Why does aromatherapy work?

Aromatherapy is not simply about pleasant smells; the use of essential oils heighten the therapeutic value of virtually every treatment. The molecules of essential oils waft into our nose, where they act like a little “key” in a specific neurological lock. Aromatherapy unlocks specific nervous system responses, bypassing our cognitive processes altogether. For example, you don’t need to know that lavender is relaxing for it to have that effect on you. These powerful scent messages and responses are programmed into our bodies. They affect the most ancient part of our brain, the limbic system, which is the seat of memory and emotion. That’s why a smell can trigger instant memories. Some essential oils are stimulating (peppermint), some increase concentration (rosemary) and others trigger a euphoric reaction (clary sage.) Their benefits roughly correspond with the part of the plant they come from. For example, oils extracted from the bark of a tree (rosewood, cypress) are beneficial for the skin, since the bark of a tree is its “skin.” Leaves, the lungs of a plant, help respiration (eucalyptus, fir needle.) Flowers, the reproductive organs of plants, are wonderful for enhancing desire. This is why flowers are used in perfumery–they have aphrodisiac properties. Virtually all essential oils are antiseptic, some very much so (lemon, tea tree oil) making them a natural way to fight pathogenic bacteria. Because aromatherapy is a potent healing modality, it’s important to inform your therapist if you’re allergic to essential oils or if you’re  pregnant.  (Many essential oils should not be used in pregnancy.)  My favorites are peppermint and lavender, which are wonderful for misting the bath room and kitchen area; very uplifting. You can add a few drops to to a relaxing warm bath, add a candle and soothing music–pure heaven! Some rules of thumb for safe use:
  • Avoid applying essential oils directly to the skin. There are a handful of exceptions. Lavender can be used “neat” (undiluted).
  • Use a “carrier oil” such as grapeseed or jojoba oil and add essential oils to this, roughly 6 drops per teaspoon of oil.
  • Use no more than 6 drops of pure essential oils in a warm bath (hot water is the most potent delivery system for essential oils)
  • Ask your spa therapist for guidance as to the most beneficial oils for your use
  • Purchase only top-quality oils that have been tested for purity
  • Do not use essential oils on infants and small children, unless they are in a product specifically formulated for them