Although our sense of smell affects us in fundamental ways, it often thwarts our efforts to describe it. Scent can conjure feelings that stir the depths of the soul. But because this ability is invisible, it seems both obscure and all the more powerful.
Scent can delight and repel, attract and repulse. It can evoke happy or melancholy memories, induce buying behavior, and signal sexual readiness. More recently, researchers are discovering that essential oils—the concentrated liquid essences of plants— can not only affect mood, but stimulate physical reactions as well. In other words, scent heals. How delightful to discover that something so luxurious for the soul also benefits the body.
Other than olfactory adventure—a superb reason in itself—why should you want to make your own perfume and aromatherapy products? There are several reasons. When you buy a commercial perfume, you pay for high advertising budgets and executive salaries. When you see how much a blend of alcohol, water, and the merest smidge of actual essential oils costs, you’ll understand that those dollars can purchase a lot more satisfaction when you blend your own fragrances.
In addition, scent preference is an extremely personal matter. Some people cannot tolerate the scent of rose or lavender, but may adore the smells of tea tree and thyme. There is no accounting for taste. Only you will ever know what scents you like best, and which ones inspire, relax, or invigorate you. And when you make your own scents, you can choose which elements to combine.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to make your own natural perfumes is to connect to nature, to be reminded of a world full of life-force, to be aflame with a desire to experience pleasure. Natural perfumes connect us at a soul level to the earth and to our own spirituality. They are a link between us and the greater cosmos. They tell us we are part of a greater whole, and still one with the flowers.
Adapted from Natural Perfumes by Mindy Green. Copyright ©1999, Mindy Green. Reprinted with permission of Interweave Press.
Aromatherapy is the art of using essential oils for physical and emotional healing. Essential oils are a very specific type of chemical—the concentrated, active components of plants, usually created by distilling particular plant parts. Essential oils don’t always smell the way the plants smell—in fact, sometimes these oils don’t smell very good at all by themselves.
When properly concocted and applied sparingly, natural perfumes made with essential oils are less likely to evoke negative reactions in allergic or chemically sensitive people, aromatherapists claim. As the perfumer, you also have complete control over the quality and combination of ingredients. Finally, you get better quality for less money than you do buying commercial scented products, which can contain only a tiny percentage of true essential oils.
Essential oils can enter the body through the skin or the respiratory system—in other words, by smelling them. René Gattefossé, a French chemist, “discovered” aromatherapy when he burned his hand in the lab and plunged it into the first liquid he saw, a container of lavender essential oil. He found that his burn healed quickly and with minimal scarring.
Does Aromatherapy Really Work?
Today, lavender oil is still used in the healing of burns, and thyme essential oil is a strong antibacterial agent. Research has documented that smelling essential oils can have an effect on the brain and the body—for example, the scent of lavender has been found to relax most people. Other studies document that people perform better on mental tasks after smelling certain essential oils. Some of the healing properties that aromatherapists claim for essential oils have research to back them; others do not. Like horoscopes, some aromatherapy assertions are a matter of faith and fun—not science. But there’s certainly no denying that pleasing fragrances add sensual enjoyment to life.
Aromatherapy: Safe and Sound
Essential oils are very concentrated. You should dilute them at least by half with vegetable oils—olive, jojoba, and sesame—before you apply them as perfume. If you’re using essential oils over large areas of the skin —as in a massage oil or in the bath—don’t use more than 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of vegetable oil, or more than 10 drops altogether in a bathtub of water. Never take essential oils internally; carefully store them out of the reach of children. While it’s true that some essential oils are used as flavorings, they’re only used in minute quantities. Some essential oils are not recommended for people with certain health conditions, so be sure to check for any health cautions or warnings on an oil you’re considering using.