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  • Just What Is Aromatherapy, Anyway?

    Photo courtesy ABMP

    When people find out that I’m an aromatherapist, I get a variety of responses; anything from “Really?! Do you have any oils that will help me sleep?” to “Really?! Does that stuff actually work? I tried burning a lavender candle and it didn’t help my stress level at all.” Since I’ve been promoting my new business, I’ve been getting a lot of “So, just what is this aromatherapy thing, anyway?” Today, I’m going to answer that question for you.

    Aromatherapy IS (simple definition):

    The therapeutic use of 100% natural essential oils to affect body, mind, and/or spirit.

    Aromatherapy includes (a short list):

    • Inhalation – This includes things like putting a few drops on your pillow case at night, placing a few drops on a tissue or cotton ball in a small baggie to smell when you need, diffusing an essential oil into your space, or wearing an essential oil on a special pendant as perfume. Inhalation is the most widely known and practiced form of aromatherapy and is known for affecting our mind and spirit. Effects of inhalation include  (but are not limited to) calming the mind to allow sleep, stimulating the mind to aid concentration, stress relief, and all of the effects that a lowered stress level bring.
    • Topical application – This is just what it sounds like: applying essential oils to the body. As you might expect, applying essential oils to the body will have an effect on the body, particularly in and around the area of application. A few effects of application are reduced muscle tension, stress relief, and reduced pain. *Note: Except in very specific cases, all essential oils should be diluted before applying them to the body.
    • Internal use – Although trained aromatherapists may use some essential oils internally, it is unethical for most of us to advise internal use to anyone else. For that reason, I will NOT state the ways that they are commonly taken. I WILL say: Do Not Try This At Home, No Matter Who Tells You It’s OK!!

    To put it another way… Aromatherapy is NOT (the short list):

    • Synthetic fragrances and perfumes – Synthetic chemicals do NOT have the same effect on the body as those naturally distilled from plants in the form of essential oils. For instance, there’s a store in the mall that sells a “lavender” sleep mist that kind of smells like lavender, makes my nose tingle (in an “I-think-I’m-going-to-sneeze” kind of way), and doesn’t have any effect on me when I smell it. Contrast this to lavender essential oil which doesn’t make my nose tingle and has an immediate calming effect on me when I smell it.
    • Most (but not all) candles – I spoke with a local candle maker who told me that candles made with essential oils and popular (read: affordable) waxes won’t set or burn properly. She gave up trying to use essential oils in her candles, even though she would prefer to use natural essential oils instead of synthetic perfume oils. Another local candlemaker spent many months tweaking and perfecting his wax blend until he had created candles of a sufficient quality that local stores specializing in all-natural products were willing to carry them. They are a lot more expensive than synthetically scented candles, but so worth it. 
    • Things that smell good – Just because something smells good doesn’t mean it has any aromatherapeutic use, even if it’s label proclaims it to be “Aromatherapy.” There are no laws regarding the use of the term ‘aromatherapy,’ so anyone can use that word on their label if they make a product that has a nice smell. 
    • A one-size-fits-all proposition – Every person is different. Just as no one diet, exercise regimen, or type of massage is right for everyone (that’s why there are so many of each), the same is true for aromatherapy. What works for one person may have no effect at all on another; but that doesn’t diminish its effectiveness for the people it helps.

    Aromatherapy is a complex topic. In fact, entire books have been written on the topic. Blogs, by their very nature, are limited. They are not meant to be a comprehensive covering of any particular subject, nor can they be. (That’s what books are for.) But I do hope this helps to clear up the general question of what aromatherapy is. If you have questions about what may or may not constitute aromatherapy please leave a comment and I’ll answer it by replying to your comment. If you have a particularly juicy or complex question I may take a whole blog post to answer it.


2 Responsesso far.

  1. It is interesting about the candles. My daughter is thinking about making soap and I think the recipe she has uses essential oil. It must adhere better to the ingredients in soap.

  2. Soaps are very different from candles. It’s my understanding that it’s pretty easy to add Essential oils to most soap recipes. But petroleum-based waxes are most affordable and therefore most popular for candles and they aren’t as amenable to essential oils.