Can't sleep? Aching muscles? Stressed? Aromatherapy oils may help.
Appealing aromas are what draw people into using essential oils in their home. However, aromatherapy is more than just a pretty scent.
Used in the home or office, the right mix of oils are said to enhance concentration and mood, and relieve stress.
Aromatherapy is a term first coined during the early 20th century when French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse became interested in the use of essential oils. He started using the oils for their aroma but his interest in their medicinal use grew when he burned his arm badly and plunged it into the closest liquid, which happened to be lavender oil. His burn healed quickly and left no scar. This led him to study the use of essential oils for medicinal use.
The use of oils has been around for centuries - the Egyptians used frankincense, rose and cedarwood; the Chinese burned incense to help create harmony and balance. Many of our grandmothers used aromatherapy oils in their homes for the oils' healing effects on the body, to create ambience, in cosmetics for skincare and as household cleaning products.
Aromatherapist and trained chemist Fay Blomquist, who owns Extracts, The Aromatherapy Centre in downtown Auckland, says skin problems were what got her into aromatherapy. "I saw the therapeutic use for things like eczema and dermatitis and the more I learned the more I wanted to find out. The oils nudge the body to get back into balance. It's the body that is the hero."
Physical ailments which can be helped by aromatherapy include coughs and colds, headaches, aches and pains, skin conditions and sleep problems. But there are some conditions where oils shouldn't be used, such as for epilepsy, and Fay advises caution in the case of the very young or the elderly, and warns people not to try to self-medicate. But, otherwise, used sensibly and in the right quantities, oils are suitable for all people. A common misconception is that aromatherapy cannot be used during pregnancy.
"There are some oils that should be avoided but others are beneficial."
Oils can be used with vaporisers, in massage oils and creams, or added to bath water. Some oils, such as peppermint cream used to ease aching muscles, work better applied to the skin.
Aromatherapy is effective for helping to balance moods and emotions, and can prevent health problems by encouraging the body to relax.
Also, oils are subtle and should be used in recommended amounts; using twice as much will not have double the effect in half the time. "Aromatherapy [supports] what we should be doing in our busy lives and that is taking time out for yourself," says Fay. "A routine for me is having a bath once a week with aromatherapy oils and candles."
In a nutshell
Aromatherapy is the art and science of using the volatile extracts from plants - the essential oils - as a natural therapy to improve our health and well-being.
Essential oils can be used to treat physical problems including headaches, insomnia or sleep difficulties, muscular aches and pains, skin conditions such as eczema, coughs and colds. When used in a vaporiser, essential oils can have a positive benefit on moods and emotions. Different oils can be relaxing, uplifting, refreshing, revitalising, and balancing, restoring a positive state of well-being.
Recommended oil blends
Stress reduction: Bergamot, lavender and cedarwood.
Romance: Jasmine, sandalwood and mandarin.
Relaxation: Orange, geranium, ylang ylang and lavender.
Focus for work or study: Basil, lemon and rosemary.
The No1 best-seller is lavender. It is relaxing, calming and heals burns.