The essential oils of many plants have medicinal effects when inhaled or applied to the skin. You may be skeptical of the idea of aromatherapy, but with the right products and the right scents, you can treat many common ailments — or simply treat yourself — with a spa day this weekend!
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) defines aromatherapy as “the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize, and promote the health of body, mind, and spirit.” Sounds pretty great, right?
Before you experiment with aromatherapy, there are a few safety points to keep in mind. First of all, never use pure essential oils directly on your skin without first diluting them, as they may cause skin irritation. Not all oils are safe on skin; if you want to use an aromatherapy product topically, test it on a small patch of skin first. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before trying aromatherapy (it’s best to play it safe and avoid it altogether while pregnant). Never swallow these oils, and keep them away from eyes and mucous membranes. Some oils are not safe for children (especially those with allergies), so save your spa day for when you have a little “me time.”
To create your own aromatherapy products, simply buy unscented lotion, bubble bath, shower gel — whatever you want to use — then find a local shop that sells pure essential oils (your best bet is a natural foods store or health store). Buy the oils that will be most beneficial to you based on the list below. When you get home, dilute the essential oils into your unscented bath products. For a jar of lotion, add about 5 drops of essential oil; for a bottle of shower gel, add about 20 drops. You can also add 5-10 drops of the oil straight into your bath, or place a few drops on a tissue and inhale. Create a body mist by placing 5 drops of essential oil per 4 ounces of water in a spray bottle.
Some oils will come pre-mixed (for example, a mixture of eucalyptus, peppermint, and lemon for cold and flu relief). Based on your needs, you might choose a mixture like this. Compare prices and product descriptions when shopping; you want 100% pure essential oil, not “fragrance oil” or “perfume oil.” Aura Cacia is a trustworthy brand of essential oils and aromatherapy products that can be found locally.
Pure essential oils will generally cost $10-20 for a 0.5oz bottle. However, due to the varying degrees of difficulty extracting the oils from different plant species, prices will range a good bit. Blended oils, which are essential oils diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil, provide a cheaper alternative to the pure essential oils, plus they’re ready to use as body oil.
Which Aromas Should I Use?
If you want to relax…use lavender. The most commonly-used essential oil, lavender is helpful in treating everything from depression to bee stings. A recent study indicated that women who smelled lavender for just 10 minutes had decreased emotional symptoms associated with PMS. Lavender can also be used as a topical treatment for skin inflammation (bug bites, burns, acne). Lemon, chamomile, orange, and neroli are other scents that have a relaxing therapeutic effect.
If you need energy…use peppermint or eucalyptus. These stimulating scents will give you a natural pick-me-up — put down that energy drink!
If you can’t sleep…try chamomile. Here’s a creative idea: place a few drops of chamomile on a small towel or tissue, then place it inside your pillowcase for a scent to soothe you to sleep.
If you want to boost metabolism…use fennel or ginger.
If you’re feeling down…cinnamon, clary sage, and lemon have uplifting scents. Quick — if you’re about to cry, put a few drops into a cup of boiling water and inhale…ahhh. Feel better?
If you’re in pain…try peppermint or ginger (which is especially useful for headaches).
If you’re congested…try eucalyptus, rosemary, lemon, or a blend of these.
If you want to treat skin problems…try tea tree oil. Its antimicrobial properties make it a popular acne treatment, but you might also use it for warts and bug bites. Add 10 drops of tea tree oil to hot water and soak a towel, then place the warm towel on the affected skin.
Trying aromatherapy at home is fun and effective. If you do buy pure essential oils, remember: a little goes a long way, and safety comes first. If you want to learn more, there is a whole world of resources online and at bookstores. Certain Whole Foods locations even have free “Aromatherapy 101” talks in their body department from time to time.
Happy spa day!
Photo credits: Ayla87, Thamizhpparithi Maari, and Visitor7.