Aromatherapy is simply the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes, and includes all routes of absorption: olfactory (via inhalation), integumentary (topical application on the skin), and yes, even internal (orally, rectally, or vaginally, in extremely rare circumstances).
Over the past few years, essential oils have been brought to the forefront of the wellness industry, becoming a hot topic and an even hotter commodity. Everybody seems to have something to say about essential oils, and this has led to an avalanche of information being made available to the general public.
In spite of this spike in popularity, however, it seems like most people don’t seem to know what Aromatherapy actually is! This is likely because many of the newer articles being written are not by Aromatherapists or Herbalists; nowadays, anybody who uses essential oils in any capacity can call themselves an “expert”, “practitioner”, “consultant”, “coach”, or “advocate”, leading to a huge discrepancy in the quality of information being made available to consumers.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Aromatherapy is that it is the practice of inhaling essential oils, ONLY; that Aromatherapy is restricted to the olfactory domain, and is limited to direct inhalation (either from the bottle or an Aromatherapy inhaler) or diffusion (typically from an electronic diffuser, but can also include heat diffusion or reed diffusers).
This is only partially true, as Aromatherapy is so much more than that! Indeed, the word “aroma” would lead one to believe that this is the primary function of the practice, and while inhalation is one of the main (and arguably most effective) method of absorbing essential oils, it certainly isn’t the only way.
Fun fact: the term “aromatherapy” was coined by the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé, in an article in 1928. You can read more about the history of aromatherapy here: https://www.aromaweb.com/articles/history.asp
So, What Is Aromatherapy Exactly?
Aromatherapy is simply the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes, and includes all routes of absorption: olfactory (via inhalation), integumentary (topical application on the skin), and yes, even internal (orally, rectally, or vaginally, in extremely rare instances, if at all).
If you are using essential oils, and you are hoping to feel better as a result of doing so, you are practicing Aromatherapy. It’s really that simple!
Furthermore, the practice of Aromatherapy itself is rather simple. There are some basic guidelines that you need to follow, but within those guidelines, you can do so much!
Guidelines for Topical Application
Because essential oils are not bioavailable in their pure, undiluted state, and can also be highly irritating, they must be diluted before being applied to the skin (unless you’re looking to irritate the skin to the point of breakdown, such as in treating acne or warts).
A general rule of thumb is to stay within a 1-2% dilution if you are applying essential oils to the skin of a healthy adult. People with sensitive skin, the elderly, and children (between the ages of 6-12) would benefit most from a dilution of 0.5-1%.
For young children and babies, the benefits of essential oils do not outweigh the risks (particularly for systemic toxicity and sensitization), so I generally wouldn’t recommend using them topically. Instead, use hydrosols, which are the aqueous components of essential oils. Hydrosols are fantastic – they are extremely diluted, but still therapeutic, and can be applied neat (directly to the skin, without dilution) to children and babies, safely.
For acute conditions or injuries, where you will only be applying the essential oil treatment for a few days, you can increase the dilution to about 10%. Use your discretion, depending on what you’re dealing with. For example, a muscle rub that you intend to use for a few weeks could be anywhere from 5-10%; an injury leading to a muscle sprain may even call for a stronger concentration of essential oil, but only for 3-5 days max.
Quick Dilution Guide: For 1 oz or 30 mL, 0.5% is about 3 drops; 1% is about 6 drops; and 2% is about 12 drops. These are the TOTAL drops of essential oils, so keep that in mind if you’re using more than one oil in your blend.
Guidelines for Inhalation
The most efficient and effective way to disperse essential oils into the air is by using an electronic diffuser, which uses a cold mist. These are readily available to purchase at most health food stores, and many home decor stores are carrying them too. Plus, you can get them with cool lighting features and some of them are gorgeous pieces of art in and of themselves!
In any case, most of the water chambers in commercial diffusers hold about 100 mL of water. For this amount, I would recommend 6-8 drops of essential oil TOTAL, and diffusing for 45 minutes to 1 hour at a time. The efficacy of essential oil dispersion peaks at about the 45 minute mark, after which you no longer receive any benefit from it, and would just be wasting precious plant material. Make sure you give yourself a 1-2 hour “break” between diffusion sessions.
Reed diffusers are another way to disperse essential oils into the air, although they’re not as effective as electronic diffusers and only cover a small area. Candle diffusers use heat to disperse the oil, but unfortunately the heat also breaks down the molecular structure of the oil, which could alter its effects. I don’t personally use candle diffusers, or heat up my essential oils, and it’s not something I would recommend to my clients.
Make sure that you diffuse essential oils in a well-ventilated area, and away from your face. Diffusion is safe for most age groups, although I would avoid it in infants under 6 months of age (I don’t use essential oils for babies under 6 months). Also, if you have animals in your home, you must be careful with diffusion. For more information about using essential oils with your pets, see Lea Jacobson’s article: https://www.usingeossafely.com/using-oils-with-pets/
Guidelines for Internal Use
I don’t recommend using essential oils internally, without being under the care of a qualified practitioner, such as a Clinical Aromatherapist or Herbalist. The creation of rectal or vaginal suppositories is not an “everyday” practice, and must be left to professionals; playing around with this mode of absorption can cause more harm than good.
There is also no need or benefit to taking essential oils with your beverage. First of all, because oil and water don’t mix, drinking essential oils in your water is tantamount to applying essential oils directly to the mucous membranes in your mouth, esophageal tract, and internal organs. This practice alone has caused a significant amount of injury and toxicity. If you’d like to learn more about this, you can view the latest Aromatherapy Injury Reports at: http://aromatherapyunited.org/injury-reports/
Many people believe that essential oils are the concentrated version of the fruit or plant from which they came – this is NOT true! Essential oils are specific chemical components that have been distilled from the plant or fruit, and at best represent about one-third of its healing properties. Finally, essential oils have NO nutritional value, including the ones that have “Nutrition Facts” on the label. There is no regulation regarding the placement of “Nutrition Facts”, and this label can be placed on anything.
But What About Lemon In My Water…?
The essential oil from lemons and other citrus fruit is distilled from the peel, not the fruit itself. Therefore, if you’re hoping to get a concentrated form of lemon’s benefits via its essential oil, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Lemon juice in your water is perfect – you get the fibre and vitamins, and its much more cost-effective. Lemon essential oil is a wonderful oil, particularly for de-greasing your kitchen counters… It’s main chemical component is d-limonene, a very effective degreaser used in mechanic shops. This has nothing to do with whether the oil is labeled as “therapeutic grade”, or even if its adulterated. If it is indeed, pure lemon essential oil, then it has enough d-limonene to cause more harm than benefit to your internal organs.
For more insight into this, please watch Amy Kreydin’s video, Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Essential Oils. I also highly recommend her book by the same name.
Video (only 20 minutes!): https://youtu.be/8funNMKRx54
Article (with link to book): http://www.thebarefootdragonfly.com/friends-dont-let-friends-drink-essential-oils/
So, there you have it! Essential oils can be used in a wide variety of ways to improve your health and wellbeing, and to support you while you heal from illness. Within the realm of topical application and inhalation, you can do so much for yourself and your family. I promise that these are the best and most effective ways to practice Aromatherapy, and used appropriately, you won’t need to do anything else.
Stay tuned for more amazing Aromatherapy content on the Sacred Wellness Blog, including recipes, videos, and more!
Smell ya later 😉