Starting in preschool, we learn songs about the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Sight and smell are the easiest for little ones to grasp and it can be very upsetting when a grownup has ‘got your nose.’ Smell is even the first sense a newborn baby uses to find its mother (and milk!).
Your sense of smell is directly connected to the unconscious part of the brain and impacts everything from mood to taste. Ever notice when you have a cold or a stuffy nose that everything tastes blah? We pile on the salt just to taste something – anything at all! This is because your senses of smell and taste are very closely related. When your sinuses clear suddenly everything tastes better too.
With the sense of smell being so hard-wired in the human brain, it provides a powerful yet non-invasive way to improve your everyday quality of life. From sleep to stress, aromatherapy essential oils can help clear both your mind and your sinuses.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy crosses the line between art and science. Aromatherapy oils utilize extracts from plants including flowers and herbs, to enhance your health in a variety of ways. Often called essential oils, treatment methods include topical application, inhalation, diffusion or ingestion. Aromatic oils are often integrated with other therapies to improve health such as massage or acupuncture.
Mentally, aromatherapy has shown to help calm nerves and improve focus. Our brains also connect the sense of smell to memories and enhance mood by reminding you of wonderful past experiences such as the smell of freshly baked cookies at grandma’s house. Triggers such as these can help you calm your mind and prepare for a restorative meditation session too.
Extracted from flowers, tree bark or resin, leaves and herbs, the key to understanding essential oils is the ingredients are all derived naturally. Also known as volatile oils, they are the essence of a plant put in a concentrated form; this means to use an oil, one should dilute the liquid before rubbing on skin or directly inhaling.
Traditional Uses of Essential Oils
A fragrance is more than just perfume. Aromatherapy oils have a variety of common uses including:
- To improve sleep quality and assist in falling asleep
- To relax the mind in preparation for meditation
- Massage oils
- Note that the aromatic oil is diluted with a carrier liquid, such as coconut oil
- Provide respiratory assistance due to allergies or a cold
- Hormonal balance (especially in women during menopause)
- Boost immunity and combat bacteria
- Aid digestion and reduce nausea or gas
Basic Oils and Their Uses
The possibilities for essential oils are endless, and some providers take the liberty of blending oils and naming them for your convenience. But if you aren’t looking for pre-mixed sleepy time oils, or find the blends too strong, here is a short reference list:
- Ginger aids digestion by reducing constipation, ulcers, gas and abdominal pain
- Peppermint aids digestion improves IBS symptoms, calms nerves, and reduces nausea
- Lavender applies to issues from enhancing sleep to addressing anxiety
- When combined with peppermint, it is shown to combat headaches as well as boost cognitive function
- Rose oil is linked to hormonal balance in women and stress reduction
- Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, has strong antimicrobial properties and is an inhalant to treat coughs or topical treatment to reduce infection for minor cuts
- Jojoba oil is often used as a topical ointment in skin care, particularly in the treatment of mild acne
- Oregano oil boosts the immune system
- Jasmine oil stimulates the senses and can increase mood or keep you alert
This is not a comprehensive list. The best way to figure out what you need is to start with what issues you want to address, such as skin care or difficulty sleeping, and then find the oils associated with treating those concerns.
What is an Aromatherapy Diffuser?
Inhalation is considered one of the safest methods for using essential oils since the concentration of the oil is reduced during vaporization. While there are different types of diffusers, they all serve the function of dispersing the aromatherapy oil into the air in particulate form. This can be via heat, electric current, atomizing spray (like a perfume mist) or natural evaporation.
Here is a quick reference to help you recognize the different types of diffusers:
- These cost-effective units involve a heat source such as a candle
- Oils quickly evaporate
- Silent but still effective
- Ultrasonic (electric current)
- Electricity runs through a disc, vibrating the oil into air particles
- No heat involved
- Keeps the integrity of your oil intact
- Most popular type of diffuser for aromatherapy
- Nebulizer (atomizing spray)
- Oil sprayed into the air in the form of droplets
- Can be wasteful if not shut off or on a timer
- Very effective for aromatherapy application over an entire room
- Works like a small wind machine, blowing oil particulates into the air
- Not considered as effective for therapeutic use
Diffusers that involve heating the oil should never remain on overnight. Using a unit with an automatic shutoff feature can alleviate those concerns. If you have asthma, start with milder oils such as peppermint or chamomile.
Studies consistently show aromatherapy has no negative impacts on health, even for women who are pregnant and the most vulnerable. While individuals may react differently, proper use of essential oils can benefit one greatly without the risk of long-term negative side effects. The most severe reactions from aromatherapy oils are skin irritation, usually from use on broken skin, or headaches due to prolonged inhalation of over an hour.
Make sure the oils you use are only done so as intended – don’t ingest oil designed for a diffuser. Dilutions should follow the provided guidelines and always discontinue use if you feel any discomfort.