Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and other aromatics for health and wellness, primarily via inhalation, but essential oils can also be used topically diluted, typically to a 1-5% dilution ration. Expert aromatherapy organizations including NAHA and AIA do not advise the internal use of essential oils without an expert level of knowledge on proper dosage, possible contra-indications, and other health concerns related to active constituents.
What is an Essential Oil?
Essential oils come from plants of the angiosperm category and only 1% of flowering plants actually produce a significant amount (Buckle, 2003)! Oils are stored in secretory structures in a specific area of the plant, such as the petal, root, leaf, or stem and are extracted via distillation or expression, with some essential oil products requiring a large amount of plant matter to make one tiny bottle of oil. For example, it takes 10,000 pounds of rose petals to produce one pound of rose oil. Some plants are “endangered” or “threatened” and it could be unethical to produce oils from a plant whose earthly existence could be jeopardized. A good websites to look up endangered species is www.iucnredlist.org. Examples of threatened essential oil species includes frankincense (Boswellia sacra), rosewood (Dalbergia nigra), and sandalwood (Sanctalum album).
What are the Health Benefits of Essential Oils?
There is a growing amount of research about therapeutic uses for essential oils; example topics include the antimicrobial, insecticidal, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and anxiolytic uses for certain oils. In recent years, the use of essential oils has grown rapidly, and it is important to use these concentrated chemicals from plants sparingly and safely. Many essential oils are not recommended for certain uses, or with certain populations. Specific essential oils can be contraindicated for reasons such as pregnancy, young age, medication interaction, sun exposure, and more. It is important to look up each essential oil species and its chemical constituents before using in aromatherapy.
Methods of Delivery of Essential Oils
- Essential oils can enter the body in three ways:
- Via inhalation; a rapid delivery method of an oil’s aroma links to the brain’s limbic system, hypothalamus, and anterior pituitary gland. Inhalation of vapors travels thru the nose down the respiratory tract. As the smells enter the nose, it impacts the central nervous system. Ways to inhale essential oils include diffusers, compresses, candles, room sprays, or via a warm bath with a few drops of essential oil diluted in a carrier oil.
- Topically, essential oils can be diluted and applied to the skin. Skin application is a slow and continuous method of absorption and it is advisable to dilute essential oils in a vegetable carrier oil to retard evaporation, enhance dermal absorption, and reduce adverse skin reactions (Bowles, 2003). A typical dilution rate is 1% for the fragile, up to 2% for full body use, and sometimes a higher percent of up to 10% can be used for a concentrated treatment of a local area. Generally, a 2.0% dilution is standard for aromatherapy. Essential oils can be diluted in a carrier oil and massaged on the skin. Further, topical application combined with a massage increases blood flow and the rate of absorption (Ciccone, 1995). Warmth and wrapping the skin also improves absorption. When using essential oils s topically, check the list of oils causing skin irritation (and other contraindications) and apply a skin patch test before proceeding.
- Internally, an essential oil can be taken orally, or into other orifices including the ears, nose, vagina, or anus. Many experts in the essential oil industry caution that the internal use of essential oils requires medical advice from a licensed health practitioner with knowledge of toxic constituents, possible drug interactions, proper dosage, and contra-indications (Buckle, 2003 & Lis-Balchin, 2006). Many can interfere with medications, some can cause mucous membrane irritation, and others may be toxic to organs in excess. Ingestion methods can include gelatin capsules, activated charcoal tablets, vitamin C lozenges, or adding to oil soluble food such as oil, milk, or honey (Buckle, 2003). Again, there are safety issues with this method related to toxicity and terpenes (Lis-Balchin, 2006). Other methods of internal use can include suppositories like tampons soaked in a carrier oil with a few drops of essential oil. This could be dangerous and irritate mucus membranes (Lis-Balchin, 2006). Consult a Doctor or expert before using essential oils in this way!
Never put essential oils in the eyes!
- Bowles, J. E. (2003). The chemistry of Aromatherapeutic oils (3rd ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin, Australia.Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in practice. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Clarke, S. (2008). Essential chemistry for safe Aromatherapy. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
- Ciccone, C. D. (1995). Basic pharmacokinetics and the potential effect of physical therapy interventions on pharmacokinetic variables. Physical therapy, 75(5), 343-351.
- Lis-Balchin, M. (2006). Aromatherapy science: a guide for healthcare professionals.
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, Registered Aromatherapist, LMT