Aromatherapy is a way to incorporate essential oils to promote physical or psychological healing using our sense of smell. Essential oils are the concentrated liquid portion of aromatic plants. Aromatherapy can be used to inspire or maintain moods, aid in pain relief, correct conditions or influence performance and productivity. In this post, I’ll give some ideas about some simple and versatile oils to buy if you’re just starting your collection and easy ways to use them.
I think the sense of smell is one of the most underutilized senses. Other animals rely upon it so heavily but humans tend to think of it more like an accessory. Aromatherapy is a simple way for us to boost this sense.
How Aromatherapy Works
The sense of smell is special because it is so often associated with the formation of memories and can instantly transport us back to how we felt at a certain time and place. The reason this happens is the same reason that aromatherapy works. Our olfactory nerves are located very close to both the amygdala and the hippocampus in our brains. The amygdala processes emotion and the hippocampus is the area of our brain responsible for associative learning. Each time we smell something new (which happens the highest concentration of times in our childhood) we begin to associate that certain smell with a particular person, place, or memory.
There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy in to your life. Essential oils can simply be inhaled or massaged (diluted) in to the skin for their healing properties. Other ideas are below.
Ways to Incorporate Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy diffuser: These come in a variety of forms but my favorite one is this one that dissipates the oil with a fine mist of water. You can also find ones that you light a tea candle underneath. These are nice but you have to watch them closely so they don’t boil over. You can also diffuse the scent in to the room by using a lamp ring (works especially well if you’re studying or working at a desk) or by sprinkling some essential oil on logs before you light a fire.
Household cleaning: Essential oils can be incorporated in to natural cleaning products to make your home smell good as you freshen and cleanse it. I’m working on a post about natural cleaners, but essential oils can be mixed with water as a counter spray or dropped in to a bucket with the mopping water.
Aromatherapy can be incorporated in to any personal beauty or maintenance product you use as you’ll notice in almost all my kitchen beautician recipes.
- Skin moisturizer: Try mixing a few drops of essential oil with organic fragrance-free body lotion like I talked about in the travel post.
- Face masks: Included on this site are kitchen beautician recipes with a little bit of essential oil including the hydrating oatmeal banana mask, and a pumpkin facial for glowing skin.
- Body scrubs: I have a few body scrub recipes I love including the tropical vanilla hydrating scrub with vanilla and bergamot essential oil and the epsom salt and ginger scrub with lime and ginger essential oils.
- Body powder: Check out this recipe to make your own body powder.
- Baths: Most of the bath recipes I have on this site (like the rose petal, spirulina sea salt detox, oatmeal milk and honey, drunken red wine baths) contain some essential oils. Be mindful that if you have sensitive skin, some oils might irritate it, especially in the bath. I love oils of bergamot (and other citrus scents), cinnamon, and peppermint but have found that these are better inhaled as they can be irritating to the skin.
- Facial cleanser: I really like incorporating a couple drops of essential oil in to the oil cleansing method or using a few drops with witch hazel or rose water as a toner. Rose, vanilla, carrot seed, or geranium oils are good choices. A little bit of tea tree oil can help acneic skin.
- Facial steam: Steaming your face using a towel as a tent over your head with a few essential oils can really open up the pores or can help during times of congestion. I talk about this in my post on eucalyptus oil.
- Massage: If you would like to use it in massage, try mixing it with almond oil or coconut oil for a nourishing skin treatment. Don’t forget that giving a massage to someone with aromatherapy will provide the same benefits for you! I love giving my baby a massage with jojoba oil mixed with a few drops of vanilla after her bath.
Wellness: Essential oils can help during times of sickness to alleviate symptoms and help you feel better. Some of the oils like cajeput, peppermint, and ginger specifically work really well on sore muscles or a congested body. Most essential oils are naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral and can help keep your skin and home healthy. Try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a humidifier if suffering from a cough or congestion.
If you are just starting out with aromatherapy, sometimes the decision about which oils to purchase can be overwhelming so I’ve listed some of the basics both by mood a person is trying to achieve or just a good starter kit to make a lot of different types of blends with fairly inexpensive oils.
Uplifting: bergamot, tangerine, grapefruit, vanilla
Activating: lemon, lime, rosemary
Strengthening: cedarwood, rose
Warming: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg
Sensual: ylang ylang, geranium, vanilla, patchouli
Replenishing: eucalyptus, peppermint, carrot seed
Meditative: sandalwood, frankincense, clove
Balancing: clary sage, ginger, rose, geranium
Relaxing: lavender, geranium, wild chamomile
Recommended Starter Kit:
Included in this starter kit are a list of inexpensive (with the exception of chamomile and vanilla) essential oils that will allow you to incorporate all the different types of benefits and properties of essential oils. The vanilla and the rose oils often come blended in a jojoba carrier so they can be applied directly to the skin but are quite expensive. I have always liked the Aura Cacia brand and it is easy to find in most natural health or grocery stores or on Amazon. I also really like Mountain Rose Herbs and is one of the only places I have been able to find undiluted rose and vanilla essential oils.
- Tea tree
- Ylang ylang
- Rose absolute
I really like the AuraCacia app that is available for iPad. It gives lots of ideas for recipes, talks about the properties of many oils, and says what it mixes well with.
The Mountain Rose Herbs website is great for listing the origin of essential oils, properties, uses, contradictions and indications on what blends well together.