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  • Karen Stoner, LMT

The Basics of Aromatherapy

Do certain smells remind you of things? There are multiple studies and more that say that smell and memory are very linked. Indeed, for me, the smell of mosquito repellant often makes me think of 4th of July when my parents, aunts, and uncles would cover my siblings and scores of cousins with gallons of the stuff so we could walk through the neighborhood park to the local high school athletic fields where we would sit in the grass to watch the fireworks. Strange as it seems, that nasty, pungent smell of bug spray wouldn't be considered a pleasant scent by many, but for me it makes me smile because it has such a happy memory attached to it. That is the basis of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is defined as "the use of fragrances to affect or alter a person's mood or behavior". Just as the bug spray triggers happy memories for me, other scents can have different benefits for different people based on where the smell is coming from and how it's used.

As the most simple explanation, aromatherapy uses different scents and smells to create a change in the body. Sometimes those changes can include relaxation, help falling asleep, or even help waking up. Additionally, aromatherapy can be used for more intense things such as keeping away pests, killing viruses and germs, and even helping with minor medical issues. The thought behind how smell does this is based on where the smell comes from. In many cases, aromatherapy is synonymous with essential oils. Essential oils are the oils derived from different plants. When the oils are used in an aromatherapy application, the benefits of those plants are used on the body.

Since it is called 'aromatherapy', it would seem that the only way this can be used is through smell. Aromatherapy can actually be applied in 3 ways: 1. Through the air and smelled, 2. Topically, absorbed into the skin, or 3. Ingested (swallowed or eaten), such as an oil mixed into something or a tea brewed from the plant material. That last one must be handled very carefully as not every oil or item that smells good should be ingested. Always consult a doctor or trained aromatherapist before attempting to ingest any aromatherapy treatments.

When using aromatherapy, you want to be sure you are using products that are as pure as possible. If you want to use essential oils, be sure you are using essential oils, and not fragrance oils. They are getting harder and harder to tell apart nowadays, but they are nowhere near the same. Fragrance oils are artificially created in a lab to smell like a natural product. They are usually sold in clear bottles, are all the same price, and are frequently found in craft sections near candles or soap making supplies. Essential Oils are derived from plants and plant materials. They are usually found in dark brown or cobalt blue bottles in a health section, and the prices of each oil will be different - this is because of the way the oils are distilled. Some are easier and require less of a quantity to distill than others, so the prices reflect that. When using essential oils, be sure you never use them "neat" or without diluting them somehow. Pure, true essential oils can be mighty strong and sometimes dangerous - I once melted a plastic piece of office equipment to the top of a file cabinet because I was careless. Also if you have certain medical conditions, some oils my be contraindicated due to some of their properties creating a negative effect on a condition. They can be diluted with multiple products depending on whatever application you are using them with such as water in a diffuser, or a lotion or another inert oil to use on the skin.

Overall, aromatherapy is a great way to enhance your massage or even just your everyday well-being. There are wide ranges of scents based on your personal aroma preferences and the goal you want to achieve. You can also blend different scents together to create something super unique for what you need or like. This is just a brief overview of aromatherapy, as this topic can be explored in many, many more ways. As for the scents themselves, the lists of various oils and scents are way too long to go into at one time, so I'll leave you with just a few brief examples of some more popular aromatherapy scents and their benefits.

Lavender: Relaxation

Chamomile: Helps you fall asleep

Peppermint: Can help with headaches (be careful using if pregnant or have high blood pressure)

Ginger: Good for nausea and stomach problems

Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit, and other Citrus: Energizing and helps you wake up

Citronella, Geranium: Bug repellants

Eucalyptus: Helps with respiratory issues

Tea Tree: Tons of benefits - antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial. Great for hangnails and canker sores.

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