Category Archives: Aromatherapy Facts

Essential facts: What’s exactly in your essential oils?

Do you wonder what is in essential oils that make them so important and therapeutic? What makes them instant healers? Readymade-cures for every sort of pain or infection or injury or even emotional problem? What pushes forth that instant relief? Though the limbic system and its connection with the important parts of the body maybe an answer, you cannot justify that the therapeutic effects essential oils have on our minds and bodies by pointing at the brain’s sensitivity to aromas. There ought to something quintessential about oils which make them special medicinal cures. This article will focus on the constituents of essential oils and how to determine their quality or impact on our body.

Essential oils – constituents: What makes essential oils essential? It is the constituents or chemical make up of every other oil which determines its effect on the human body. Like every other thing, essential oils is made of an array of molecules and atoms which can be found out using quality tests like Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS). As you know, essential oils are plant substances which are the life-blood of plants. They provide support to plants throughout their life processes and carry all the nutrients and anti-viral, microbial and bacterial properties of the plant immune system. When these natural substances are used for curing an ailment, they react with the same germs in the human body and bring about an instant relief.

This philosophy of using natural herbs are immunity agents has been in practice for ages. Modern day Aspirin is but the old times white Willow Bark, discovered over 2000 years ago by Hippocrates to ease headaches, pains and backaches. When science discovered that this bark contained salicin which helps reduce aches, they used the constituent in a tablet and so was born, modern-day Aspirin.

Chemical compounds that are unadulterated and pure are the highlights of essential oils. In general, the following group of constituents are present in any essential oil:

  • Acids
  • Alcohols
  • Aldehydes
  • Coumarins
  • Esthers
  • Ketones
  • Esters
  • Lactones
  • Oxides
  • Phenols
  • Terpenes

Quality of essential oil constituents: Some oils may have a higher concentration of one or two constituents, while some others may lack in the very same constituents. For instance, Lavender oil has a high percentage of ester known as linalyl acetate which has the power to isolate and synthesize particular constituents. Some oils maybe blends of two or more oils and will be very expensive to buy. This is the case with Japanese Yuzu oil which looks like a blend of Grapefruit and Mandarin oils. Exploiting this nature of Yuzu, many try to produce the oil at cheap rates by blending Grapefruit and Mandarin. In a similar way, Patchouli oil is blended with Cedarwood or balsams.

It is difficult to standardize the constituents and if you do so, then, your essential oil may not be pure. This is because oils are influenced by several factors – right from soil, place of origin, amount of rainfall, to altitude, temperature, production, extraction and distillation processes. And manufacturers often standardize oils based on their customers/clients’ requirements. If a manufacturer sells his oil to the perfumery industry, he follows a particular standardization process and ensures that the oil meets the mark. However, in the case of therapeutic grade essential oils, this is not possible as such a standardization would mean adulteration of a substance that was pure and natural. This is why it is important to check if your oil’s constituents are unadulterated before you buy.

Aromatherapy golden rules: 8 best methods of topical application of oils

Without doubts, aromatherapy is therapeutic. It is a healing system which applies essential oils in the form of diffusers, massages, as bath oils or bath salts to promote health and life. The most common way of aromatherapeutic healing is through massaging or topical application. Though essential oils are beneficial to the body, care needs to be taken when you apply them on to your skin. Certain methods of topical application are more successful and reap the utmost benefits. This article will focus on some of the best methods in which you can use essential oils as a topical treatment for disorders and ailments.

Topical application of essential oils – Do’s and Don’ts: Never think that topical application of an essential oil is easy. There are several nuances involved and you need to attend to each and everyone of them to make most of your aromatherapy. Below are a few tips on how to topically apply essential oils:

1. More oil is not better therapy: Never think that the more oil you apply, the better you are healed. More oil can only detoxify the skin around the area of application. To avoid this, use only one to six drops of essential oils for an affected area. Generally, desired results can be got by using just one to three drops of essential oils.

2. Apply on your feet: The feet are the second fastest area to absorb essential oils quickly. Apply on the feet if you want an instant remedy. Since feet have large pores, you can trust them for quick relief of your ailment. Other quick absorbing areas include ears and wrists.

3. Foot bath preparation: Foot bath can be another route for a calm, relaxed and peaceful state of mind. Add one to six drops of essential oils per foot bath preparation and soak your feet in it.

4. Large area massage: When massaging oils to a large area of the body, it is better to dilute the oils. You can dilute the oils in carrier oils by 15 to 30% or add them with V-6 Mixing oil.

5. For children: Essential oils can turn toxic to infants and children if applied too much. Hence it is better to dilute them with V-6 Mixing oil. You can use one to three drops of an essential oil to one tbsp of V-6 Mixing oil for children and one to three drops of an essential oil to one tsp of V-6 oil for infants.

6. Never mix blends: Commercially available essential oil blends are prepared by specialized aromatherapists based on the reactions and properties of oils. If you mix blends, you can invoke a series of caustic or undesirable reactions. To avoid this, don’t mix blends. Do so only with individual oils.

7. Use layering technique: If you are unsure about how to make a blend, use layering technique in applying essential oils. Layering refers to the process of applying one oil (that is, rubbing it on to skin) and then, applying another oil on top of it. You need not wait for more that two seconds in between application of oils. If you want to blend the oils with a mixing oil, apply it on top of all the oils. Since absorption into the skin is pretty easy, you need not wait for one oil to dry to apply another.

8. Strictly no internal use: The FDA has approved certain essential oils for internal use and such oils have a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe for Internal Use) label. It is safe to use oils with this designation for internal consumption. Don’t take other oils internally. It can be fatal.

Essential oil chemotypes: The less-known side of aromatherapy

Sometimes there are several different kinds of one essential oil called chemotypes. These are not laboratory variations of an essential oil, but biological variations of a plant caused due to effects of light, soil, temperature, weather conditions during plant life processes. Different chemotypes can produce different effects when used in healing or therapeutic applications. This is because, in a chemotype, the original plant’s biology undergoes a slight yet permanent change that lasts for ages. Though botanically the two plants are identical, the chemical make-up of a chemotype changes so much so that it becomes a separate species that carries qualities of both the new variant and its older kin.

What are chemotypes? The first fact about chemotypes are, they are not laboratory-created variations, but botanical variations of plant species. Chemotypes occur when the natural energies and elements like sunlight, water, soil, climatic conditions and environmental issues have an impact on a plant species and induce it to grow in a particular way. In trying to adapt to a particular environment, a plant may undergo mutation, isolation and evolution, which may in turn, affect its chemical framework and botanical identity. The changes that happen in such an atmosphere are subtle yet permanent and last for ages. Chemotypes are botanically identical but show slight yet distinct chemical differences. Essential oils produced from chemotypes show variations in aromas, therapeutic effects, blend properties and a lot of other things. This is why it is important to choose the right oil before planning to make a blend.

For instance, most people do not know about chemotypes and think all oils called Lavender are extracted from Lavendula officianalis. But it is always not so. All commercial essentials labeled Lavender oil are generally one of the chemotypes of Lavender. These can be extracted from  Lavendula officianalis or Lavendula latifolia or can even be a variant of Lavandin oil.

Essential oils with chemotypes: Essential oils that demonstrate a variety of chemotypes are – Thyme, Geranium, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Myrtle and Spike Lavender. Research is under way in this area of aromatherapy and botanists hope to discover many more chemotypes of plants in future. Below are some of the plants with prominent chemotypes:

Rosemary chemotypes: Certain Rosemary plants have a natural preponderance of camphor. Oils produced from such plants are called camphor chemotype Rosemary oils. A rosemary plant with no trace of camphor notes will produce pure Rosemary oil. On the other hand, if the plant has decreased notes of camphor, the yield will be verbenon. Verbenon is a popular Rosemary oil chemotype with balsamic-piney aroma and refreshing notes of a typical camphor chemotype.

Basil chemotypes: Basil demonstrates a lot of chemotypes and most popular among them are licorice, lemon and cinnamon scented plants. Two major chemotypes of Basil oils are Sweet Basil oil and Reunion Basil oil. Sweet Basil or European Basil oil is extracted from a strain of Basil with exceptionally high concentration of linalool. Since linalool has a delightful aroma, Sweet Basil is sweet and aromatic. All of Europe’s finest Basil oils are made from the Sweet Basil chemotype. Reunion Basil is a chemotype that grows on the Reunion and Comoro islands off the east coast of Africa. The Reunion type has a woody aroma which often has a camphoraceous note. All commercial Basil oils are somewhere between these two chemotypes of Basil.

Lavender chemotypes:
Lavandin oils are popular oils extracted from the chemotypes that are hybrids of  Lavendula hybrida. This Lavendula hybrida is actually a cross between true Lavender (Lavendula officianalis) and Spike Lavender (Lavendula latifolia). Unlike Basil, the various types of Lavadin are not influenced by climatic or soil conditions, but by the varying ratios of the two parent plants. Lavadin oils are used to scent soaps, detergents and cosmetics as they have herbaceous camphoraceous notes.

Touchstone techniques: 4 ways to test the quality of essential oils

Determining the quality of essential oils is not easy even if you have been an aromatherapist for years. This is because essential oils come from various parts of the world and companies/manufacturers acquire oils from farmers, small-scale essential oil distillers, wholesale aromatic oil suppliers etc. Since essential oils are complex structures with many constituents, it is tough to determine the quality or quantity of chemical substances present in them. There are also several possible adulterants along the way. Essential oils can become impure on account of conditions in every other stage of its development – harvesting, distillation, handling, storage and packaging. Some manufacturers sell oils as “pure” even after diluting or cutting or extending their aromas and chemical properties.

Essential oils quality – what should you know? You should understand certain basic things about essential oils before you opt to buy and use them. Some oils change as they age. While a few oils like Rose, Patchouli, Spikenard, Myrrh and others improve as they age, a few like Citrus oils oxidize and grow toxic as they age. Apart from this, you need to understand why is it important to know if your oils are of high quality or not. If you use synthetic aromas instead of pure essential oils, you may end up experiencing toxic reactions. Impure essential oils also do have any therapeutic effect on you and maybe a waste of money when used. All these factors prove that it is important to know the quality of your “pure” essential oils before applying them in home or domestic use or for healing or aromatic purposes.

Below are a few tips to know the quality of essential oils:

1. Regulation of Essential oils: The FDA regulates essential oils through the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. This Act regulates all food, food additives, cosmetics and dietary supplements. According to this act, the FDA sees essential oils based on their use – for healing or cosmetic purposes. For instance, if a perfume manufacturer, sought a quality essential oil, the FDA would grade the oil based on its specific use in perfumery. In the same way, the FDA would regulate an oil as drug if it is used an aid to quit smoking or for curing or preventing any disease.

Other than the FDA, there are foreign bodies which regulate essential oils. These include, AFNOR or Association of Francaise de Normalisation  and ISO or International Organization for Standardization.

2. Know the Latin names: If you plan to buy an essential oil, you need to inquire the manufacturer a few things: the Latin name of the plant (used to prepare the oil); the farming methods and practices used; check for the name of the country or region in which the plant has been grown etc. Spend time familiarizing yourself with essential oils and learn to identify between pure essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils.

3. Test the scent of oils: You can test the aroma essential oils if you learn to identify the top, middle and end notes of an oil. Put one drop of an oil on a perfume test strip, a cotton swab or a scrap of paper towel. Smell the aroma periodically. An essential oil’s aroma is pretty complex and changes with every stage of evaporation. This is not the case with ordinary fragrances. Also, a pure, undiluted oil will never leave an oily or greasy spot on the strip.

4. Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS): These are two lab tests which can help you determine an essential oil’s constituents and quality. Each oil is passed through the chromatograph, after which, the ionized constituents are amplified and detected by Mass Spectroscopy.  Though a GC/MS is an effective method, it cannot determine the synthetic and natural diluents of the oil. High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) is another method used to analyze the constituents of essential oils.

The art of synergistic blending: Blend classifications of essential oils

Blending essential oils is an art. Whether you do it for therapeutic purposes or for the simple pleasure of creating an aromatic blend, you have to be careful and cautious while using essential oils. True. Some essential oils have strong chemical properties which can harm you or your skin. Essential oils like Bergamot has to be handled with caution as its phototoxic properties can be hazardous to you. Some oils can be contraindicated for ailments and that can cause havoc to you. So, when you are sure that you are perfect with your materials and know what is the byproduct of your creativity, start blending your oils.

Blending classification of essential oils:
Essential oil blends work well if they are blended properly. To accomplish this, you need to know a few basic things regarding which oil to be used first, second or third in a blend. For instance, if you are making a therapeutic blend for headache cure, and you are required to add Lavender, Peppermint and Eucalyptus, if you use the oils in the wrong proportion or add them in the wrong order, you will end up making a chemically useless blend that has no effect on your headache. This is why you need to follow a sequence in blending your oils. The four blending classifications of essential oils are Personifiers, Enhancers, Equalizers and Modifiers. Let’s take a look at them in detail:

1. Personifiers: These are essential oils which have a sharp, strong and very aromatic scent. They usually form 1 to 5% of an ideal blend. Their dominant properties react on ailments and induce a powerful therapeutic action in your body. Oils that come under this category are: Angelica, Birch, Cardamom, Cinnamon Bark, Clove, Clary Sage, Coriander, German Chamomile, Ginger, Mandarin, Neroli, Nutmeg, Orange, Peppermint, Rose, Tangerine, Spearmint, Wintergreen, Ylang Ylang and others.

2. Enhancers: These are essential oils which enhance the blend with their blending properties. They do not have sharp scents like Personifiers, but blend well with other oils to induce and enhance their properties. They generally form 50 to 80% of the blend so that they can balance the oils in the blend and make them heal better. Basil, Bergamot, Birch, Cajeput, Cedarwood, Dill, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Geranium, Hyssop, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon, Lemongrass, Lime, Marjoram, Melissa, Myrtle, Orange, Oregano, Palmarosa, Petitgrain, Ravensara, Roman Chamomile, Spruce, Thyme, Rosemary and Wintergreen.

3. Equalizers: These oils form 10 to 15% of the blend. They are useful in creating synergy and balance in the blend. They equalize the blend and do not have sharp or strong aromas like Personifiers. Essential oils that are classified in this category – Basil, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Cypress, Fennel, Fir, Frankincense, Geranium, Ginger, Juniper, Lavender, Lemongrass, Marjoram, Tea Tree, Myrrh, Myrtle, Neroli, Oregano, Pine, Roman Chamomile, Rosewood, Sandalwood, Spruce, Thyme etc.

4. Modifiers: Essential oils of a mild and short fragrance are classified as Modifiers. They usually form 5 to 8% of the blend as they bring in harmony to the whole blend. Some of the oils under this category include: Angelica, Bergamot, Cardamom, Eucalyptus, Fennel, Grapefruit, Hyssop, Jasmine, Mandarin, Melissa, Neroli, Petitgrain, Rose, Rosewood, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang.

A peek into aroma families: 8 major categories of essential oils

Essential oils are sources of great well being. An essential oil is nothing but a plant extract which is concentrated and highly rich in healing and aromatic properties. Often volatile liquids, these essential oils contain small oil-like molecules produced by plants during photosynthesis. It is these extracts which are present in plant cavities like roots, petals, seeds and peels, that protect the plant from various infections, parasitical hindrances and other environmental issues, making it grow without trouble. The same valuable volatile liquids act wonderfully to prevent and treat ailments in human beings too. This makes them special and this is why these essential oils are used to heal/prevent/treat many health disorders in people.

Aroma families: There are a whole range of essential oils in the market. Some are grouped as just fragrances, some act as herbal liquids, while some serve the purpose of treating ailments. One classification of essential oils is based on notes – Top Notes, Middle Notes and Base Notes.

Essential oils classified under Top Notes normally evaporate faster and tend to be more antiviral, invigorating and refreshing. They are highly volatile and hardly last long. However, they make their mark with their aromas and light nature. Middle Notes oils have a balancing effect and normally take a couple of minutes to establish their scents. This is because they are warm and soft fragrances which are a bit heavy than the Top Notes variants. Base Notes essential oils are very solid and strong in their aromas. They last a long time and even slow down the evaporation of the oils mixed with them. Heady fragrances that relax the body mark the Base Notes category.

There is also yet another way of classifying essential oils other than the one based on Notes. A broader classification can be made based on the aromas of the oils. Some people have even classified oils depending on the reaction they have on people. But the below categorization is a different one based on the aromas of the oils:

1. Citrus oils: Essential oils that have a distinct citrus flavor fall into this category. Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Orange and Tangerine are some of the Citrus oils.

2. Herbaceous oils: Oils that are extracted from plants which are otherwise most useful herbs are called Herbaceous oils. Basil, Chamomile, Melissa, Clary Sage, Hyssop, Marjoram, Peppermint and Rosemary are some of this kind.

3. Camphoraceous oils: Essential oils which have particular healing properties and camphor-like aromas are grouped under this category. Some of these essential oils are – Cajeput, Tea Tree, Peppermint, Rosemary and Eucalyptus oils.

4. Floral oils: Oils made from floral parts or which carry the floral essence of plants fall under this group. Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Rose, Neroli, Chamomile, Ylang-Ylang etc. are some of these oils.

5. Resinous oils: Essential oils extracted from the resins of plants. Benzoin, Elemi, Frankincense and Myrrh are more resinous than others.

6. Woody oils: Essential oils that are woody in aromas or extracted from the barks and other woody parts of plants are termed Woody oils. Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Cypress, Juniper Berry, Pine and Sandalwood etc are some of these oils.

7. Earthy oils: Essential oils that have a distinct earthy aroma or are extracted from plants’ roots and other earthy parts are grouped here – Angelica, Patchouli, Vetiver and Valerian are some of these oils.

8. Spicy oils:
Oils extracted from spices or spicy plants. You can know it from their names itself. Aniseed, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Ginger and Nutmeg are some of these oils.

On the wisdom of the ‘smell brain’ and how aromas affect our body

The sense of smell is one of the most neglected senses of the body. We heed our nose for everything, but we fail to recognize its specialty and role in our day to day activities like eating, remembering and even emoting. Aromatherapy touches this particular sense of the body and evokes the desired response from an individual. But how is this possible? How can a mere sniff affect a whole lot of emotions and regulate bodily functions? This article has answers to all questions on how aromas work and have the power to alter almost anything in the body.

The smell brain and the limbic system: Let us go technical and look into details on how we perceive and respond to smell. Though the nose is said to be an organ of smell, it is just a mere organ, engaged in nothing but being a passage to the brain. Olfaction or the sense of smell does not begin at the nose, but the brain or the olfactory bulb. Each of the nasal passages contain about 50 million sensory receptors waiting to carry ‘odor’ messages to your smell brain. When the receptors or neurons sense odorous molecules coming through the nasal passages, they send their axons to the olfactory bulb, a projection of the brain on the upper part of the nose. Specific odor molecules bind to their respective chemoreceptors. The process then moves into the limbic system of the brain, where memory is used to recognize and sort out the odors as pleasant, unpleasant, old, new or recent.

The limbic system is one of the oldest parts of the human body and was initially referred to as ‘rhinencephalon’ or ‘smell brain’. It is the smell brain which plays a vital role in making aromas effective. Since the limbic system is also the seat of emotion, memory and important body parts, smells are associated with memories, so much so that particular smells evoke particular memories from the  past. Basically, the memory aroused will evoke an emotional response depending on the experience associated with the memory. A simple example would be, if you had a bad experience with beef tallow in your young age, the smell of tallow would evoke an unpleasant response from your limbic system. This, in turn, will set off a series of unpleasant sensations and unhealthy changes in the parts of the body controlled by the limbic system.

Aromatherapy and emotions: Aromas can have a huge impact on your emotions. After being processed through the olfactory bulb, aromas enter the limbic system and affect your emotions, moods and even your health quotient. The concept of aromatherapy is pivoted on one basic fact – changes in emotion/mood can help relieve the symptoms or disorders caused by a disease. As the limbic system or smell brain controls other regions also, it regulates bodily functions too.

Mood-effects and Hedonics in aromatherapy:
Not all essential oils are liked by everyone and not all aromatherapy sessions suit every patient. Only specific oils, scents and herbs work well with regard to particular ailments. This is because of a factor called Hedonics – the personal degree of pleasantness a person would place on a specific odor or smell. Research reveals that smells can effect mood-swings and alter health conditions in a person. This means, a pleasant smell can increase your health ratio while an unpleasant odor can take you toward disease and ill-health. Since odors can create or alleviate stress, aromatherapy or essential oils can influence a person’s positivity and self-confidence levels.

In brief, the limbic system or the smell brain is more than just a brain. It is an integral part of the human body, which creates a profound effect on your body cells. When treated with aromas, the smell brain responds instantly (unlike drugs or medications) and cures immediately, without side effects or other medical issues. With aromatherapy, nothing chemical happens as everything is 100% natural and effective.

What happens in a therapeutic aromatherapy session? An insight

Aromatherapy, as we know, is a holistic medicinal system, which uses oils extracted from plants, herbs and scrubs for treatment. These oils, the “life-force” of plants, are used in appropriate proportions and are either massaged on to or inhaled into the body. Essential oils are never ingested unless approved and prescribed by an expert aromatherapist. For all the talk we do about aromatherapy, there is no sufficient information on how an aromatherapy session takes place and how a client is handled by the aromatherapist within four walls. This article will provide insight on what is an aromatherapy session is and how it is conducted for a new customer.

Aromatherapy for beginners: The first thing that is daunting to beginners is the question of trust. A novice customer maybe worried about the safety, confidentiality and the modesty of an aromatherapy session. Understand that all reputed aromatherapists respect your modesty and keep customer’s interests first. And every customer’s personal wishes would be addressed in the session. So, if you prefer massaging only certain body parts, your aromatherapist will definitely address your wishes and act accordingly. You should be frank and open with your therapist as the therapist has your best interests in mind.

Start of an aromatherapy session: How does an aromatherapy session begin? An aromatherapy session begins with an analysis and examination session with your aromatherapist. Your expert aromatherapy practitioner will analyze you for the following:

  • Existing body condition
  • Current ailments
  • Current treatments
  • Any previous treatment through aromatherapy
  • Your sensitivities & vulnerabilities
  • Root cause of your problem

After thorough examination, the aromatherapist will check which essential oils have a positive effect on you and to which scents you respond well.

Initial Massaging: Based on the above analysis, your aromatherapist will choose five essential oils and a carrier oil and will blend them together. Then, the oil blend is massaged on to the affected areas of your body to stimulate a positive effect. If your body responds well, you will notice a relaxing effect and a pleasant feeling. Basically, the oil blend will aim to do the following:

  • Improve your blood circulation
  • Increase supply of oxygen & nutrients to cells
  • Improve tissue drainage
  • Reduce harmful stress hormones
  • Enhance immune system
  • Stimulate energy and have a relaxing effect

If your response to the oil blend is positive, the same approach is adapted during the next session. If it is negative and you have a distaste or unpleasant effect toward the blend, another set of 5 oils will be tried on you. The duration of sessions and the number of times the sessions ought to be carried out may vary depending on the ailment addressed. If you find relief in the very first session, you may not have to go in for more sessions. Generally, it is considered best to do more than one session over a period of time to alleviate the symptoms of any ailment.

Things to follow during aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is not like visiting your hairdresser. You cannot go through an aromatherapy session without preparation. You need to free yourself from regular chores on that day and spend your time only for the therapy. This will not only set you in mood for a session, but will also make your therapist’s job easier. In the same way, you should take rest after a session. You should not travel nor take bath. This is because the essential oils applied will take about four hours to be absorbed into your body. Since the absorption time varies with several blends, it is better to leave a gap of four hours of rest after the session.