Health and Beauty Articles
AromatherapyI had a little bit of a ‘cringe’ moment the other day at work. A client came into my treatment room and exclaimed, “What a lovely smell! What is it and where did it come from?” I mentally batted some answers around in my head: Glade or Febreeze? Hmmm. Co op or Tesco? Hmmm. I settled the question by affirming that I had bought the candle on offer in the Co-op, and then I took an off-the-cuff guess that the scent was sandalwood (after examination it was not). The client looked rather deflated. They, I can only assume, were expecting a long winded explanation of the origins of this wonderful scent; that they were oils obtained specifically for their treatment and that they had soul enhancing properties. Or not. Epic fail on my part!
So it shamed me into doing some long overdue research on aromatherapy – although I work with oils everyday in work I really don’t know enough about them, so this column is a learning curve for me as well as you!
Origins of AromatherapyAmazingly, aromatherapy dates back as far as 6000 years and was documented as initially being used by Egyptians to honour their gods – frankincense was burned at sunrise as an offering to the Sun God, Ra, and towards the end of the day myrrh was offered to the moon. Their oils were also used as a preservative for their dead Kings before mummification. It is said that in the 17th century mummies were sold in Europe and doctors distilled them for use in medicine, as essential oils were the only form of remedies for disease and illness for centuries; this stands to reason as during the Black Plague those who worked with essential oils and perfumeries were unlikely to contract the disease.
The use of aromatherapy eventually followed onto countries such as Israel, China, India and the Mediterranean (especially in Italy during the time of the Roman Empire), where every culture developed their own set of practices. However, it was shunned for a period in the 19th century (with the exception of the Ayurveda practice in India) until French chemist Gatefosse resurrected the healing art in 1937 after curing his burned hand with lavender oil – calling the practice ‘Aromatherapy’ (aroma meaning ‘scent’ and therapy meaning ‘treatment’).
Since then aromatherapy has been practised and perfected worldwide, particularly in the cosmetic and holistic industry. It is now recognised as a healing method which can enhance your mood, offer pain relief and promote brain function – to name but a few benefits. Natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots and other parts of plants are either inhaled or applied to the skin for penetration through the blood stream in this practise.
Common essential oils and their health benefits
(All oils stated are typically inhaled or added into a massage oil/lotion)Bergamot: This is a citrus scented oil extracted from the Citrus Beragamia tree and is used to treat stress, depression, anorexia, eczema and psoriasis. This oil is quite strong so shouldn’t be applied directly onto the skin in its purest form and should be avoided if you’re out and about in the sun.
Cedarwood: This is a woody scented essential oil that stems from the Juniperus Virginiana tree, originating in Egypt, so is one of the oldest oils ever extracted. This is known to ‘lift the spirits’ as it reduces stress and anxiety, but can also help to treat respiratory problems and urinary tract infections. This should be blended with a carrier oil (i.e. grapeseed) as it is highly irritable if placed directly onto the skin and should be avoided entirely throughout pregnancy.
Chamomile: This is one of the better known essential oils due to its association with teas and soothing lotions. There are two types of chamomile plants that are used in aromatherapy: the Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile. The Roman chamomile is widely used to act as an antibiotic, antiseptic, antidepressant and overall mood lifter, whereas the German chamomile is better suited to treating inflammations such as urinary, tract and skin inflammations (acne). I also find chamomile effective when treating puffy eyes – try soaking chamomile tea bags for a few minutes in water and leave on the eyes for about ten minutes – it works a charm if you’ve had a few too many late nights! Avoid this oil if pregnant or if you are allergic to Ragweed (a type of pollen allergy).
Eucalyptus: This derives from the Eucalyptus tree, and it has many, many effective properties. An obvious characteristic is its cooling and deodorizing effect on the body, which assists in helping fevers, migraine and malaria. It is one of the most effective oils in helping respiratory problems such as asthma, coughs (including whooping cough), sinusitis and catarrh (I find this blend very effective in ear candling). When warmed with a carrier oil it is useful for treating muscular aches, rheumatoid arthritis, sprains and poor circulation. And (I did warn that is has MANY effective properties!) it also helps several skin conditions such as burns, blisters, herpes, cuts, wounds and insect bites. This again should be avoided in pregnancy, in women who are breast feeding, in people with epilepsy and should not be ingested in large doses as this can be fatal.
Jasmine: My knowledge of jasmine previously goes as far as knowing it’s the main ingredient of my favourite perfume (Pure poison, Christian Dior!) Not surprisingly, this is one of the most expensive essential oils (as my husband rolls his eyes...) as it involves a long process to obtain even a tiny amount of this oil through extraction from the Jasminum grandiflorum (an evergreen). It can ease depression, aid childbirth, reduce stress and tension as well as helping addiction issues. Although it is non toxic is should still be avoided in pregnancy.
Lavender: We’ve all heard of this one! This is one of the most stress busting oils out there as the scent immediately calms the mind and senses – no need for explanation when I say this is the lotion I use on clients after waxing! This comes from the common lavender plant and is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diuretic and is a powerful sedative – a couple of drops on a tissue or on your pillow will help you drift off at night, or better yet have a bath with some drops of lavender oil before bedtime. Bliss!
Marjoram: This is one of the lesser known essential oils but is highly effective at calming hyperactivity and anxiety - if you have hyperactive children add a couple of drops to their bath at bedtime to promote a relaxed atmosphere. It is a plant that was used largely by the Greeks for medicinal values, and also aids bowel problems, tension and fatigue. This is non toxic but again avoid in pregnancy.
Rose: This is a pricier oil due to the amount of rose petals used to distill it, but definitely worth the investment as it aids a number of illness such as heart problems, asthma, circulation, depression, anxiety and female-related issues (PMT, menopausal symptoms and irregular periods), as well as being a wonderful ingredient in skincare (excellent for inflamed, dry, sensitive or mature skin). I recently came across a gorgeous product by ARK – their ‘loving bath and body oil’ uses ingredients rose, jasmine, orange flower, frankincense and many more and is £26 per bottle. Rose oil should however be avoided in early pregnancy, particularly if miscarriages have happened.
Rosemary: You probably think more ‘hog roast’ than ‘essential oil’ when the word rosemary springs to mind – however this is a very effective stimulating oil which is extracted from the flowering part of the rosemary herb and can help many ailments. Not only can it waken your mind and your memory (case studies have shown it can help sufferers of Alzheimer’s and dementia), it also relives congestion, sinusitis and when blended with an oil can relieve stiff joints, achy muscles, arthritis, liver congestion, gallbladder congestion, digestive disorders and it can also stimulate hair growth when applied to the scalp via a shampoo! This should be avoided if you have epilepsy, high blood pressure or are pregnant.
Tea tree: This is one of the most popular essential oils and for good reason – if you do not have this in your bathroom cabinet then you should rectify this! It comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant and first and foremost it has powerful healing properties as it can cure cuts, burns, cold sores, respiratory conditions, muscular aches, flu, eczema, Athletes foot and dandruff. The healing time is very quick; however tea tree should not be used over serious cuts. If I have a spot I dab a little tea tree oil over it and it surrenders quickly!
Ylang-ylang: This sweet oil is known for reducing stress as well as acting as an aphrodisiac – oysters and chocolate can take a hike! As well as this ylang-ylang is used to soothe headaches, nausea, skin conditions, to stimulate hair growth, reduce high blood pressure and help intestinal problems. Over use of this can however have the opposite effect and give you headaches, but this oil is non toxic.
These oils are all readily available on the internet (i.e. Holland and Barrett), or you can take a stroll through Stornoway and be treated to many different forms of aromatherapy available in our local shops, or better yet, treat yourself to a massage with a trained professional. Once you introduce aromatherapy into your life, you’ll be wondering what you ever did without it!