Many people use aromatherapy and don’t even know they are doing so: lighting a scented candle, putting on scented body lotion or perfume or body spray, sinking into a warm scented bath, simmering potpourri or enjoying a walk through a scented garden are all forms of aromatherapy.


Medical research has uncovered what aromatherapists have always known: that odors have a significant impact on how we feel. The sense of smell is strongly tied to our brain and our emotions. A scent can take us back in time; make us recall a pleasant or even unpleasant memory. “Smells act directly on the brain, like a drug,” says Alan Hirsch M.D., a neurologist and psychiatrist. “We know from brain wave frequency studies that smelling lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, which are associated with relaxation,” says Dr. Hirsch. “An odor such as jasmine increases brain waves in the front of the head, which are associated with a more alert state.”


The basis of aromatherapy consists of using the essences of aromatic plants. Essential oils are the highly concentrated essences of the aromatic plants. Aromatherapy is the art of using the oils to promote the healing of the mind and body. The essential oils can be used alone or in combinations and are found in different parts of the plants such as flowers, leaves, twigs, bark, or the rinds of fruit. The methods used to extract these oils can be very time consuming and expensive so it is better leaving that to the professionals, essential oils can also be expensive but a few drops go along way. Small amounts are extremely effective.


Essential oils have an immediate effect on olfaction, our sense of smell. When essential oils are inhaled, olfactory receptor cells are stimulated and transmitted to the “limbic system”, the emotional center of out brain. The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing, blood circulation and the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil determine what stimulation occurs and where in these systems.


Essential oils are effective not only through inhalation but also when used topically. When used in massage, the oils are inhaled and absorbed through the skin. They penetrate tissue, find their way into the bloodstream and are transported to the organs and systems of the body.


There are three categories or classifications of essential oils. Top note, middle note, and base note. These terms describe the rate at which they evaporate- or how long the fragrance will last. Top note fragrances are the most stimulating and strongly scented but the scent only lasts for 3 – 24 hours. Some top note essential oils are: basil, bergamot, clary sage, coriander, eucalyptus, lemongrass, neroli, peppermint, sage and thyme. Middle note oil fragrances last about 2 – 3 days and they affect the metabolic and body functions. The scent is less potent than top note fragrances. Some middle note oils are: balm, chamomile, fennel, geranium, hyssopjuniper, lavender, and rosemary. Base note essential oils are the slowest to evaporate and can last up to a week. The usually have a sweet, soothing scent and a relaxing effect on the body. Some examples of base note oils are: cedarwood, clove, frankincensegingerjasmine, rose, and sandalwood.


Carrier oils or base oils (not to be confused with base note essential oils) are used to dilute essential oils, CO2’s and absolutes before applying to the skin. Some of the most commonly used carrier oils are: Almond, Apricot kernel, Avocado, Evening Primrose, Grapeseed, Hazelnut, Jojoba, Olive oil, Peach kernel oil, Sunflower, Wheatgerm oil, Borage, Cocoa Butter, Kukui, Macadamia Nut, Peanut, Pecan, Rose Hip, Sesame, and Shea Butter.


When starting out with aromatherapy experts recommend beginning with six basic essential oils that are readily available. These six oils are best for beginners because they are safe, versatile and not expensive. The six basic oils are: citrus oils, floral oils, lavender, peppermint, rosemary and tea tree.


Citrus oils such as lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit are great for brightening up your mood. They are all great pick-me-up scents, energizing, fresh and clean. You have many floral oils to choose from and they are best for stress relief. Floral oils are wonderful when added to unscented lotions, bath oils or carrier oils. Lavender is multi purpose oil. It is used for soothing cuts, bruises and insect bites and it is a great stress relieving scent. It can also be used to help you sleep. Peppermint oil works well to stimulate a tired mind and it is often used for stomach complaints. Rosemary is invigorating. It is best used in an aroma lamp, diffuser, or inhaled directly from the bottle. Tea tree oil is very gentle on the skin and can be used for it's mild antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.


Essential oils can be added to humidifiers, vaporizers, candle wax, diffusers, spray bottles of water, baths, light bulb rings, inhaled directly from the bottle, applied directly to the skin or added to massage oils or body lotions. Sometimes it is even suggested that they can be taken internally, always consult a medically trained doctor before taking any essential oils internally, some can be very dangerous if taken internally and almost all oils that can be consumed require dilution first. Always do research on the oil you are using to know of any possible side effects it may have and you should know how to best use different oils. Pregnant women should avoid many essential oils especially calamus, mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, wintergreen, basil, hyssop, myrrh, marjoram and thyme. Store essential oils in a cool, dark place because light can damage the oils; also it is best to store them in dark, tinted glass bottles.