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By Chere Di Boscio
Years ago, I worked in an office that depressed the hell out of me. It was lit by fluorescent lights and stank of old carpets and bus pollution. The job itself was rather cushy and my colleagues were friendly, but I hated being there. Frankly, when I look back, it may well have been the smell of the place that repulsed me more than anything.
There can be little doubt that scent plays a large role in how we feel about places, events and even people, and based on this notion, many holistic specialists around the world believe that aromatherapy has a role to play in health and wellbeing. In parts of Europe, for example, it’s incorporated into mainstream medicine as an antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial therapy. In fact, in France, some oils are considered to be so powerful, they can only be prescribed by a doctor. On the other hand, in the United States, Australia and Canada, mainstream medics consider aromatherapy to be ‘quackery’.
Aromatherapists would beg to differ, and argue that smells can not only impact our moods, but cure some physical ailments, too. It’s a wonderful notion that spraying a bit of lavender mist can help you sleep, or inhaling a bit of citrus scent can brighten your day. But does aromatherapy actually work, or is it all just a ‘placebo effect‘?
I went to Julia Haywood, Technical Director of Tisserand Aromatherapy, for some answers about how aromatherapy works.
First off, can you explain the mechanics of how aromatherapy affects the brain?
The olfactory bulb has nerve endings located in the back of our noses. These nerve endings send messages directly to the limbic system in our brain. Scent skips over the conscious brain and heads straight to the hypothalamus gland, which is responsible for producing and releasing all or our sensory experiences, such as memories, emotions, pleasure and instincts. If you hold that there’s a link between body and mind, the emotions linked to scent can certainly have a curative – or in the case of your office experience, detrimental – effect on how we feel, and how our bodies behave. For example, it’s been proven that scent can affect the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. In this way, essential oils can have a subtle, yet holistic effect on the body.
What’s aromatherapy good for?
It’s important to note that aromatherapy should be regarded as a boost; a complementary therapy to other treatment. But that said, it has been known to help with:
- Menopause and menstrual issues
- Pains and aches
- Anxiety, stress, and depression
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Circulatory problems
- Alopecia, or hair loss
Digestive problems may benefit from peppermint oil, but it should not be ingested.
Supporters claim that these and a wide range of other complaints respond well to aromatherapy, but not all of the uses are supported by scientific evidence.
Why do some scents work for relaxing and others work for energising? What’s the science behind that?
It is all down to the composition of the oil and how these components interact with the brain and nervous system. Relaxing oils such as Lavender and Rose help to slow down the brain and promote relaxation whilst citrus oils have a stimulating effect on the brain.
How can we use aromatherapy to ensure a long-lasting effect?
The most common way to use aromatherapy is topically. Just dab diluted oil (use a carrier oil like almond or jojoba) on pulse points like the wrists, back of the elbows or behind the ear. It’s important to dilute the oil; otherwise it can irritate skin. You can also place a few drops onto your palms and inhale deeply.
There are other ways you can use aromatherapy oils, such as aromatically, by using a diffuser, spritzer or via steam inhalation, which is great for colds and flus.
Alternatively, add a few drops of oil into a bath, or steep a washcloth in oil and place it over your forehead.
For essential oils to really work, make them part of your daily routine, and combine different products to give an all-round effect – for example, use a diffuser oil or room mist scent your space, a massage oil to scent the body and roller balls for that quick top up on pulse points when required.
What kinds of common essential oils do what?
- Eucalyptus and Peppermint can open the nose and lungs if you have a cold or flu. Many people are allergic to eucalyptus, so care should be taken.
- Geranium can be used for skin problems, to reduce stress, and as a mosquito repellant.
- Lavender is used mainly to enhance relaxation and sleep. It is said to relieve headache and migraine symptoms.
- Lemon can lift your mood and help stress and depression.
- Rosemary may promote hair growth in some cases, boost memory, prevent muscle spasms, and support the circulatory and nervous systems.
- Tea tree oil has antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant qualities. It’s toxic when swallowed, though.
- Thyme oil helps reduce fatigue, nervousness, and stress.
What would you recommend to help beat the winter blues?
Citrus oils are a favourite in the winter months. The zesty fragrances of lemon, May Chang, grapefruit and orange are all perfect to help lift spirits in the cold, dark season. Peppermint and rosemary are also stimulating oils, helping to clear the head and help concentration, whilst eucalyptus can help with winter snuffles.
Aromatherapy To Try At Home
This is one of my all time favourite products, ever. Seriously! It’s great for winter, because in addition to making your room smell great, it helps kill viruses and bacteria, and detoxes your air, thanks to these ingredients:
- Cinnamon oil, which contains anti-bacterial properties to boost your natural immunity
- Ravinstara oil to purify your environment, allowing you to breathe purer, more detoxified air
- Peppermint oil to refresh and revive
This trio of shower oils makes a great gift! There’s one for relaxation, based on chamomile and sandalwood; one for de-stressing, based on rosemary, frankincense and petitgrain, and one to wake you up in the morning with pink grapefruit, juniper berry and rosemary. Delicious!
This stuff not only makes you smell good, but feel good too. Michelle Marie McGrath’s aromatherapy sprays designed with love and intention, to awaken your spiritual side. These are perfect for boho babes, yogis and hippy chicks seeking to connect to their inner goddess. This particular spray is one of my favourites, and contains jasmine water, ylang ylang, vanilla, gardenia as well gem and flower essences, colour rays, sacred symbols and lots of love!
Pure and simple, these essential oils are excellent for using in a carrier oil or oil burner. There’s a wide variety to choose from here, including lemon, frankincense, lavender, rose, cinnamon and clove, but there are also formulae created for specific disorders, such as insomnia, fatigue or stress. These come in pocket sized roller ball bottles that are perfect for carrying around and applying to your wrists in times of need.