Scent is a critical part of our everyday living.
There's no doubt that the things we smell have an immediate effect on our brains. A sea breeze could jog childhood memories of time spent by the shore; a foul smell could warn you—or warn you to let the hubby know—that the trash needs to go out; a brewing coffee machine could alter your state of mind with its instant pick-me-up. So, the idea that using scents derived from plants—the original medicine—in a purposeful way to alter mood (calm down! energize!) or improve a healthy lifestyle (stress relief! sleep!) makes sense. This thing called "aromatherapy" has been used therapeutically for 6,000 years by ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
If you're just now jumping on the aromatherapy bandwagon, here's the scoop about what it is and simple ways to use it in your everyday life.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for healing.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of plants. To give it some context, it takes about 220 lbs. of lavender flowers to make about 1 lb. of essential oil.
Ways to Use Essential Oils Daily
Jana Rife, certified aromatherapist (with an "advanced diploma" in Aromatic Medicine—badass!) and owner of Hanalei Bath and Hanalei SUP Yoga, shares a few different ways that you can use essential oils at home or on the go:
Add 3-5 drops to a room or car diffuser. "Just a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser for 20 minutes can change your mood," Rife explains. We recommend these: BellaSentials Woodgrain Cold Mister for the home and Housweety Car Air Freshener Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser for the car (you know, to help with that road rage!).
Add 3-5 drops in your steam shower for a "wake me up" or to relieve sinus congestion.
Use an aromatherapy inhaler. Ever used a Vicks inhaler? It's kinda like that, except you add essential oil drops to a cotton stick that sits inside a portable carrier. Here's one we like: Rivertree Life Empty Essential Oil Personal Inhaler, which has a refillable glass canister inside its sturdy aluminum exterior.
Another great way to enjoy the benefits of essential oils is topical use in a nourishing body oil. It's best not to apply essential oils directly on your skin, so dilute them in a carrier oil, such as organic sweet almond oil or jojoba oil, to prevent skin irritation. Doing so doesn't dilute the essential oil's benefits, and the carrier oil can be just as beneficial as the plant extracts themselves. "Carrier oils contain essential fatty acids and vitamins that are beneficial to our skin and health," Rife explains, and recommends mixing 10 drops of your skin-safe essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil. One we like: Teddie Organics Sweet Almond Oil (in case you were wondering, it doesn't smell like almonds).
What to Know When Buying Essential Oils
Read the ingredient label of any aromatherapy product you are considering purchasing. Look for 100-percent pure essential oils, preferably therapeutic grade, and certified organic or ethically farmed whenever possible. Do not buy one with synthetic fragrance, synthetic fillers or mineral oil.
Know that the plant's chemistry can vary depending on its country of origin, subtly affecting its smell. That's not a bad thing, you just might prefer one over the other. "I've tried peppermint from China, India and the U.S. All were good quality. To my nose, there is a big difference between the three. I personally love the U.S. peppermint. It smells like a true, crisp, clean peppermint," Rife explains.
The *Essential* Essential Oils for Mood and Healthy Lifestyle
Dip your toes into the aromatherapy scene by choosing from Rife's six basic essential oils for daily use, depending on what you need:
For Anxiety: Lavender is calming, and can be sedating for some. It also helps soothe skin irritations, such as bug bites and minor burns.
For Energy: Peppermint is stimulating. And as a local anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, it's also helpful with headaches and pain.
For Stress: May chang (also called litsea) is refreshing and uplifting, perfect for those suffering from stress or adrenal fatigue.
For Congestion: Eucalyptus is an expectorant (clears mucus), opening the sinuses and bringing relief to congestion. It also is energizing and anti-inflammatory.
For Sleep: Roman chamomile is sedating and can bring relief to insomnia.
For Cramps: Sweet marjoram is relaxing and antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasms), both helpful qualities in relieving cramps.
Essential Oil Safety Precautions
When you are using essential oils, treat them like medicines—just because they are plant-based does not mean they are completely safe for you or your family. Follow these best practices, recommended by Rife:
Essential oils can interfere with medications. Always consult your physician before using them.
Keep them out of reach of children and pets. Consult a doctor or certified aromatherapist regarding what's OK to use around your kids and pets. The high potency of essential oils make many oils unsafe for children and animals, so it's best to err on the side of caution. Essential oils should never be used on or diffused around cats or other small pets.
As mentioned above, always dilute pure essential oils in a carrier oil to prevent irritation when applied on your skin. You can also do a patch test on a small area to make sure it doesn't cause an allergic reaction.
There are a number of essential oils to avoid during pregnancy and while nursing. Consult your doctor before use.
Remember that if you are allergic to a certain tree or plant, your allergy will likely translate to essential oils and carrier oils.
Now you are armed with the basics to start using aromatherapy in everyday life!
Have any questions about aromatherapy or essential oils? Let us know below! And check out more ways to make your life more Badass + Healthy here.