety of chemical constituents that place them in different categories referred to as functional groups, which are determined by how much of certain constituents each extract has.
For example, esters are constituents that are often used for their soothing properties. Common essential oils naturally high in esters are Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Helichrysum, and many of these oils are gentle enough to be applied undiluted to the skin.
Phenols, however, are much stronger and can often be caustic if they make contact with the skin without a carrier oil. Some phenol-heavy plant oils include Cinnamon Leaf, Oregano and Thyme.
As using essential oils therapeutically requires a certain level of training to practice safely and successfully, it is recommended that you pursue an education in aromatherapy with the guiding knowledge of professionals before diving too deeply into the practice on your own. There are plenty of educational institutions that offer classes in aromatherapy, both online through correspondence courses and on-campus with a variety of schedules available.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is an internationally recognized authority on the subject and offers an online directory of approved aromatherapy schools all over the world. Additionally, herbal medicine schools generally offer instruction on aromatherapy along with their other health-and-wellness courses.
Training with an institution will help ensure that you can practice aromatherapy with confidence and grace, and prepare you for incorporating essential oils into both your personal and professional life.
Discovery & Experimentation
While you learn the properties and therapeutics of essential oils, you will begin to find your favorites, as well as some that simply don’t resonate with you. As valuable as Lavender can be for healing, for example, I have met plenty of people who simply don’t care for the smell of it, and that’s OK.
There is healing in simply being able to enjoy your medicine, so even if a particular oil is good for one thing, it does not mean it’s necessarily going to feel good for you. A formal education is certainly important, but taking this additional personal inventory of your relationship with these extracts will help you better understand the therapeutics of each on a much deeper level and only prove to strengthen your aromatherapy practice.
Essential oils are complex therapeutic tools, each unique in scent and function, and are as abundant in variety as they are in their applications. While aromatherapy has become indispensable to spas, the wellness industry and clientele, it is important that practitioners allow for their own use of these products to be personally educational, medicinal and fulfilling.
Aromatherapy offers discovery and experimentation in everything from topical and first aid applications to crafting distinctive perfume blends, many of which are fun to explore.
However, education during your personal journey with essential oils is key, and taking advantage of the many higher learning opportunities will ensure that your path to wellness is scented with sweet success.
About the Author:
Amy T. Simmons is the research and education coordinator for KM Herbals, a manufacturer of aromatherapy and botanical personal care products. She is a licensed esthetician who specializes in holistic wellness and plant-based skincare. Amy studied herbalism and aromatherapy at the California School of Herbal Studies as well as cosmetic chemistry with Rebecca Gadberry at UCLA. She wrote “Hydrosols: The Other Plant-Based Aromatic” for massagmeag.com.