Aromatherapy isn’t about pleasant aromas that improve your mood, although that sometimes is an additional benefit. Rather, aromatherapy is about using essential oils from aromatic plants therapeutically, usually through either inhalation or topical application.
Because essential oils are extremely condensed, only a few drops of the appropriate oil are mixed into an oil, cream, or lotion for application. You may already use a cooling lotion that contains eucalyptus oil as an active ingredient to ease muscle aches, a warming lotion that lists cinnamon oil, or a foot cream that has peppermint oil. These products are all available at mainstream retail outlets – hippie dresses and New Age music are not required.
People use several methods for inhalation of essential oils. You can put a few drops of peppermint oil on a cotton ball, place it in a small zipper food storage bag, and inhale the scent as needed for nausea from motion sickness. You also can add a few drops of an essential oil to water in the top of a potpourri warmer, purchase candles scented with essential oils, or use a room scent diffuser.
You even can combine the topical application and inhalation methods. When you’re coughing or congested from a cold, put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on the floor of your shower and close the drain. Then inhale the essential oil through the shower steam as you take it in through the thin skin on the arch of your foot.
As with other natural products, essential oil quality varies from brand to brand and sometimes even from harvest to harvest. The government doesn’t regulate or inspect manufacturing and packaging essential oils, allowing more variety in quality and purity. Without regulation, the best tip to buying higher quality and more consistent quality essential oils is to purchase products from companies that have good reputations.
The therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy shouldn’t replace formal medical care or medications. In some situations, aromatherapy coordinates well with medical care; the Cleveland Clinic uses peppermint and ginger to ease nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy.
But even natural ingredients can interact with over the counter or prescribed medications. Grapefruit, as an example, makes some medications ineffective, so people on those medications should avoid aromatherapy products that include grapefruit oil. Ask your doctor questions and read ingredient lists to be an informed aromatherapy consumer.