By: Carrie Colette, Photos: Courtesy of Dawn Shipley
With health trends leaning more heavily towards self-care and natural alternatives these days, aromatherapy has become a popular holistic treatment for various ailments. The naturally extracted aromatic oils from plants have been used as medicine, perfume, and for spiritual practices throughout the centuries in different cultures. French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé used essential oils to treat wounds during World War I, and is considered by many to be the “Grandfather of Aromatherapy.” Now aromatherapy is used for emotional support, pain relief and digestive problems, as well as skin and hair care. It can also help calm nerves, promote sleep, relieve headaches, reduce inflammation, and more.
“Essential oils are very concentrated substances that contain many chemical components, which have different benefits,” says Dawn Shipley, a certified and registered aromatherapist. “Plants develop these different chemicals for different reasons, such as deterring a predator, protection against bacteria, and so forth. In turn, they also have effects on our bodies, such as being anti-bacterial or providing antioxidants.”
According to Shipley, essential oils work in two ways. First, they connect with the oldest and most primitive part of the brain—the limbic system through the olfactory system accessed by the nose. When we breathe in, the essential oils trigger emotional responses. Second, there are physiological effects, such as pain relief, from the essential oils entering the blood stream through respiration or topical application.
The main means of practicing aromatherapy are by inhalation (diffuser, smelling a drop on a tissue) or topical use (in a cream or carrier oil, bath or foot soak). Ingestion of essential oils is not advised, as essential oils tend to be very strong, even in small doses. Mixing essential oils with water alone isn’t recommended either, as essential oils don’t bond with the water molecules, so they will clump together and may burn the skin. It is best to use essential oils with any type of vegetable oil, as they contain lipids that the essential oil chemicals easily bond with. The lipids are similar to the body’s own sebum, so they are able to permeate the skin barrier and help get the essential oils into the body.
“If you want therapeutic benefits from your essential oils, be sure to use good quality,” Shipley advises. “Buy organic, wild crafted, or at least unsprayed essential oils. In recent research, the organic versions of essential oils have stronger and higher frequencies than those grown conventionally, which seems to indicate stronger and better benefits.”