The Science of Scent
By: Susan Ware
Aromatherapy works with your sense of smell and when used for medicinal purposes, when essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream.
When you inhale, scent is picked up by your olfactory receptors and transmitted to your brain’s limbic system, which is connected to memory and emotion. That’s why coming across a scent from your childhood-cotton candy, for example-takes you straight back to the first time you went to the county fair.
Aromatherapy works on the same principle. Different essential oils have different properties-some calm and relax, while others stimulate and awaken-and may be used separately or in combination to bring about the desired effect. When aromatherapy is used topically, like in aromatherapy massage, the oils are absorbed through the skin.
Aromatherapy Essential Oils
The use of pure essential oils is at the heart aromatherapy and these oils are used in a precise, deliberate manner-not added as an afterthought to dryer sheets. Store shelves are full of aromatherapy products that advertise mood-enhancing benefits, but unless they contain pure essential oils, they’re not truly aromatherapeutic-they just smell nice.
Essential oils contain the purest essence of the plants they’re taken from and are obtained through a distillation process that uses water or steam. Plants naturally create essential oils to help defend them from bacteria, disease and predators. Essential oils are highly concentrated-a little goes a very long way. Pure essential oils should always be mixed with a carrier oil, like almond or jojoba oil, before being applied directly to the skin.
By contrast, perfume and fragrance oils, though they may contain some natural compounds, are artificially made or contain some artificial components.
Common Uses of Aromatherapy
One of the most common and popular uses of aromatherapy is treating insomnia with lavender. Known for its ability to reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system, lavender essential oil shows up in eye pillows, aromatherapy bath oils and linen sprays. Aromatherapy massage oils may contain essential oils that promote relaxation when you inhale their scent or soothe aching muscles after being applied to your skin.
Essential oils can also be added to bath salts and body scrubs to energize you in the morning or unwind after a long day. If you’re interested in making your own aromatherapy bath products at home, be sure the essential oils you buy come with an informational insert or you’re using a recipe you trust-using too much of these highly-concentrated oils may irritate your skin. Or, consult with a trained aromatherapist.
Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that’s also an antibacterial and fungicide in nature. You’ll find tea tree oil in number of natural health and beauty products like facial cleanser, deodorant and toothpaste. Eucalyptus and peppermint are often used in combination to ease cold and flu symptoms. These essential oils might be added to hot water where they mix with steam to make a soothing vapor.
Essential Oil Properties
There are hundreds of essential oils available in natural form or added to products you use every day, each with its own unique properties. Common essential oils you might find include:
- Bergamot. Know to be refreshing and uplifting.
- Geranium. Reduces stress.
- Lavender. Promotes relaxation, calming and balancing
- Peppermint. Aids digestion, relieves headaches and fatigue
- Rosemary. An anti-inflammatory that also stimulates the mind
While it helps to know a little about which scents produce the effects you’re looking for, you don’t need to be an aromatherapist to introduce aromatherapy into your life-you just need to go to the store or do a quick search on leapfish or google.
There are a wide variety of aromatherapy products available to get you started, including oil burners, aromatherapy diffusers for your home or car, aromatherapy soy candles, incense and other air fresheners, and host of health and beauty products, like bath salts, shampoos and body lotions. The key is to find the products that contain essential oils and not perfumes or other artificial fragrances.
By: Susan Ware