Aromatherapy Methods

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Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Sage should only be used by aromatherapy professionals

Sage should only be used by aromatherapy professionals

This guide to aromatherapy methods is just a broad overview of the ways in which aromatherapy oils can be used, which are much more varied than you may realize.

There are various types of essential oil diffuser, commonly called oil burners, though the oil is never actually burnt. Many people use these – often with no therapeutic intention. The most common type works by adding a few drops of oil to some aromatherapy crystals or water in a container, which is then suspended over a votive candle (tea light) to release the scent. The crystals are usually already impregnated with essential oil when you buy them, but the fragrance does not last for ever. Adding a few drops of the same oil will bring them back to life.

Another way to achieve the same effect is by using an aromatherapy light fitting which makes use of the heat generated by the bulb to liberate the fragrance. I’m not sure if these will work with the new green bulbs we’re all supposed to use, though, as they don’t produce the same amount of heat.

You can also use a few drops of oil added to a small dish of water or a damp cloth placed on top of a radiator in the same way.

Whatever you may read elsewhere, essential oils should never be taken internally. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Another popular way to use essential oils is in the bath. Add up to 5 drops of essential oil or 5ml of a blend to the bath water once the bath is ready. One point to note: Don’t add it while the bath is filling up, or all the fragrance will have dissipated before you get in.

Some essential oils are used for steam inhalation. Add 10 drops of essential oil to 2 pints (500ml) of boiling water and stir. Lean over the bowl and use a towel to enclose both it and your head so that you get a good concentration of steam for inhalation.

Aromatherapy oils can also be used to make compresses: add 1-2 drops of essential oil to a bowl of water and mix. Both hot and cold compresses are used for different purposes. Lay a bandage on the surface of the water to take up the oil which will be floating on the water, then apply to the area to be treated.

Scalp treatments are made by making a blend of essential oil and carrier oil and applying to the scalp, being careful to coat every hair. It’s best to warm the oil up first – not too much – by standing the bottle in hot water or putting it on a radiator for a bit. If you have an old shower cap or similar, cover the oiled hair with this to raise the temperature, which makes the oil work quicker and also protects your furniture from the oil (you can also just wrap your head in a towel, but remember when it comes time to wash it, not to put it in with anything that is delicate). Leave in place for 30 minutes-3 hours or overnight, then wash off. You will probably need at least 2 washes to get it all out of your hair. This method works extremely well for infestations, as cooties and fleas breathe through the “skin”, and the oil blocks the channels through which air flows.

Massage is always better with a blend containing essential oil rather than with plain almond oil (or whatever oil you normally use). You only need a few drops of aromatherapy oil to take the experience to a whole new level – plus if you choose your oil carefully there will be an added therapeutic benefit.

Essential oils can also be used to make flower waters, alcohol-based lotions and douches, and mixed into unscented creams, lotions and shampoo. Many essential suppliers will have these available for purchase.

Some oils can be used topically, directly on the area to be treated, particularly in emergencies. Most oils should not be used undiluted, as they are too strong, but lavender and tea tree are among the oils which may be used in this way.

Unfortunately, recent research has found that regular use of tea tree and lavender oils in boys before puberty can lead to gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and can interfere with their sexual development [source]. The same thing can occur in adult males, but with less serious effects, since their sexual characteristics are already established. It’s therefore advisable to restrict use of the oils and products (eg. shampoo) that contain either of these oils for boys except in occasional emergency situations.

Finally, you can also put a few drops of oil onto a handkerchief, tissue or pillow. Using a tissue or handkerchief allows you to carry the fragrance with you to inhale as required, useful for blocked noses. There’s also aromatherapy jewelry which can be used in a similar way.  Putting drops on the pillow is a great way of aiding sleep when you’ve got a cold, a headache or are suffering from restlessness or insomnia, and is even safe for babies so long as you choose your oil carefully.

As you can see, there’s much more to aromatherapy than just oil burners!

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