Establishing aromatherapy as a habit in your daily life helps you take a little time for yourself. Essential oils can be used for their scent and for their cosmetic and medicinal qualities. Properly used, essential oils can help prevent and relieve many common complaints such as insomnia, headaches, colds, and aching muscles. Virtually all essential oils have antibacterial properties and some may help prevent and treat infectious illness. Essential oils can interact with all systems of the body whether they are used in a massage, bath, or as an inhalant.
On the following pages, you’ll find some of the most popular methods of use and some simple recipes for you to try. Start slowly, perhaps with lavender oil, a must for the beginner. Once you understand the basic safety guidelines (see “Safety first!” on page 44), try several ways to use the oils. Apply lavender or tea tree to cuts, add a few drops of other oils to the bath, or try your favorite scents in a diffuser. Notice how your body responds. Before long, you will wonder how you ever got along without aromatherapy in your life.
Bathing can dilate blood vessels, slow heart rate, and release muscle tension. A few drops of well chosen essential oil can add to these benefits and nourish the skin as they are absorbed.
If you’re limited to or prefer showers, try some of the many soaps and shower gels available that contain herbs and pure essential oils (not fragrance oils). Or, at the end of your shower, add a few drops of essential oil to your washcloth or sponge and rub it over yourself briskly as you continue to stand under the running water. Breathe in the aromatic steam deeply. And don’t forget hand and foot baths, jacuzzis, saunas, and sitz baths—essential oils complement these bathing methods and can provide many therapeutic benefits.
Scented Honey Bath
Honey nourishes the skin. It has good anti-inflammatory properties, and essential oils dissolve easily in it. Mix 3 to 5 drops of essential oil in 3 to 4 tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the bathtub, relax, and enjoy.
Bubble Bath or Shower Gel
In a pretty bottle, this bubble bath makes a great gift. Mix essential oil in mild, unscented liquid soap. Use 4 to 5 tablespoons of soap for every 12 to 15 drops of essential oil.
Hand or Foot Bath
This is a quick way to enjoy the benefits of essential oils. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with hot water and add the following oils as indicated. Insert hands or feet and enjoy!
For tiredness: Add 3 or 4 drops of peppermint, which cools skin and eases fatigue.
For hot, aching feet or hands: Mix 2 drops of peppermint and 2 drops of lemon.
For tension and stiffness: Mix 2 drops of rosemary and 2 drops of lavender.
For poor circulation: Add 3 or 4 drops of geranium.
Afterbath Body Powder
Customize the scent in your powder with this easy recipe. Add 4 tablespoons of unperfumed talc or cornstarch to 5 or 6 drops of essential oil. Mix well and seal the mixture in a closed container. Let the base absorb the oils for at least 24 hours.
Recent research shows that a lack of touching is associated with immune depression and that positive touch is associated with immune stimulation. Not only does massage improve circulation and relax your muscles, it has wonderful psychological benefits. Combined with the healing benefits of certain essential oils, massage is very dynamic.
Because essential oils are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, they affect the nervous system as well as all other systems of the body. Massaging with essential oils can improve circulation, help purge toxins, stimulate the immune system, aid digestion, ease constipation, lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and alleviate aches and pains.
If receiving a massage isn’t possible, try self-massage in the bath, bed, at a desk—or wherever you can take a few moments to unwind. (For more information on self-massage and herbs to support massage, see page 58.)
Caution: Don’t get a massage immediately after a meal or if you are feeling unwell or drained of energy. Massage should not be done over any areas of skin infection, rashes, cuts, sores, burns, or varicose veins.
This recipe may soothe pain and inflammation of the joints. Mix 10 drops each of lavender and rosemary with 2 tablespoons of a carrier oil. Rub gently into the painful area twice daily. Do not use on large areas of the body.
Quick Scalp Rub
As a quick method for treating the scalp between washes, dilute 10 drops of pure tea tree or lavender essential oil in jojoba oil. Rub into the scalp with your fingertips. This recipe is good for treating dandruff and as a general conditioner.
Your skin will love this! Mix 4 drops each of geranium and chamomile and 2 drops each of lemon and lavender into 2 tablespoons of sweet almond oil. Massage the oil on chapped areas, including your face.
This is an excellent massage oil for poor circulation. Add 12 drops of geranium essential oil to 2 tablespoons of your favorite carrier oil. Rub it anywhere, especially from your hands to your elbows and your feet to your knees.
Inhaling Essential Oils
As you inhale an aroma, odor molecules enter your nostrils and drift up toward your olfactory receptors. Once the receptors receive an odor, nerve cells relay this information directly to the brain’s limbic system. In the limbic system, odors can trigger memories and influence emotions and behavior. The brain registers aroma twice as fast as it does pain. This is why the inhalation of aromas can so powerfully transform the emotions. The limbic system also works with the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, and immune systems of our bodies.
When you inhale essential oils, they also enter your respiratory system. In your lungs, molecules of essential oils attach themselves to oxygen molecules and are carried into your bloodstream and circulated to every cell in your body. Within the cells, essential oils can activate the body’s ability to heal itself and improve health and well-being.
As you experiment with essential oils, don’t feel limited to the suggestions below. Try using essential oils in diffusers, in a hanky, on light bulb rings, in humidifiers, on radiators, as a room spray, and in water bowls placed on top of wood-burning stoves.
Steam warms and moistens membranes as it opens and relaxes the airways. Just boil some water, pour it into a bowl, add essential oils, and inhale deeply. For nasal congestion, try 3 drops eucalyptus and 2 drops peppermint. For tension that results in poor breathing, relax the airways with 4 drops lavender and 3 drops frankincense. If you have high blood pressure or asthma, seek medical advice before using steam, and in any case, do not exceed 3 to 5 minutes of inhalation.
Breathe Easy Blend
This blend really helps you breathe, whether you have a cold, sinusitis, or asthma. Mix 4 drops each of eucalyptus, rosemary, and geranium essential oils with 2 tablespoons of carrier oil. Massage on your chest, neck, and back. Or dilute the essential oils in a bowl or bath of hot water, place a towel over your head, and inhale the steam.
Susan Stewart travels throughout the Northwest educating the public about aromatherapy at trade shows, senior retirement facilities, bookstores, and other events. She is co-founder and partner of It’s My Nature Aromatherapy and Herbal Comforts, a home-based business in Florence, Oregon.
Lawless, J. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy: A Practical Approach to the Use of Essential Oils for Health and Well-Being. Boston: Element Books, 1997.
———. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Oils in Aromatherapy and Herbalism. Boston: Element Books, 1995.
Worwood, V. A. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. San Rafael, California: New World Library, 1991.