Essential oil is the vital life essence of a plant that is extracted from the flowers, leaves, wood, root, bark, seeds, and resin by either expression (pressure) or distillation (steam, water, or dry). Although the use of essential oils for its therapeutic properties dates back to the ancient Egyptians, the use of essential oil for modern day aromatherapy did not occur until 1928. The word aromatherapy can be misleading, it suggest that its a form of healing that works exclusively through the sense of smell. This is supported by the misconception that fragrances can be used for aromatherapy. Fragrances are synthetic and chemically altered materials utilized to develop a specific scent. Unlike fragrances, each essential oil has individual properties that interact with the body’s chemistry which in turn affects certain systems as a whole.
How Essential Oils Effect the Body
Essential oils interact with the body in three distinct ways: pharmacologically (relates to the chemical change that takes place when the essential oil enters the blood stream and reacts with the hormones and enzymes), physiologically (relates to the way in which the essential oil effects the systems of the body), and psychologically (occurs when an essential oil is inhaled and a response is generated by the aroma). Essential oils and the affects on the human body can be more easily understood by looking at the individual systems of the body.
Respiratory System: Essential oils are effective for the treatment of nose, throat, and lung infections. Inhalation of essential oils to treat these types of infections is the most effective way to utilize their properties as they are absorbed into the blood stream faster than with external application. Essential oils increase bronchial secretion that is beneficial for many respiratory infections.
Circulation, Muscles and Joints: Essential oils relieve local inflammation by setting free mediators in the body allowing the blood vessels to expand. This results in better circulation causing the swelling to be reduced.
Emotions, Mind and Spirit: Although the use of essential oils in aromatherapy for the emotions, mind and spirit is the most widespread, it is probably the least understood. The degree to which people are emotionally and psychologically affected by essential oils varies from individual to individual. For example, an essential oil that aids in the treatment of depression for one person may not have the same effect on another. The consumer should rely on experimentation with different essential oils to determine which are best suited for the outcome that is being sought.
Skin: Skin problems normally manifest from a build-up of toxins in the blood, emotional difficulties, and hormonal imbalance. Essential oils assist in balancing emotions and hormones, eliminates toxins from the body, are soluble in oil and alcohol, which makes skin application ideal. Pure essential oils should be combined with a carrier oil such as almond, olive, soy or, jojoba prior to being applied to the skin.
Digestive System: The use of essential oils for digestive problems is affective with external application of the essential oil (i.e. massage or bath salts).
Genito-Urinary / Endocrine System: The use of essential oils for strengthening the reproductive organs is affective with external application (i.e. massage or bath salts). Essential oils can also treat menstrual problems, sexual difficulties and genital infections.
Immune System: Essential oils aid in the production of white blood cells, which helps prevent and treat infectious illnesses. Studies have shown that using essential oils frequently will heighten resistance to infectious illnesses, and result in faster recoveries from illness.
Safe and Proper uses for Essential Oils
Pure essential oils are highly concentrated and knowledge on their safe use is vital. The potential dangers of an essential oil depends on the dosage, frequency, properties of the oil, and the method of application. Almost all essential oils should be diluted prior to being applied to the skin. Lavender and Tea Tree are two of the most common oils that can be applied directly to the skin. The application of undiluted essential oils directly to the skin can cause burning, photosensitivity, and skin irritation. The most effective and common approach to diluting essential oils is through the use of a carrier oil. Jojoba Oil is recommended due to its similarities to the sebum produced by our own skin. Therefore, it is particularly beneficial as facial and body oils. A safe and effective dilution for most aromatherapy applications is 3 drops of essential oils per100 drops of carrier oil (3%), and 1 drop of essential oil per 100 drops of carrier oil for applications in children (1%).
Essential oils should be stored away from heat and light to preserve their potency. Most essential oils have a shelf life of several years. Citrus oils have a shelf life of about one year. Sandalwood, patchouli, and cedarwood oils improve with age.
Suggested methods of application include massage and body oil, bathing, compress, inhaling from steaming water, and as a body or room spray. Essential oils used in any method of applications should be diluted to approximately 3% (1% for children). Essential oils should not be ingested.
Exposure to ultraviolet rays within 4 to 6 hours after applying lotions or massage oils containing bergamot, orange, grapefruit, and lemongrass oils can irritate and cause uneven pigmentation of the skin.
The use of a single, or blend of oils for a long period of uninterrupted time can be harmful to the liver and kidneys. Alternating the oils at least every two weeks will allow them to work in there own unique way. The use of oils for a long period of time is acceptable for small areas of the body.
Those suffering from hypoglycemia and diabetes should avoid the use of geranium as studies have shown that it can lower the blood sugar level.
People diagnosed with seizure disorders should avoid the use of rosemary oil. Studies have shown that the symptoms associated with seizure disorders can be treated though the use of Lavender oil.
Essential oils should be kept out of the reach of young children. Lavender and Chamomile are the safest and most widely used oils for children.
The use of any essential oils should be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy. Sandalwood, Geranium, Ylang Ylang, Chamomile, and Lavender pure essential oils are generally safe during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, but pregnant woman should consult their physician prior to their use.