People often ask me how aromatherapy works. I love it when people ask questions! Next week I will be posting a more in depth blog about memory-emotion and aromatherapy. Before I get into that I would like to just give you a basic understanding of how/why aromatherapy works. As a scientist and certified aromatherapist it is important to help people understand that essential oils and aromatherapy are more than just a pretty smell- they are functional!
Cue the quick science lesson: Essential oils are volatile. This means that essential oils can evaporate and easily turn into vapor. The vapor of the oil when released into the air travels as molecules. These molecules travel to your nose. From the minute an aroma hits your nose there is a process that occurs. In this process there are 4 key concepts that are important to understand- Detect, Transmit, Perceive and analyze.
DETECT: Essential Oil molecules travel up the nose into the nasal cavity, where they come into contact with chemoreceptors. When an odor molecule stimulates a chemoreceptor, changes to your brain occur.
TRANSMIT: The change to your brain is caused by a nerve impulse which creates a signal- (known as an aroma print) that travels to the olfactory bulb .
PERCEIVED & ANALYZED: The aroma print travels to other parts of the brain for perception, analysis, storage in memory and emotional response.
Check out the fun little video below to give a visual explanation.
I spent last weekend in Chicago talking with almost 500 women about aromatherapy. It was a great opportunity to find out what women think about aromatherapy, their concerns, needs and issues. A few things clearly stood out to me, one of them was about essential oil usage. I often as an aromatherapist get asked usage and safety questions. I thought this month it would be good to answer some of those questions for you all.
How long can I diffuse essential oils in my diffuser?
Inhalation using a diffuser can be very powerful and effective. It is estimated that as much as 60-70% of the molecules in an essential oil can be adsorbed into the body. I recommend that you not diffuse more than 30-60 minutes at a time. I always advise people to get a diffuser that has an intermittent button and timer. For example, you can diffuse for 60 min., where your diffuser goes on for 5 sec, then off for 5 sec. It will do this the entire time you diffuse. It is a great way to control how much essential oil is being emitted into the air. A timer allows it to turn off even if you are not in the room, or if you are sleeping at night.
An indication that you are diffusing too much could be headaches, light-headedness, trouble breathing. If you experience any of these you should turn off the diffuser and move to a room with fresh air.
In a cold air diffuser I usually recommend (for adults) starting with 3-5 drops of essential oil. You can add EO if you desire a stronger aroma, but never more than a total of 10 drops. Essential oils have what is referred to as a low therapeutic margin. This means there is a fine line between a beneficial dose and a toxic dose. It is always good to begin at a lower amount and work your way up.
How do I store my essential oils?
Essential oils are “volatile”; meaning that they can easily evaporate at room temperature. More importantly, heat, light and oxygen can cause evaporation and degradation (break down), rendering them useless. Because of these factors, essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark area. Preferably in a dark, glass container. Citrus oils- high in Terpenes-tend to spoil the quickest, so placing them in a refrigerator will help prolong the shelf life of the oil. A separate small refrigerator for all your essential oils is really the best way to go. On a final note, If your essential oil comes in a large quantity, it may be worth aliquoting it into smaller bottles to reduce unnecessary exposure.
Why do I need to Dilute?
Why do you need to dilute? Dilution is important because essential oils can cause irritation, sensitivity, redness, blisters and itching when used undiluted. For many of you out there I am sure you are thinking it’s natural, it must be safe. Essential oils can be effective and safe, BUT, when used in the correct way. Take for example that it can take as many as 3,000 lemons to produce 1 kilo of lemon essential oil. That is something like 45 lemons in 1-15ml bottle of essential oil-that my friend is a lot of lemons! Lemon essential oil is also known to be phototoxic (can cause sensitivity to the sun). Now try putting on 1-undiluted drop onto your skin and then go out in the sun-ouch. For further info on dermal reactions visit http://naha.org/index.php/explore-aromatherapy/safety/ and for guidelines on dilution visit: http://naha.org/index.php/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/methods-of-application or http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/dilutingessentialoils.asp.
References for this blog and for further information on essential oil safety :
Tisserand, Robert. Essential Oil Safety: 2nd Edition, Elsevier, 2014.
Petersen, Dorene. Introduction to Aromatherapy. American College of Healthcare Sciences, 2012.
I understand there is a huge amount of information about essential oils out there. It can all be overwhelming! I decided to write this post because in the last few months I have been having a lot of conversations with people about essential oil safety. As a certified clinical aromatherapist, I am excited about people's interest in EO's and concerned for the lack of information people have as they use them.
I thought if I tried to narrow down some of the necessary safety information it may help people use EO's more safely.
I am giving out what I will call my Aromatherapy 101. It has the safety basics of essential oil use. This is just a beginning and I always advocate doing your own homework. Get a good essential oil safety book, there a few really good ones out there. Here it goes.........
Beginning basics and safety:
Essential Oils should always be diluted. You can use jojoba oil, vegetable oil or something like apricot or almond oil. For whole body lotions and massage oils essential oils can be used at 1-3%; Facial applications 0.5-1%; Pain or wounds 5-15%.
Children and the elderly should use much less 0.5-1%. If pregnant or taking medications, you need to be particularly careful since essential oils can interfere with the metabolism of some drugs. It is not recommended to use essential oils with children under 2. There are a few exceptions like rose. Hydrosols are a better avenue for children under 2 yrs. Of age.
I do not think that the average person should ingest essential oils. Even as an aromatherapist there are only a few oils that I would ingest. While essential oils may be natural, they can be extremely potent. Ingesting essential oils without proper knowledge could be dangerous.
Never put EO’s in the eye. What to do if you (1) get an EO in your eye on accident (2) EO irritates or burns the skin. Use milk to flush or wash it off. Water can make it worse. The fat from the milk will soothe the irritation.
Allergic reactions can sometimes happen. An allergic reaction could range from mild redness of the skin, red and slightly thickened skin, red swollen skin, water blisters to intense swelling, redness and large blisters. If any of these symptoms occur discontinue use of the essential oil that is causing the reaction.
A cold air diffuser should be used. Never use heat with oils since they are volatile. The oil will evaporate and or break down under heat. The benefits you will get from the oil will be less than with a cold air diffuser. Many are on the market, I recommend one that has a timer so that you can regulate how much you are diffusing.
Symptoms that may indicate you are diffusing too much: Headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath. If this happens, move to an area with fresh air.
Diffusing all day, every day is not recommended. When you inhale an essential oil, as much as 70% can be adsorbed. That is a lot of essential oil to adsorb into your body. If you are diffusing a lot, you are exposing yourself to a higher chance of sensitization. EO’s filter themselves through the liver and kidney, you could be unnecessarily taxing your organs by overexposure. Recommended diffusing times…3-4 hrs a day. Not all at once, but 30min. on, 30min. off.
EO’s can cause photosensitivity-meaning that you should be extra careful when exposed to UV or sunlight. Diffusing them will not cause this-topical application could cause this. Citrus EO’s such as pressed lemon, lime, grapefruit and bergamot oil can cause sensitivity to the sun if applied to the skin.
If using one of these oils do not expose the area for 12-24hrs. Make sure to cover the area that EO was applied to so that it is not exposed to sun or UV. (Could cause sunburn.) This is especially important for people on medications who could already be at risk to the sun because of medications.
Nomenclature for Essential Oils
Making sure that you use the correct latin name when buying the essential oil. An example…Lavender is known as Lavendula angustifolia (officinalis). Do not mistake this with lavendula abrialis which is Lavendin and has very different properties than Lavender.
Buying Essential Oils
Where should you buy your EO’s. When making your decision the two most important qualifications are these: (1) they should be organic, unsprayed or wildcrafted ;(2) they should be a very high quality grade. EO’s are very concentrated and if they are not organic or unsprayed then you are getting concentrated pesticide with it. High quality grade is important because some companies will put additives into their oils, thus diluting the oil and reducing the effectiveness of the oil. Some companies publish their testing results on their sites. This is a great way to know that your oils contain what they are supposed to.
At the beginning of the New Year I realized that my tank was empty. I was in serious need of an energy boost and a fresh start on my eating habits. The holidays were busy and I had become overindulgent in unhealthy foods. I am usually a healthy eater, but gradually over the holidays poor eating choices won over.
Wanting to start the New Year off right, I decided to host a smoothie party. I don't normally host parties, but I figured if I wanted to give my eating habits and energy a boost, maybe some friends of mine would join me. Cue in Heather, a certified health coach and a room full of ladies..... Fun is the only word I had for the night.
Who knew that one could laugh so much while learning about healthy eating habits and drinking smoothies.
Heather takes a very practical approach to nutrition, helping to find balance in a busy life. She was able to educate us on what eating healthy really looks like; giving us healthier options for daily eating.
The smoothie's were great because it was something I can make ahead of time and take on the go. Often I skip lunch because I am so busy. Turns out a smoothie was a fabulous option for me because drinking my lunch is a quick and easy option. The smoothies have been so amazing that I have been able to replace my smoothie with my afternoon coffee (most days). I love coffee, so doing this is nothing short of amazing for me. I love that I can do something so simple that can boost my energy and make me feel good. Thank you Heather!
If you want to learn more about Heather check her out at:
Heather is great, because she understands what it means to balance being a busy mom in a busy life. She makes choosing a healthy lifestyle uncomplicated and easy. I highly recommend checking out her website. It is full of fun facts on how to eat healthy.
I just returned from a weekend where I participated in a health and wellness fair. It was a great experience to get to meet people and, more importantly, understand how they want to improve their health.
I found the majority of people wanted to incorporate products that are natural, green and less toxic into their life. When people stopped by my booth some of the first questions they asked about my products were, "what are essential oils, is it good for me, does it have bad stuff in it, what can it do for me".
Most people understand that essential oils/aromatherapy smells good, but don't always understand the benefits that it can have. People who stopped by my booth ranged in their understanding of aromatherapy. I found that people generally fell into 1 of 3 categories: (1) I have no idea what aromatherapy is, (2) wanting to understand how they could incorporate essential oils/aromatherapy into their every day life, and (3) some people were like me, essential oil junkies. Throughout my discussions I found most interesting that many people were unaware of the safety issues in using essential oils. I mean "it's natural" isn't is good for me. I have two answers for that, yes AND no. When essential oils are used within their safety guidelines they can be very helpful and therapeutic. It is when people start using an oil without any understanding of it's chemical properties that it can become a problem.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to squash all essential oil lovers out there. I just want to point out that just because it is natural doesn't mean it is okay to use it without education and understanding. Essential oils are driven by their chemistry. Each oil contains a unique set of chemical components that contributes to their therapeutic effectiveness. It's great that an oil smells good, but it is more than that. For example, it is the azulene in chamomile that gives an anti-inflammatory and soothing effect. Each body responds to these components differently. Children, elderly and those undergoing treatment for medical conditions are more sensitive in their response to essential oils/aromatherapy. Extra caution should be taken when using them on this group.
What is my point in saying this? Education and knowledge is the key. Do your homework, there are a couple good safety books and websites out their that can help you understand essential oil safety. Robert Tisserand's Essential Oil safety or Lea Harris website discussing safety issues: http://www.learningabouteos.com/
Continue on in your enthusiasm for essential oils and use of aromatherapy products that use them. Empower yourself to learn about them and be safe as you use them!!
As we finish Thanksgiving and look forward to Christmas, I realize all that I have to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, celebration with family and lots of food! This year I had an especially good reason to be thankful. My son who was diagnosed with leukemia a little over two years ago has been unable to enjoy this holiday; due to treatment or sickness. This year, he was healthy enough to not only to enjoy it, but play with his cousins and feel like a normal kid. Do you remember that special time during the holidays when everything is magical? He has not been able to experience this....this year was the first time in many that I saw that excitement and joy.
Many days in the beginning of his diagnosis were spent at the hospital. Days of treatment could be long and draining. During this time, I used my training in aromatherapy to bring comfort to him. We found that any comforts during this difficult time helped to pull us through. Scents of lavender and chamomile for relaxation and nausea transformed the sterile hospital room into a warm comforting place. Scents of Frankinsence, used since ancient times, helped with emotional grounding. This is just a few examples of the way in which aromatherapy made a difference in our lives.
You too can help this season by helping to give aromatherapy to other patients and families in need. Treatment can be costly and the added cost for aromatherapy is not something that many families can afford. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to give this gift to patients struggling through treatment?
When you purchase Lip Balm for Life, 100 % of the profits are donated to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin . Your donation will be used to donate aromatherapy and aromatherapy products to patients undergoing treatment.
The change to the fall season brings shorter days, darker skies and even busier schedules. If you are like me, the kids have gone back to school and sports season is in full swing.Of course, don't forget the million and one other things you are trying to juggle in your day that can leave you feeling stressed out, tired and depleted. There are essential oils that can help!
Rosemary, lemongrass and citrus oils such as grapefruit, tangerine, lemon and orange are respected for their ability to stimulate the mind and assist with focus and concentration. They can give support in rejuvenation of the mind and body.
Renew is a blend of essential oils formulated specifically for your diffuser. It's scent is light and uplifting, with a citrus aroma. My favorite is to diffuse in the morning to help energize me as I begin my day.
If you are busy and on the go, these roll-on aromatherapy blends- Energize and Focus are perfect for you. They fit in your purse or pocket and are easy to use throughout your busy day.
Maybe you are just plain stressed out and need a little relaxation and calm. This Stress blend was formulated with lavender, bergamot, sandalwood and jasmine essential oils to encourage relaxation.