I had always thought of aromatherapy as something that beauty-conscious women enjoy just because of their pleasant smells. Which woman is not taken by the fragrance of lavender or lemongrass, for instance? Or the notes of ylang-ylang and spearmint?
It was when I spoke to Cherie Perez, a supervising research nurse in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, did I learn that aromatherapy offers concrete health benefits. Aromatherapy is increasingly included as a part of holistic nursing care, and has been recognized as such by one State Board of Nursing.
Ms. Perez is a strong advocate of aromatherapy essential oils for their tension and stress-relieving properties. She does admit that the “clinical trials concerning aromatherapy are limited.” But several studies concerning pain and anxiety relief through aromatherapy have been documented. Also, aromatherapy has proved itself beneficial in healing patients with Alzheimer’s.
Perez offers a monthly aromatherapy class for both caregivers and cancer patients who are undergoing treatment at the Anderson Cancer Center. “Pain and anxiety (among the patients) are common,” she says. “We focus on general relaxation in the class. We use mainly lavender oil, and then we determine whether the stress has to do with a busy mind. Then we pull in myrrh and vetiver – those oils are grounding.”
If the inability to relax is more muscle related, she recommends using lemongrass or rosemary. For the particularly anxious, she recommends using spearmint, peppermint or sweet basil oils.
Self-massage is totally appropriate and an effective way to reduce stress. Massage the neck area close to the face, then the solar plexus (the v-shaped area between the stomach and the rib cage), and the Chinese acupuncture point for headaches (it’s the v-shaped stretch of skin between the thumb and the index finger). Apply concentrated aromatherapy oils on these areas and knead.
When you massage oils on your body, they are assimilated into the bloodstream. The bottom line? You can put the oil anywhere and it will be absorbed. If you are working with pure forms of oil, it is best “to put the oil in a detergent or soap” before you pour it into a bubble bath. Otherwise, you’ll get an oil slick.
Choose Your Oils Carefully
Stores like “The Body Shop” may tout the benefits of essential oils, but chances are that they are not in their purest form to use for stress-relief and anxiety massages. “If it smells really good, it’s probably not aromatherapy quality,” says Perez. She advises clients to get their oils from a vendor who has been trained, and the oils need to be labeled with their botanical names (different plants have different benefits). For example, spike lavender has a different profile than regular lavender: some people find spike lavender more therapeutic for headaches.
The bottom line: pure, highly concentrated oils -the best for relaxation – are not going to smell as wonderful as what you’re used to purchasing from the beauty stores. But the benefits can be astounding. Think of it as you would maple syrup, which comes in all different gradations and colors. Also, avoid clear bottles. Light and heat affect the essential oils.
Here are some oils that possess health and relaxation benefits:
Amber Styrax – used for stress related conditions, stimulates memory, balances masculine and feminine
Basil Sweet – stomach spasms, insomnia, depression, migraines, promotes restful sleep, useful in meditation, helpful during study
Bay Laurel – caution on sensitive skin, promotes restful sleep, dyspepsia, gas, loss of appetite, calming, reduces stress
Bergamot – caution in direct sun up to 12 hours after use, digestion, balances appetite, not to be used in concentration, muscle aches and lymph drainage
Chamomile, Roman – insomnia, balancing, digestion problems
Eucalyptus Australiana – headache, mental exhaustion, rheumatism
Frankincense – nervous tension, antidepressant, grounding, helpful in meditation, slows and deepens the breath
Geranium – balancing, antidepressant, nervous tension
Ginger Root – digestion, arthritis, diarrhea, colic, gas, indigestion, loss of appetite
Grapefruit Pink – lymphatic stimulation, promotes removal of lactic acid (muscle tension waste), antidepressant
Lavender – analgesia, antidepressant, rheumatism, headache, migraine, fatigue, insomnia, balancing for the entire body, calms anxiety
Lavender Spike – colic or gas, better for headache formulas, edema
Lemongrass – muscular pain, headache, nervous tension, balances nervous system
Myrrh – nervous tension, stress conditions, calming, improved mood, deep sleep, meditation
Peppermint – muscle and joint pain, gas, dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting, hot flashes, headache, mental fatigue
Rosemary – muscle and joint pain, digestive, gas
Spearmint – digestive, nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, fatigue, headache, stress, improves mood, improves mental clarity & alertness
Vetiver – depression, insomnia, muscle aches, grounding
Ylang Ylang – depression or insomnia, may reduce feelings of anger or anxiety, excess may cause nausea or headache
How To Use Aromatherapy Oils
Create time to relax. Perez recommends that you use put 1-2 drops of the oils on a handkerchief or a tissue, then place the cloth on your chest and breath deeply for a minute. You can mix these oils with salt scrubs or bubble baths too (remember to use a detergent that lathers: avoid pouring oils directly into the water or you’ll create oil slicks).
You can use lotions that are unscented as a carrier for these oils. Some good ones include aloe vera gel or Johnson & Johnson’s unscented baby lotion. Make sure that the soap you use is also unscented, if you’re planning on putting oil drops in them.
Perez recommends the following at-home treatments:
Muscle Relaxation Bath Salts:
2 cups Epsom salts, 5 drops of each oil – lavender, lemongrass, tea tree, & orange. Use
1/2 cup of mixture per bath.
2 cups dead sea salts, 1/4 cup dried rosemary leaf, 1/4 cup lavender flower, 10 drops of
each oil – lavender & rosemary, tie 1/2 cup mixture in cheesecloth or nylon for each bath.
Use any oil 5- 20 drops along with 2 to 4 ounces of distilled or spring water. Common
sense precaution – don’t spray it in your eyes!
1 cup Epsom salts with 3-6 drops of 1 to 3 of the following oils: lavender, rosemary,
peppermint, tea tree, birch or geranium. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons in a foot basin.
How To Purchase Quality Oils