Aromatherapy 101

by Stacey Parla

Have you ever inhaled a familiar aroma and suddenly found yourself daydreaming about a happy memory?

Scents have a unique ability to make us feel strong emotions, so it stands to reason that the art of aromatherapy may actually affect our mood. Through the use of essential oils, we can help elicit a certain mood or reaction – calming, soothing, invigorating, or even energizing.

The art of aromatherapy has been around for centuries. This approach to a mind-body connection has been documented as far back as Ancient Egypt, but did you know that the first “official” book on the subject was written in the 1930s?1 A French chemist by the name of Rene-Maurice Gatefosse is credited with coining the term “aromatherapy.”2 But what exactly is aromatherapy? Aromatherapy can be defined as a number of things, but basically it is the use of the scent of essential oils from flowers, herbs and trees to help produce a feeling of relaxation, increase the feeling of energy, and as a means to help balance the mind, body and soul.3

What are essential oils?

The term “essential” simply means the “essence” of flowers, herbs and trees.4 An essential oil is derived from the parts of the plants with the strongest scents and signifies that these products are not artificially manufactured scents. It is important to note, however, that essential oils are volatile in the sense that they evaporate very quickly. Also, keep in mind that essential oils are powerfully strong and should never be used directly on bare skin. Essential oils are available in pure form or in blended form. The pure essential oils are just that, 100% plant derived essential oil. The blended oils may include the essence oil and another natural oil base, such as jojoba.

What are carrier oils?

Because essential oils cannot be used directly on the skin, carrier oils are needed for some types of aromatherapy, such as massage. Essentially, carrier oils are vegetable oils and base oils that are usually extracted from the fatty portion of a plant. These fatty oils come in various viscosities (the fluidity or thickness of the oil) and different scents.

The scents of carrier oils are typically not as potent as those of essential oils, so they blend well with the stronger scents of essential oils.

Carrier oils are utilized to “carry” the essential oil. Carrier oils have a very specific shelf life, because they are natural and can spoil, so it is important to be aware of this when you make your purchase.5

What are organic essential oils?

These essential oils are USDA Certified Organic. What exactly does that mean? It means that the strictest guidelines are followed, as set by the USDA’s National Organic Program. If you are a purist and organic growing and harvesting methods are important to you, you may want to choose organic essential oils.

What is a diffuser?

First, let’s talk about diffusion aromatherapy. Diffusion is the means by which an essential oil is dispersed into the air so that the aroma can be inhaled.6 Pretty simple, right? Let’s take a look at the various types of diffusers that are available. There are nebulizer diffusers, ultrasonic diffusers, vapor diffusers, cold mist humidifier diffusers, oil warmers and candle lamps. Diffusers can range in price anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on the type and the available “extras,” like mood-enhancing LED lights. The diffuser choice is simply a matter of personal preference.

How do I choose an essential oil?

Now that you have the basics, it’s time to figure out how you think aromatherapy will fit into your lifestyle. You may prefer to wear a scent to help you maintain balance throughout the day (remember you will need a carrier oil for this method). You may choose to scent your home or office with a diffuser, or you may choose to have someone give you an aromatherapy massage. Once you decide which method or methods work best for you, it’s time to choose your scent or scents.

Since essential oils are used to help influence your emotions and behavior or elevate your state of mind, you should choose a scent based on the desired outcome.

Want to feel more relaxed? Choose a scent that soothes, like lavender. Want to feel invigorated? Choose a fragrance that energizes, like lemongrass. Looking for serenity? Choose a calming aroma, like ylang ylang.

Whether you choose to experiment with scents to help yourself to a soothing, spa-like aromatherapy experience or if you prefer to simply enjoy the aroma in your home or office environment, mixing scents and being adventurous with fragrance is bound to be pleasurable.