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De-Stress with Essential Oil Therapy

By Lauren Andrews

Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, has emerged as one of the most popular avenues toward self-care. Our senses of sight, taste, and hearing get overtly barraged. This excess sensory stimulation contributes to stress, anxiety, insomnia, “brain fog,” and hormonal dysregulation, as well as other health issues. Conversely, the importance of our senses of smell and touch are often minimized. 

In 2022, we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stressors related to that. We can use aromatherapy as a proven antidote to counter the consequences of that stress (and other lifestyle stressors). As a registered nurse, clinical aromatherapist, and owner of AroMed Essentials, I encounter a wide variety of questions from those motivated to improve the quality of their lives using this form of plant medicine. Here’s a sample:

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are volatile, potent, and chemically diverse plant oils extracted from various aromatic plant parts, such as twigs, seeds, bark, fruit rinds, grass, roots, leaves, flower petals, wood, and needles. Imagine the aroma as you walk through a pine forest. You smell essential oil molecules as they evaporate through the pine needles. Scratch and smell an orange peel – essential oil. Run your fingers over a rosemary plant and smell your hand – essential oil. Take time to “stop and smell the roses” – aromatherapy in its purest form. 

What do I look for related to growing/harvesting and ethical practices? 

Stick with companies that sell organic, certified organic, ethically wild-harvested/crafted, and unsprayed oils. Commonly used, pesticide and herbicide poisons can show up in the oils. 

Is there a grading system for oils?

No: the terms “therapeutic grade,” “food grade,” and “certified pure therapeutic grade” hold no real meaning in aromatherapy other than marketing language meant to create an illusion of higher quality.

Can I put oils in water and drink them?

Not a good idea. Consequences could include irritation and corrosion of the gastrointestinal tract and elevated liver function test results. Internal use of essential oils should only be done to address a specific health issue, under the guidance of a clinically trained aromatherapy practitioner.

What are the different methods for applying essential oils?

Bath — Adding 4–8 drops of an essential oil, mixed with a small amount of carrier, such as milk, Himalayan salt, or oil, to a bath can soothe sore muscles, support respiratory health, enhance sleep, decrease anxiety, and uplift your mood.

Diffusion — Diffusing can be as simple as putting a few drops of oil on a tissue, or placing oils in a mist diffuser.

Room and Body Spray — Create sprays by adding essential oils to distilled, spring, or well water. Shake before use. Sprays can be used as personal perfumes, room deodorizers, and facial toners.

Steam inhalation — Steam inhalation can support your respiratory system, while clearing nasal passages. Add two drops of an essential oil, such as eucalyptus, to steaming water, place a towel over your head and the hot water, and breathe. Keep your eyes shut when you do this!

Nasal inhaler — Use as needed to support respiratory health, decrease stress, enhance your immune system, boost cognitive function, or assist with hormone regulation.

Skin lotion — Essential oils have numerous skin-nurturing properties and can address itches, rashes, scars, or insect bites, as well as muscle and joint aches and pains.

Massage oil — To enhance therapeutic massage, use oils that increase circulation, relieve pain, nourish skin, promote hormone balance, enhance mood, and support emotional well-being.

Natural Perfume — Add a favorite essential oils to jojoba or fractionated coconut oils to create a chemical-free, plant-based perfume.

Salt or Sugar Scrubs — Adding skin-nourishing essential oils to salt or sugar, along with oils such as jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut exfoliates and moisturizes skin naturally.

Which oils do I use for what?

Anxiety/Depression — bergamot, cedarwood, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, lemon, palmarosa, patchouli, vetiver, ylang ylang.

Colds/Flu — balsam fir, cedarwood, eucalyptus, lemon, spike lavender, peppermint, ravintsara, rosemary, thyme ct thymol, tea tree.

Dyspepsia (digestive issues) — black pepper, cardamom, fennel seed, sweet marjoram, mandarin, orange, rosemary, peppermint, ginger, spearmint.

PMS and Menopause — bergamot, clary sage, cypress, geranium, juniper berry, lavender, roman chamomile, rose, ylang ylang.

Skin Care — bergamot, carrot seed, frankincense, lavender, myrrh, palmarosa, patchouli, chamomile, sandalwood, helichrysum.

Headaches — cajeput, roman chamomile, clary sage, eucalyptus, lavender, spike lavender, sweet marjoram, peppermint, rosemary.

Musculoskeletal Pain — black pepper, clove bud, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, juniper berry, lavender, sweet marjoram, plai, rosemary.

What are industry standards about dilution percentages?

One-percent dilution — 5–6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier, such as jojoba, sweet almond, sesame, unscented lotions. Use for children under 12 and seniors over 65 years old. Pregnant or nursing women, and those with long term illnesses or immune system disorders should consult a health care practitioner before using.

Two-percent dilution — 10–12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier. Use for general health supporting blends for skin care, natural perfumes, bath oils and for blends for everyday use.

Three-percent dilution — 15–18 drops per ounce of carrier. Use when creating a blend for a specific health concern, such as pain relief or a cold or flu. Remember to research essential oils before purchasing. And make sure the therapeutic benefits align with your needs. Enjoy your aromatic journey!

Lauren Andrews, R.N., Clinical Aromatherapist, is the owner of AroMed Essentials on State Street in Montpelier.