Aromatherapy Guide: How to Use Essential Oils for Your Well-Being

Discover the best carrier oils, how to use essential oils to diminish stress, boost energy and more with this guide to aromatherapy.

| May/June 2013

  • In "Aromatherapy," authors Kathi Keville and Mindy Green offer the latest information for those interested in aromatherapy, including more than 90 formulas for using essential oils in health and first aid, skin and hair care, massage, relaxation, and more.
    Photo Courtesy Crossing Press
  • Citrus essential oils can boost energy and mood.
    Photo By iStock
  • Never apply undiluted essential oils to your skin. Instead, dilute them in carrier oils.
    Photo By Shutterstock

  • Photo By Shutterstock

  • Photo By Shutterstock

Few things can move us so deeply or have so profound an impact on our psyches as the memories evoked by specific scents. A smell can take us back to childhood or conjure up a lost love as real as the day we experienced it. Smells invoke long-term memory and make the past present as no other sense can. The most direct of all of our senses, smell has an immediate impact, unimpaired by the passage of time. Aromatherapy, the art of using aromatic essential oils, relies on the subtle effects of smell to relax or stimulate the body, mind and spirit. You can harness the healing power of scent at home using these tips and instructions for how to blend botanical essential oils and choose the best skin-friendly carrier oils.

The Best Carrier Oils

There are many ways to use essential oils for aromatherapy, but in general, you shouldn’t apply undiluted essential oils to your skin. Instead, dilute them in carrier oils, called such because they can be used to deliver essential oils’ powerful aromatherapeutic benefits. To get the most from the healing effects of aromatherapy, it’s important to know the best carrier oils to use in combination with your plant extracts.

Carrier oils are ideal for delivering essential oils because their molecules are larger than those of essential oils and do not easily penetrate the skin. What distinguishes one oil from another is primarily whether it contains healing compounds, such as vitamins and other nutrients, and how thick it is.

A few oils (such as evening primrose, borage seed and black currant seed oil) contain skin nutrients such as gamma linoleic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid. Seed and nut oils such as sweet almond, grape seed and walnut contain vitamins A and E as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These soothing, nourishing and nutrient-rich oils are among the best carrier oils. They’re also known as “fixed” oils because they don’t evaporate like essential oils do.

The saturation rate of carrier oils measures how thick they are. The more saturated the oil, the thicker it is, the longer it stays on the skin and the longer its shelf life. Unsaturated oils give the illusion that they are being absorbed into the skin when they are actually slowly evaporating. Commonly used unsaturated oils include soybean, safflower, olive, sunflower and canola; commonly used saturated oils include coconut, palm and palm kernel. The most suitable oil depends on the application. Most body workers prefer saturated oil for massage so they have a continually oily surface on which to glide their hands, but many cosmetics use less-saturated oils that feel less thick and sticky.

Other factors to consider are smell and color. The light smell and color of almond, hazelnut and grape seed oils put them among the most preferred oils for cosmetics. Avoid unrefined oils (cooking oils), which can leave you smelling like food. Whenever possible, choose expeller- or cold-pressed oils, which have not been exposed to potentially damaging temperatures above 110 degrees. Organic oils are always preferred.

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