An Introduction to Essential Oils
Each of the essential oils used in Aromatherapy can be used in a number of different ways, and can be used either alone or combined with other oils to enhance our health and sense of well-being. Before beginning to use Aromatherapy treatments, it is important to understand how each oil works, and which can be used most effectively to ease or prevent specific ills, or to promote a particular feeling.
Essential oils are highly fragrant, non-oily plant essences. The term oil is somewhat inappropriate as these essences have a consistency which resembles water more than oil. They are volatile and evaporate easily so they must be stored in a cool place, in dark coloured bottles away from direct sunlight.
The essences are insoluble in water but dissolve in vegetable oils, wax and alcohol. The essential oils can be found in different parts of the plant such as the flowers, twigs, leaves, and bark, but also often in the rind of the fruit. Each oil originates in special sacs in the plant material.
Essential oils are antiseptic as well as having their own individual properties and have many complex chemical constituents. Due to its many different components one oil can have a variety of uses.
The oils work in various ways on the body. If applied to the skin they are absorbed quickly through the hair follicles due to their molecular structure. They diffuse into the blood stream or are taken up by the lymphatic fluids and transported throughout the body. Different oils are absorbed at different rates and this can vary between 20 minutes to two hours or even more so it is best not to shower for a time after applying the oils.
Before using an oil, it is always very important to note the contra-indications for each oil and to stick closely to these recommendations.
A general rule when choosing oils is to select and use those whose scents you find particularly appealing. The whole principle of Aromatherapy is that it should be a pleasurable experience, and choosing an oil whose aroma is unpleasant to you will not be beneficial. There will generally be more than one oil you can use for a particular purpose, so you should be able to find one you like.
The nose plays an important part in Aromatherapy. When inhaling essential oils the odour molecules are transmitted to the emotional centre of the brain known as the limbic system. This system is connected to other parts of the brain involved with memory, breathing and blood circulation as well as the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels in the body.
The effect on the memory is important as it can help bring back recollections of the past, not all of which will be pleasant. If you do not like the smell of a particular oil, for example, it could well be that it reminds you of something in your past that you would prefer to forget. This is another reason it is a good idea to avoid the use of this oil.
Essential oils are often described as having top, middle or base notes and this relates to the amount of time that the aroma of each oil will last.
- Oils with base notes have the longest lasting aroma, with scents that can last up to one week.
- Oils with middle notes have a shorter span, with aromas lasting about two to three days.
- Oils with top notes have the shortest-lasting aromas, with scents which only last for up to 24 hours.
In terms of creating a balanced perfume, a combination of top, middle and base notes will produce the best results. However, when it comes to making aromatherapy blends, it is not necessary to stick to any fixed rules. As you become familiar with different oils you will be able to create blends which are right for you. Experimenting with these wonderful essences will be an enjoyable and educational experience, as you learn which oils combine the best, and produce the best effects.