Put simply, AROMATHERAPY is the controlled use of plant-derived aromatic oils for medicinal purposes - whether to remedy a cold, assist in healing a burn, to uplift or reduce stress, or even to aid the insomniac in falling asleep. Basically speaking, Aromatherapy concerns the effects of pure and natural Essential Oils on both the body and the mind, achieved by absorbing the oils through the skin via methods such as massage, compresses or aromatic baths, or via the nose using oil diffusers, inhalers or vaporisers. Pure essential oils have varying documented therapeutic benefits, from oils that have an influence mentally (eg calming or sedative, uplifting, energising and even aphrodisiac), to specific effects on the body (eg respiratory, stomachic, bronchial, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, rubefacient / warming), or against germs and bacteria (oils with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal qualities etc). The list goes on: if you have a specific issue that needs treating, chances are there is an oil that can help - naturally.
TRUE OILS vs SYNTHETIC vs BLENDED
Essential Oils are completely plant derived, with the oil extracted from various plant parts including seeds, rind, petals, leaves, twigs, roots, bark or heartwood. Some are cold pressed, eg the rind/peel from citrus fruit; others are steam distilled, which is the most common method; the ones that are more precious, come from very delicate petals, or don't yield much oil are often solvent or CO2 extracted to obtain the most oil. All of these different methods, and the fact that some plants yield less oil or are harder to grow, mean that prices vary greatly from one oil to the next. Rose Oil, for example, takes up to 30 FULL FLOWERS to produce just ONE DROP of essential oil. That's why it costs so much, though as with most oils, the essential oil (or absolute, as solvent-extracted oils are called) is an extremely concentrated oil, so you don't need to use much at a time. While oils such as Rose, Jasmine, Neroli or Sandalwood can be quite a financial investment, other oils such as Sweet Orange, Eucalyptus or Camphor, are significantly cheaper as they are much less expensive to produce.
A true essential oil is 100% pure, just the natural oil that has been extracted from the plant, with nothing added. This is the type of oil that we use in aromatherapy.
On the other side of the coin, we have Fragrant / Perfume oils, which are simply synthetic copies - they are made up of a combination of chemicals, with the intention of emulating a certain scent. You'll find these for a couple of dollars each in your local discount store, alongside candy-flavoured scents you won't usually find as an essential oil, such as Peach, Coconut or Strawberry. These kind of 'fragrant oils' are also found in the candlemaking industry, with literally thousands of fragrances available - some sounding like natural plants or flowers, others with 'perfumey' names like 'bubblegum', 'baby powder' or 'Chanel No 5 Type'. These synthetic oils have absolutely no therapeutic qualities, and many are also believed to be toxic or even carcinogenic, though in low enough readings to be approved as legally 'safe' to sell. There are many names for these, most of which try to make the product sound less chemical and thus more desirable - terms such as parfum, perfume, scent, fragrance, fragrant oil, essence. They're all pretty much the same - synthetic, and these have no place in the realm of aromatherapy as they have no therapeutic benefit whatsoever.
Unfortunately there's often confusion as to whether an oil is natural or man-made, mainly because marketing companies aim to tap into the fact that many people do prefer to use natural products. So they'll bandy the word 'Aromatherapy' into their advertising even if there's no plant-based essential oils in their product and it's scented entirely with synthetic perfumes.
Or to be underhanded, a company will use MOSTLY synthetic fragrances and add a tiny token amount of essential oil in with them, and then advertise that it's 'made with essential oils'. Yes, this may be true, but they're not advertising the fact that it's actually MOSTLY synthetic. To start to understand what is genuine / natural, and what is just marketing hype, try this trick: read the ingredients list of some of the scented products in your local supermarket or gift shop, items such as 'aromatherapy air fresheners', 'aromatherapy candles', 'reed diffusers' or 'aromatherapy skincare'. If the ingredients list says 'Parfum', 'Perfume', 'Fragrance', or anything along those lines, then it contains synthetic fragrance. The higher up the list, the more there is of that ingredient as it's Australian law to quote your ingredients in the order that they are most prevalent. So if it says 'Parfum' high up, and 'Essential Oil' (or a Latin plant name) as one of the last ingredients, then it probably contains just a token inclusion of essential oil for the sake of gloating about it in the advertising blurbs - probably in an amount too low to be of any aromatherapeutic benefit. Ultimately it's cheaper (and sometimes more reliable) for a company to use synthetic perfumes than it is to use pure essential oils, which is why it's so rare to find commercial items without any synthetic additives.
It doesn't help matters that many companies selling 'oils' also twist the names or terminology, and call themselves things like 'Queenie's Essentials' or label their oils 'Essential Fragrances', to give the impression that they're selling pure essential oils, or show up in a web search alongside the natural versions. It can all be very confusing if you don't understand the correct terminology, and these companies are banking on that confusion.
HOW DO I TELL IF AN OIL IS THE REAL DEAL?
If you are looking for oils for use in aromatherapy, then you need to be searching for pure 'Essential Oils'. A pure essential oil doesn't have anything added to it - no preservatives, fillers or chemicals, and isn't diluted in a carrier oil (some expensive oils are available as 3% in jojoba, which means it's a very diluted essential oil - still useful in aromatherapy, but difficult to use in burners or blended with other oils).
A quality essential oil should give you the full plant name (eg Roman Chamomile instead of just 'Chamomile' - there are many types available and some are more useful than others, so you need to know which type you are purchasing). Many oils also need to list what part of the plant has been used (eg Cinnamon Bark or Cinnamon Leaf, the oil from the leaf being inferior to that of the bark, so again you need to know what you are buying). It should also give you the full Latin plant name, as the genus of plant has a big bearing on the quality of the oil and any benefits that you're going to get from it. If a seller doesn't advertise, or can't tell you any of this information, then it's unlikely to be a real, plant-based oil.
A pure essential oil must be derived from a single plant type, not a 'blend' of different plants or plant extracts. The oil should be from the one country of origin - if that isn't guaranteed then it means the oil is probably a 'blended natural', 'blended origin' or 'nature identical' type, which can be a blend of various extracts from different plants, or cheaper oils from different countries, resulting in an oil with a similar scent to a pure oil but not necessarily the same therapeutic qualities. Terms such as these are used very loosely, so often a reseller may not admit that their oils are created using these methods, they'll simply call them essential oils - even if the oil is made from reconstituted extracts. If you're unsure about the quality of an oil, then looking for extra information such as a single country of origin or plant genus, may give you an indication of whether the oil is a good quality, true and natural oil.
As we mentioned above, natural essential oils will also vary greatly in price, which is a great indicator of how reliable a supplier is. If a seller has a full range of oils that are all roughly the same price, then it's almost guaranteed that they are synthetic. Some oils are incredibly easy and cheap to produce: citrus oils or common oils like eucalyptus will be at the cheaper end of the scale, usually priced well under $10 a bottle; precious oils that are the most difficult to extract oil from, are in shortage due to climactic conditions such as drought or flood, or are rarer / harder to grow (such as Rose, Sandalwood or Jasmine) are likely to cost hundreds of dollars a bottle. If a precious oil (eg Rose) is cheap, and the price seems too good to be true, then it probably IS too good to be true. There is no cheap way of creating quality pure Rose oil, full stop. If it's priced cheaply, or the same price as all the common oils, then sadly it's either synthetic, reconstituted, padded out with a mix of 'Roselike' natural chemicals from other plants such as Palmarosa, or a 'blended natural' which blends various 'natural' extracts from different plants together to create a similar scented but therapeutically inferior oil. We call pure oils like Rose or Jasmine 'precious' as they are hard to come by, but incredibly valued when you are lucky enough to get some for your collection. In the same way that a cubic zirconia cannot replace a true diamond, there is no way to skimp on quality oils and expect to get the same value from them when using them in aromatherapy.
A pure oil must also be stored in amber, cobalt or green glass to preserve it, as essential oils are susceptible to light. Make sure that any essential oil you are looking to buy has been packaged correctly - if it's packaged in clear glass it still COULD be a natural oil, but it also indicates that the seller hasn't packaged it in a way that will preserve its use as an oil suitable for use in aromatherapy. Avoid also any oils packaged in plastic - most pure essential oils will eat through plastic and it's generally accepted that you should never store them in a plastic bottle unless they are extremely diluted in a carrier oil or other medium (carrier oils are fine stored in plastic).
Having a basic understanding of what makes a good essential oil can go a long way into figuring out whether you are purchasing the real thing, and a little time spent researching your suppliers can help you understand whether you can expect good value and quality oils when purchasing from them. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you're unsure - most sellers are happy to help answer any queries.
What's the difference between PREMIUM oils and cheaper oils? Why is it worth paying a little more?
PLANT PARTS: Many lower grade oils use cheaper plant parts. For eg, Cinnamon Leaf rather than Cinnamon Bark, which is considered to have better therapeutic properties. Similarly Clove Bud oil is considered of higher quality than Clove Leaf oil, and Juniper Berry yields better quality oil than Juniper oil extracted from the plant's small branches.
PLANT TYPE: Some plant genuses produce better oils than others in their family, so a good quality oil will use these choices rather than cheaper, inferior species. For example, Pine Scotch (Pinus sylvestris) or Cedarwood Atlas (Cedarus atlantica) are more desirable than some of the related alternatives. Chamomile Roman or German are not to be confused with cheaper and therapeutically inferior Chamomile Maroc - while it's vaguely related, the oils are quite different and buying the cheaper version is unlikely to provide the therapeutic benefits you could expect from the Roman or German varieties. Rosemary French 'verbenone' is better suited to application to skin than the less expensive Tunisian 'cineole' variety. Good oils should always clearly display the Latin plant name, so you know which type you are buying.
GRADE: Oils such as Ylang Ylang and Bergamot are sold in various grades. During the distillation or cold-press extraction process, the first oil to be drawn off is the highest quality, and is sold as 'EXTRA GRADE'. The oil that comes from the latter parts of the process are sold as '1st', '2nd' or '3rd' grade, and are of a poorer quality and perfume ('Complete' grade is a mixture of all the above). Cheap oils will often be 'commercial grade' which may be from the last skim, or using inferior quality plant materials. 'Commercial quality' oils often have little fragrance, or reduced therapeutic benefits.
ORIGIN: Premium oils usually feature the best quality oils available, which may mean they come from a country whose climate / environment produces the best results, compared to other countries who may be able to produce cheap oils that aren't up to the same quality. It may be quite surprising to compare the scents of two oils from the same plant (eg commercial Lavender and High Altitude French Lavender) as they can be almost entirely different. While scent isn't everything, it's also often a good indicator an oil's value therapeutically.
If you're looking for oils for their scent only, then you might find that any oil will suit your purposes. However if you're looking for a therapeutic benefit of any kind, whether it's for the body, mind or against germs or bacteria, then ensuring that the oil you're buying is the correct oil for that purpose may mean the difference between whether that oil works for you or not.
What is the difference between ESSENTIAL OILS and CARRIER OILS?
Carrier oils used in aromatherapy are typically cold pressed vegetable oils. They are similar to cooking oils in that they are thicker oils that don't tend to have much scent, however commercial cooking oils are usually 'hot pressed' which yields more oil but destroys any nutrients in that oil; the 'cold press' process used for aromatherapy carrier oils such as Sweet Almond, Rosehip or Jojoba oil, preserves the valuable nutrients in the oils so that they can be used for skincare, moisturisers or other skin applications, with great benefit. Carrier oils are also used for massage, either on their own or with added essential oils, as they have great slip while also being wonderful for the skin. Note - Grapeseed Oil is a cheaper oil often used for massage; it doesn't have any particular skincare benefits so this oil tends to be hot pressed as there are no nutrients to destroy by the process.
Carrier Oils get their name from the fact that they're often used to 'carry' essential oils for application to the skin. While Essential Oils are very concentrated and should never be applied to the skin neat, Carrier Oils are safe to apply directly to the skin undiluted. So these skin-safe vegetable oils make an excellent medium to dilute essential oils into, and 'carry' them to the skin in massage, topical applications or body rubs.
As a general rule, if you want to apply essential oils to the skin, you need to use no more than 3% total essential oil in a carrier oil base for application to the body, and no more than 1% for the face. A helpful hint is that 20 drops of essential oil = approximately 1ml. So, for example, if you're making up a massage oil for the body use no more than 3ml (60 drops) total essential oil for every 100ml of carrier oil. Skin creams or balms can also be used as a medium to apply essential oils to the skin (using the same ratios), but avoid petrochemical creams such as sorbolene, as these form a barrier that stops the oils from being absorbed into the skin. Natural vegetable oils work much better as the skin readily absorbs them.
HOW DO I USE ESSENTIAL OILS?
You can use essential oils in a number of ways, whether to treat an ailment, create a relaxing bath or dinner party atmosphere, or ward away germs during flu season. You can use a single oil, or a blend of 3 or 4 oils that may work even better in synergy with each other - the possibilities are endless.
RECIPES for various aromatherapy blends for therapeutic use, natural perfumes, skincare, relaxation etc are also in abundant supply on the internet, and are an excellent way to get into aromatherapy for your own personal use, or be inspired for new ways to treat different scenarios. At AROMA QUEEN we also ensure with our own oils that we give a detailed list of qualities for each oil on their store listing, which can be looked up for reference at any time in the future if you're unsure what a specific oil may be used for. You can also purchase pre-prepared pure oil blends to suit different situations, if you don't know which oils are best to suit your needs for a certain purpose. Through using recipes and experimenting, or investing in an inexpensive beginners guide or textbook that will help ease you into it, you'll soon learn which oils are best for you.
As a basic set of rules, this is how to use your essential oils:
BATH - Oils can be added straight to a bath (avoid oils that can be sensitising on the skin) - use no more than 8 - 10 drops in total, and splash them into the water before stepping into the bath to avoid getting a concentration of oils on your skin. The warmth of the water will diffuse the scent of the oils into the air, plus you will absorb some of the oils through your skin through direct contact.
OIL DIFFUSER / BURNER - Add water to the saucer of your candle-powered oil diffuser or vaporiser, and add around 8-10 drops total essential oils at a time. As the water heats, the warmth will diffuse the scent of the oils into the air, which are then breathed in and enter the bloodstream through the respiratory system. Refresh oils and water as necessary, but don't over-do it - leave the room and re-enter it to get a sense of how strong the scent is as you may have become desensitised to its strength. NOTE - some electric diffusers do not require water - just add 8-10 drops directly to the plate for these burners (or follow their specific instructions).
INHALERS - Add a dozen or so drops to the blank wick and insert into the inhaler case, and inhale as needed. Keep the inhaler sealed between uses to avoid the oils drying out. Top up the oils as the scent fades over time.
MASSAGE - Add up to 3% Essential Oils to an unscented carrier or massage oil (try sweet almond, grapeseed or a pre-made massage blend) for use in massage for the body (or only 1% when used around the face). For an instant scented massage try adding 5 - 6 drops of essential oils for every 10ml (two teaspoons) of massage oil.
TISSUE METHOD - Add a drop or two to a tissue and tuck into your shirt, or pillow case (avoid oils that may be sensitising or coloured oils that may stain, and avoid contact with the skin). The warmth of your skin will diffuse the oils into the air around you so you can breathe them in.
Do be sensitive to other people sharing your space as Aromatherapy is a personal thing - some scents don't appeal to certain people, while others love them. Always feel free to experiment with your own blends if a suggestion doesn't appeal to you, but read up for any important safety information that may effect you or those around you before using new oils - some are not suitable for pregnant women, people with high blood pressure etc - read below for some basic safety information.
AROMATHERAPY SAFETY NOTESNEVER APPLY OILS TO SKIN NEAT: Always dilute essential oils in a natural vegetable CARRIER OIL such as Jojoba, Grapeseed or Sweet Almond oil, or a base cream, before application to the skin. Dilute at no more than 3% total oils for application to the body, or 1% for the face (20drops = approx 1ml). The only exceptions are neat Lavender or Tea Tree, which may be used directly on burns or small wounds. See our separate CARRIER OIL listings in store.
PREGNANCY: As a general rule most Aromatherapists advise against using Essential Oils during pregnancy, though others disagree. Oils to definitely avoid during pregnancy include: Arnica, Basil, Birch, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Cypress, Fennel, Jasmine, Juniper, Marjoram, Myrrh, Peppermint, Rosemary & Thyme. Also steer clear of Lavender & Rose during the first four months of pregnancy.
EPILEPSY: Anyone suffering from epilepsy should avoid Sweet Fennel, Sage & Hyssop.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: People with high blood pressure should stay away from Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage & Thyme.
PHOTOSENSITISATION: A few oils cause photosensitisation, or sensitivity to UV light and should not be applied to skin before exposure to the sun. These include: Angelica, Bergamot (unless 'Bergaptene Free'), Cumin, Lemon, Lime (unless 'Distilled' rather than 'Cold Pressed'), Orange & Verbena.
NEVER INGEST ESSENTIAL OILS: Always KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Large amounts of Essential Oil may be toxic if swallowed. Immediately contact your local Poisons Hotline if ingested. If Essential Oils get into eyes, immediately wash with whole milk or carrier oil, followed by water. Some people may experience an allergic reaction or sensitisation to a specific oil. If this is the case, discontinue use immediately.
Always remember, Aromatherapy is intended to complement, not replace traditional medicine.
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Copyright Aroma Queen Australia 2015.
WHO IS AROMA QUEEN?
Aroma Queen is an established registered Australian online business based on the mid NSW North Coast, in the Bellingen area.
If you're interested in purchasing Aromatherapy products, please visit our AROMA QUEEN STORE for our full range of Essential Oils, Oil Blends, Carrier Oils, Accessories (burners, inhalers, cases) and natural products including incense, smudging and natural skincare.
The advice within this page is general and not specific to individuals and particular circumstances. Before using herbs, essential oils or other natural treatments, check all cautions and restrictions. Aroma Queen cannot be held responsible for any injury, damage or otherwise resulting from the use of any treatments or products within this website. Do not attempt self-diagnosis or self-treatment for long periods or for serious problems, without first consulting a qualified medical practitioner. Always seek professional medical advice if symptoms persist.