Aromatherapy 101: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

Aromatherapy has been around for a long time but has gained popularity in recent years. If you want to learn a little bit more about it, want to get started or to find the right way to introduce aromatherapy into your life, this guide is for you!

Quick history of essential oils

Little is known about how far back the use of essential oils for medicinal purposes goes. That being said, the Egyptians are credited for creating the first ever distillation machines used to extract oils from plants.

The term ‘aromatherapy’ was coined by French chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse in 1937. After using lavender oil as a last resort when he burnt his hand, he discovered the healing powers of essential oils.

After that, during World War II, French surgeon Jean Valnet used essential oils to treat wounded soldiers, proving once again the medical benefits of aromatherapy. 

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What exactly is aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment, although there are still some debates around the scientific proof of its effectiveness, many studies have shown that it is effective in treating quite a few ailments. 

It uses essential oils in different forms to improve the health of the mind, body and spirit. It can help with a multitude of issues like headaches, sleep troubles, pain and stress. The essential oils are used in many different ways including topically (as lotions or ointments) or they can be inhaled (in a diffuser, in the bath, etc). 

How aromatherapy works

The way that essential oils work is that they stimulate the smell receptors in the nose which then sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls emotions. It also controls heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance. That’s why a certain smell, or perfume can stir up old memories. 

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Is aromatherapy backed up by science?

Many researchers have studied the effectiveness of aromatherapy over the years, here are a few of them. 

By studying brainwaves, researchers at the Toho University School of Medicine in Tokyo were able to prove that inhaling jasmine oil had a similar stimulating effect as coffee

Researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria were able to conclude that inhaling lavender oil sedated the central nervous system

Multiple researchers in Japan and New Jersey proved that certain essential oils (like nutmeg, peppermint and jasmine) were effective in reducing blood pressure.  

Researchers at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Griefswald in Germany proved the effectiveness of certains oils as local anesthetics, proving that they had the ability to alter cell membranes. 

That being said, clinical trials have yet to be done so many people still consider aromatherapy a pseudoscience. 

How are essential oils used? 

Essential oils can be used in a variety of different ways.

Diffusing

Essential oils are very easy to diffuse and there are many ways that can be done. The most popular ways to diffuse are using an electric diffuser, the ones that create a sort of steam. Many people also use reed diffusers, which are wood sticks dipped into a jar or recipient containing essential oils. Another way is burning candles made with essential oils.

Inhaling 

Inhaling can be done by simply opening a bottle of pure essential oils and breathing in, being careful not to let the oil touch your skin.

You can also inhale it by using steam. Place hot water into a bowl and put a couple drops of essential oil into it, then drape a towel over your head and inhale. You can repeat a few times throughout the day. 

Dry evaporation

This method entails putting drops of essential oils onto a cotton ball or something similar and inhaling it or placing it around your house to disperse the smell. 

In the bath or the shower

There are many different ways to use essential oils in the bathroom. The first way is to add a few drops into your shampoo, conditioner or body wash. Another is to place a few drops onto the floor of your shower or in your bath water and let the steam and water disperse the smell. 

As a lotion

Essential oils generally aren’t safe to use directly onto the skin but they can be mixed with carrier oils. They can then be massaged or rubbed directly onto the skin. 

Quick guide to the most popular types of essential oils and their benefits

Aromatherapy can be used for a number of things and each essential oil brings different benefits. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Lavender OIl

Lavender essential oil

Uses: relaxation, skin issues, speeding healing, improved digestion, pain relief, reduced inflammation. 

How to: lavender oil is safe to use directly on the skin (without a carrier oil) or it can be placed in a diffuser or sprayed on your pillow. 

 

Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil

Uses: headaches, digestive issues, feelings of stress and anxiety, killing germs, freshens air, redness and irritating skin issues, congestion.

How to: peppermint oil can be used as a mist to clean the air, mixed with water and used as a mouth rinse or mixed with a carrier oil and used to massage into sore muscles.

 

Lemon oil

Lemon oil

Uses: freshening air, killing germs in kitchens and bathrooms, aiding digestion, reducing pain (arthritis, gout), healing skin, promoting immune system, increasing energy and uplifting the mood promoting healthy circulation.

How to: lemon oil can be mixed with vinegar and used as a cleaner, applied directly to the skin to heal it or mixed with water and drunk to boost your immune system (only when you’re certain the oil is 100% pure).

 

Eucalyptus oil

Uses: reducing congestion and stuffy noses, fighting germs (especially respiratory infections), stimulating the mind and body, reducing fever, eliminating headaches, cooling relief of muscle pain, insect repellent, and boosting the immune system.

How to: eucalyptus oil can be used in your diffuser when you spot the first signs of a cold or flu coming on, or mixed with hot water and inhaled to fight congestion or mixed with a carrier oil and rubbed into sore muscles. 

 

Sweet Orange

Sweet orange oil

Uses: uplifting mood and easing anxiety, boosting immune system, preventing infection, aids in cognitive function, disinfecting households, reducing inflammation, decreasing hypertension.

How to: sweet orange can be mixed with water and used as a cleaner or disinfectant, or added to a diffuser. 

How to get started 

1. Choose what you want to target: whether you’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating or relaxing, choose what you want to focus on. Refer to the short guide we provided above to pick an oil (or blend) which corresponds to your needs. 

2. Purchasing the oil(s): it is recommended that you buy oil that is considered ‘pure’, free of any additives and not diluted in any way. It is also recommended that you buy organic essential oils as any pesticides used on the plant will end up in the oil that you will be inhaling. As there is no standardized grading system for essential oils it is best to research the brand ahead of time.

3. Choose the way you want to diffuse the oil: depending on the oil you’re using, what you want to target and your preferences you can choose to use a diffuser, a spray, a steamer or use it as a lotion. 

4. Keep track of how you’re feeling, if you start having adverse reactions (eczema, nausea, lightheadedness) stop the treatment. 

5. Consider going to an aromatherapist: this is a good solution if you don’t feel like investing too much time researching. Aromatherapists will have a chat with you about your problems and make recommendations based on your needs. 

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A word of warning

Although most essential oils are safe for use, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has issued warnings against the essential oils listed below which are known for causing repeated problems: 

Angelica root oil
Cassia oil
Chenopodium oil
Cinnamon oil
Citrus oils (especially bergamot, bitter orange, lemon and lime)
Costus root oil
Fig leaf absolute (absolutes are alcohol-soluble perfume materials)
Lemon verbena oil
Marigold oil and absolute
Oak moss absolute and resinoid
Opopanax oil
Peru balsam oil
Oils of pine, balsam fir and other members of the Pinaceae family
Sassafras oil
Savin oil
American and Asian styrax

Please also be mindful that essential oils that may be safe for us can be quite dangerous for certain animals, for example eucalyptus can be toxic to cats. It is very important to thoroughly research the adverse effects of certain essential oils on our pets and any conditions we may have. 

We hope this guide will be a good starting point for you on your journey to discovering aromatherapy. Keep in mind that everyone can react to things differently so do plenty of research before trying anything and to check in with your doctor if you have any conditions or medication that could cause adverse effects. 

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.