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Aromatherapy: The Nose Knows

The Nose Knows

What is aromatherapy?
How is aromatherapy used?
What are essential oils?
Are all oils safe for my skin?
Where can I buy essential oils?

Sometimes just smelling something nice can lift your spirits and make you feel good. Maybe it's the way your grandmother's house smells when you visit her or the way the air smells on the first day of summer vacation. Your nose and your sense of smell are deeply connected to the part of your brain that controls your emotions and your memory. With such a direct line to your most basic feelings, it's no wonder that scents and aromas can have a powerful effect on you. back to top

What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy means therapy through scent. For centuries, people have used the art of aromatherapy to enhance their beauty, improve their health, and stimulate their mood. Aromatherapy works by using the oils (or essences) of plants and trees to affect your emotions. These essences are called essential oils. Today, some practitioners and therapists use essential oils to help treat a variety of minor conditions, such as mild anxiety, muscle pain, and skin disorders. But despite the "therapy" in its name, aromatherapy tends to be more creative than scientific. It involves mixing different plant essences to make a pleasing blend that helps stimulate your senses. In short, aromatherapy is fun. back to top

How is aromatherapy used?
Aromatherapy is used in health and beauty treatments as well as for pleasure. It's hard to avoid aromatherapy products. They're everywhere! They range from baby shampoos and skin lotions to scented candles to even lipsticks. You may find aromatherapy at work in your beauty salon, health club, or even your local hospital.

Some essential oils are absorbed through the skin by themselves or in creams. Other oils are inhaled through vaporizers, perfumes, or candles. You can also mix essential oils together to create totally new scents and perfumes. (For everything you need to know about designing your own fragrance, check out Make Your Own Aromatherapy Perfume.) back to top

What are essential oils?
Essential oils are very concentrated extracts taken from the roots, seeds, flowers, leaves, and stems of different plants. More than 300 essential oils are used today; however, on average, most people choose just 10 oils for personal use. Essential oils are used externally, either through body oils, baths, creams, hair rinses, room sprays, or vaporizers. They are not meant to be swallowed.

A lot of work goes into making an essential oil. For example, 220 pounds of lavender makes 7 pounds of oil. It takes 60,000 rose blossoms to make just one ounce of rose oil. Because essential oils are so concentrated, a little goes a long way. That's why they come in such tiny bottles. These oils are very strong, so some should not be used directly on your skin, and others shouldn't be inhaled. Before using a particular oil, be sure you know how to apply it safely. back to top

Are all oils safe for my skin?
Most essential oils won't irritate your skin. But everyone's skin is different. Before using an oil, always mix a drop of it with a teaspoon of a safe oil, such as almond oil or apricot kernel oil. Rub the mixture on the inside of your wrist. Leave uncovered and unwashed for 24 hours. If you don't notice any redness or itching, that oil is probably fine for you to use. If you know you have allergies or sensitive skin, avoid using oils that tend to be more irritating. These include clary sage, ginger, lemon, orange, peppermint, and tea tree. back to top

Where can I buy essential oils?
You can find essential oils in most health-food stores. They're also available from mail-order companies on the Web. Check the label of each oil to make sure what you're getting is "100 percent essential oil." Watch out for oils labeled "aromatherapy oil"—these often contain a mixture that's primarily a base oil, such as apricot oil, with less than 5 percent of an essential oil mixed in. (For tips on putting together some aromatherapy basics, check out Choosing an Aromatherapy Starter Kit.) back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/2/2001
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