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Aromatherapy - Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine based on the use of volatile plant materials, known as ‘essential’ oils, and other aromatic compounds, for the purpose of altering a person's mood or health. Essential oils are essences that have been extracted from aromatic plants into liquid form, generally via distillation. These natural essences are used to soothe stress, treat minor ailments, promote relaxation, lift your spirits, and overall improve your sense of well-being.
The most effective way that aromatherapy works is through the nose, via inhalation. The olfactory nerves located within our nasal cavities respond to particular aromas, which then send information to the part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system supports a variety of functions, including emotion, behaviour and long term memory. This is why essential oils are so effective on our moods and state of mind.
The second most effective way that aromatherapy works is through the skin. Essential oils applied to the body penetrate the skin via the hair follicles and sweat glands, and are absorbed into the bloodstream. However, essential oils are very concentrated and should be diluted with carrier oils before applying to the skin. Many of the carrier oils used in aromatherapy are extracted from fruits, which rarely cause allergic reactions and are therefore suitable for all skin types. These include apricot, avocado, grapeseed and peach oils.
Essential oils are commonly used in massage, to create room fragrances, and added to bathroom products such as soap, shampoo, bath gel and skin creams. Other forms of aromatherapy include incense, pot pourri, steam inhalations, scented candles and fresh flowers. Each essential oil has its own unique quality, but most fall into one of seven board categories: antiseptic, citrus, floral, fresh, herby, spicy or woody / earthy.
The healing properties and the fragrance of an essential oil are determined by its ‘active ingredients’, which are the chemicals it contains. A single essential oil can contain several hundred different chemicals that, when combined, are responsible for its individual aroma and therapeutic action. The chemical families of essential oils are: acids, alcohols, aldehydes, esters, keytones, monoterpenes, oxides, phenols and sesquiterpenes.
Although essential oils are derived from a natural product, there are known to be undesired side effects from this very potent liquid in its concentrated form, if not managed correctly. It is therefore important to read labels carefully and handle with care.
It is advisable to do a skin patch test before using them, especially if you have sensitive skin or are an allergy sufferer. Essential oils should never be used on children; ingested by children; used in pregnancy, or when breastfeeding.
Aromatherapy has been practised all around the world, and there is evidence that essential oils have played a major role in religion and medicine for over 6,000 years. The Egyptians used a process to extract aromatic plants for use in medicinal remedies, and during the process of embalming. It was also a common practice for Egyptians to be massaged with fragrant oils after bathing. It has only been in recent times that the western world has embraced the therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy.
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