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Improve Your Health with Aromatherapy

15 Jun 2016

Aromatherapy is a word that’s getting a lot of press these days. Just what exactly is it?

First let’s talk about what it is not. Sweet scented lotions, candles and bath oils might smell good, and you may enjoy their fragrance and find them pleasant, but none of that is a guarantee that whatever is producing the scent is health-enhancing.

Genuine aromatherapy products are produced from extracts of plants, while many scented products are crafted using chemicals and synthetic fragrances. This is the main distinction.

Botanical extracts used in aromatherapy are referred to as essential oils.  An essential oil contains the essence (or characteristic aroma) of that plant it’s derived from.  These oils are also called volatile oils because they evaporate or turn to vapor quickly, unlike stable oils such as almond or avocado. It is this quality that makes them so useful, because as they vaporize they can be inhaled.

Why is this important? Many believe that there is a connection between our sense of smell and brain function related to memory and emotion. Both these can affect physical and mental health. Still, others believe aromatherapy works by stimulating a natural process in the body due to interaction with hormones or enzymes.

Even though definitive research that has shown exactly how aromatherapy works, many studies as well as a long history of results indicates that there are many health benefits. For example:

  • Cancer Research UK indicates it is useful as a supportive therapy for cancer patients as well as others in that it can reduce stress and promote better sleep. Cancer patients they studied reported feeling less ill when having aromatherapy. 
  • Participants in a National Institute of Health study reported feeling less stressed when using aromatherapy

Different essential oils seem to work for various conditions. There are oils for alleviating pain or nausea as well as others that can improve a mood or induce relaxation and even promote sleep. Some good choices for specific conditions are:

  • Relaxation and anxiety reduction: Lavender, patchouli, frankincense, chamomile, vanilla
  • Fighting depression: citrus oils
  • Muscle and headache pain: chamomile, lemon grass, eucalyptus
  • Nausea or indigestion: peppermint, ginger
  • Insomnia: lavender, chamomile, bergamot, ylang ylang

Essential oils are very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of ways.  Diffusers and nebulizers release the oils in a vapor state into the air, which makes them very easy to inhale. They can even be added to pendants designed specifically to contain the oil suspended around the neck, releasing the oil slowly over time. A few drops can be added to a warm bath, or a massage therapist may add it to the massage oil or lotion being used. Using it with the massage lubricant offers double benefits – the oil is absorbed into the skin and at the same time it’s released into the air and so inhaled. Some therapists combine aromatherapy with massage by adding a few drops to a cloth suspended below the face cradle.

For the most part, essential oils used in aromatherapy are safe when used properly, but since they can be strong, they should be added to an inert carrier oil and never applied directly to the skin. They may produce allergic reactions in some people. For instance, those who have allergies to daisies may not be able to tolerate chamomile. Finally, they may react with some medications, so they should be used only with the advice of a trained aromatherapist.

By the way, when choosing essential oils for aromatherapy, always verify that they are produced from quality plant ingredients; some inexpensive preparations are actually synthetic aromas.

Training in aromatherapy is part of our elective course in Spa & Resort Techniques available to students at our massage school here in Minneapolis. CenterPoint also offers aromatherapy workshops for the general public, including Intuition and Intention with Essential Oils and Safety First – Essential Oils for Children in late summer/early fall!





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