Today, aromatherapy is used in different ways – by therapists using massage and in products for use at home. It’s a great way of treating yourself to something lovely while nurturing and caring for yourself.
However they’re used, essential oils enter the body via absorption or by inhalation. Fragrance molecules travel via cilia in the nose to the limbic system in the brain and it’s this area that deals with moods, emotion and memory. The chemical compounds of essential oils have specific effects on the mind and body and can help relax and soothe or refresh and enliven. While there is plenty of debate about how, why, or if it works on a scientific level, the anecdotal evidence mounts up – people love aromatherapy for its soothing effect and many have found it helpful with physical problems, from backache to burns, and psychological ones such as depression and mood swings.
How to do massage...
Of the 50 or so essential oils used in modern aromatherapy, there aren’t many essential oils that can be used neat on the skin - indeed for safety’s sake, most trained aromatherapists would advise only lavender for burns, cuts and spots, and tea tree for bites, stings and warts. Otherwise, essential oils need to be diluted in carrier oil such as sweet almond, grapeseed or peach kernel – this makes them suitable for massage too.
Use a 2.5 per cent solution for general massage – that’s half the number of drops as volume (in ml) of carrier oil. Around 20ml of carrier is suitable for a full-body massage, so 10 drops of essential oil would be needed. A 5 per cent solution - the same number of drops as volume of carrier – is better for more acute, localised conditions like bruising and sprains. The essential oils used depend what they’re for. Single oils work, but blends have a better effect and create some truly lovely scents:
- Ready for bed - four drops lavender, four drops sweet marjoram and two drops vetiver.
- Calm - eight drops rose, two drops vetiver.
- Uplifted - four drops lemon, three drops sweet fennel, three drops sweet marjoram.
- Balanced - four drops rosewood, three drops clary sage, three drops geranium
All these oils are for blending in 20ml carrier oil. Essential oils by Tisserand (www.tisserand.com: 01273 325666), Oils 4 Life (www.oils4life.co.uk: 01493 730055) and Meadows Aromatherapy Products (www.meadowsaroma.com: 0845 0600 123) are top quality.
This simple three-step self-massage is great for relieving knots and tension in the neck and shoulders – just use one of the blends above:
- Stroke back and forth over your left shoulder, using your right hand, as far as you can reach. Do this briskly for 10-15 seconds until the whole area has been covered a few times and feels warm.
- Squeeze the top of your left shoulder with your right hand and hold for a few seconds. Release and repeat, working your way up towards the neck. Repeat three times.
- Use the fingertips of your right hand to apply pressure to any tight areas of tension on the left shoulder. Use small circular motions for a few seconds to work into the tension. Finish with a few soothing strokes, from spine outwards, using the palm of your hand.
Then repeat all three steps on the right side. In all steps, support your right elbow with your left hand, it allows the right hand to apply more pressure and means you can reach further. Bath and body There are some wonderful bath and body products on the market and some of the big names have got in on the act, adding essential oils to products to deliver an aromatherapy effect. Try these:
- Kneipp Lavender Herbal Bath Oil ( www.graftons.co.uk : 01827 280080) stimulates and balances mind and body and is great for fatigue, nervousness, itching and stress;
- Radox African Sanctuary Shower Therapy has rooibos and red thyme to create a soothing, calming shower;
- Palmolive Sensual Aromatherapy Bath & Shower Gel contains a blend of jasmine and rose for a heady, relaxing experience;
- Clairol Herbal Essences No Flakin’ Way Shampoo and Conditioner has lemongrass in its anti-dandruff formula, which gives it a lovely refreshing scent.
Hands and nails
It’s easy to look after your hands and nails with essential oils:
- Mix 20 drops lemon with 20ml sweet almond oil and apply to clean, dry hands after gardening. It softens, moisturises and disinfects and is anti-inflammatory.
- The same concentration of tea tree oil in sweet almond is great for the cuticles, helping to soften them and reduce infection and inflammation – just rub in gently two or three times a week.
- If you want a ready-mixed product, try Neal’s Yard Remedies Geranium & Orange Hand Lotion (www.nealsyardremedies.com). It has a warm, sunny scent and, used regularly, will keep hands and nails protected and enriched.
Other ways to use oils
Oils can be diffused in vaporisers to fragrance the home – vaporisers have a little pot to which you add water and then your chosen essential oils. Use two drops each of two different oils for the best effect. Try adding two drops each of frankincense and bergamot for an uplifting effect and a gorgeous-smelling room.
Add essential oils to your bath for a spalike experience. The heat of the bath water and the vapours of the essential oils as they evaporate provide the ultimate relaxing experience. Use 5-7 drops of one or two oils added to the bath water once run. Agitate to mix the oils before getting in. Try adding three drops of lavender and two drops of mint for a great pre-bed bath.
Steam inhalations help clear congestion and deal with respiratory problems. Add 5-8 drops of one or two oils to a bowl of near boiling water. Create a tent with a towel over your head and the bowl and breathe in the steam for up to 10 minutes. Try three drops each eucalyptus and rosemary to clear your head during a cold.
Essential oils can help clean and disinfect the home in place of all sorts of chemical-laden household products. Try adding 10 drops each of tea tree and lemon, and 20 drops of lavender to 200g of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and mix together well. Sprinkle over your carpet, leave for 20 minutes and vacuum. It will have a deodorising, antibacterial effect.
These three lovely buys come from specialist companies:
- Wild Rose Pulse Point Perfume by Tisserand has a rich and slightly spicy fl oral scent;
- Balm Balm Tea Tree Face Balm is a moisturiser that’s great for zapping blemishes (www.balmbalm.com: 020 8339 0696);
- Stimulating Blend Massage Oil by Meadows Aromatherapy, contains petitgrain, clary sage, rosemary and lemon – a really uplifting blend to perk you up.
Five popular oils
These are some commonly used oils with their benefits and possible uses:
- Lavender is a great first-aid oil. Use it for cuts, bruises and burns and to promote sleep and relieve nervous tension. Mix with citronella in carrier oil for use as an insect repellent.
- Sandalwood can be used to treat coughs, bronchitis and laryngitis. It also has a soothing effect on stress problems and can be used topically on dry, cracked skin.
- Geranium is a beautiful balancing oil. It’s really good for women as it can help relieve PMT and menopausal problems. It can also treat broken capillaries, eczema and dermatitis.
- Rose is very expensive as there is so little oil in the flowers. It’s a wonderful oil to dissipate anger and other negative emotions and has a regenerative and moisturising effect on the skin.
- Lemon is refreshing and astringent. It’s great for greasy skin and hair and helps with throat infections and colds.
Liz Silvester is an aromatherapist and freelance writer