While some may think that aromatherapy is just smelling oils, that's certainly not the case. Topical application of essential oils offers numerous therapeutic benefits that complement healing achieved via inhalation. Essential oils contain compounds from diverse chemical families, which give them unique analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and mucolytic properties. Though frequently housed in small 10-mL bottles, don't be fooled—essential oils are immensely powerful. In fact, many oils are 50 to 100 times more concentrated than their parent plant.
Safety is key, and each individual connects and reacts to oils and synergies differently. Some oils, like cold-pressed citruses, are photo-toxic and others can cause sensitization. Skin sensitization may occur if oils are improperly diluted or used too frequently in high doses. My rule of thumb: Only use tea tree and lavender neat on mature, adult skin. Most other essential oils require dilution in carrier oils.
There exists much misinformation on essential oils leaving one wondering how and where to use them. So, let's explore best practices for bodily application—from head to toe!
Use your shoulder to hold your cellphone while making calls? Or, do you ever experience intense pain inside your head that's hard to localize or describe? Four muscles deep on the back of the skull, the suboccipital muscles, are responsible for turning and tilting our heads. Stimulating these muscles may help release emotional tension and ease headache, migraine, and TMJ pain.
How-to: Essential oils are safe to use on your scalp and hair, but because the skin can be sensitive, I always use a 1- to 2.5-percent essential oil dilution. Rosemary (chemotype verbenone) is a must-include oil in a scalp massage blend. Add 10 drops of rosemary ct. verbenone into 1 oz. of argan oil—for thick hair, and pomegranate seed oil—for thinner locks. Massage well into hair focusing on rubbing the muscles where your skull and vertebrae meet and let it soak for an hour. Do note—essential oils latch strongly onto hair.
Essential oils are great natural alternatives to chemical synthetics found in many commercial beauty products. Our face requires extra TLC since the skin is more sensitive than other parts of the body. If you have sensitive skin, stick to a 1 percent dilution, which is about 4 essential oil drops per carrier oil ounce. If your skin is nonreactive, you can up the dilution to 2.5 percent, which is approximately 10 essential oil drops per carrier oil ounce.
How-to: Open your third-eye chakra using spiritual oils that also slow aging, balance sebum production, and improve tone. Add 5 drops frankincense, 3 drops carrot seed oil, and 2 drops german chamomile to 1 oz. of gentle evening primrose oil. Use this centering and skin-firming blend after cleansing.
Who hasn't suffered from a deep chest cough and runny nose? Essential oils are handy in a chest rub when battling a cold, especially since many like eucalyptus contain anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anti-tussive, decongestant, and mucolytic properties. Got a sore throat and postnasal drip? When you feel like you're coming down with something, reach for the tea tree and eucalyptus.
How-to: Kick your respiratory sickness to the curb with your own 2-oz. chest salve. Melt ¼ oz. beeswax and ¼ oz. vegetable oil of your choice in a double boiler. When melted completely and stirred well, take the mixture off heat and add 22 drops rosalina (a powerful mucolytic), 16 drops green myrtle (anti-catarrhal and expectorant), and 12 drops blue gum eucalyptus (decongestive and antitussive). Let the synergy harden and use generously at the onset and during coughs, colds, and flu.
4. Arms & hands
Consider yourself an avid texter? Spend much of your day typing emails? It's suspected that increased use of technology has led to a rise in neuropathies—the most common being carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects forearms and hands.
How-to: Give your arms and hands a break with an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving massage blend. For a 5 percent dilution, add 15 drops cypress, 6 drops helichrysum, and 8 drops roman chamomile into 1 oz. of healing tamanu oil.
5. Pulse points
While clinical researchers debate the effectiveness of dabbing odor molecules where your heart rate can be felt, I find that applying essential oils at pulse points diffuses the scent, greatly affects my mood. Each night, I apply a sleep blend to my wrists and neck to meditate with before dozing off.
How-to: For a good night's sleep, drop 12 drops lavender and 2 drops vetiver into a roller blend bottle and top it off with 1 oz. of sunflower oil. You can create your own essential oil mood blend and dab it on the wrists, neck, and behind the ears and knees.
The abdomen is often busy absorbing and digesting food. Essential oils, like clary sage and ginger, can alleviate indigestion, menstrual cramping, and constipation. Clary sage is a proven anti-inflammatory, making it the choice oil for cramp relief. Additionally, ginger has an affinity for the digestive system—relieving constipation, diarrhea, and even postoperative and drug-induced nausea.
How to: Create a 5 percent dilution by adding 20 drops clary sage and 10 drops ginger into 1 oz. of jojoba oil. Rub gently on the stomach and lower abdomen when overcome with cramping or irritable pain.
In many ways, legs are the workhorse of the body and we often forget about all they do for us. Essential oil blends can be kept at a higher 5 to 10 percent dilution because of legs' thicker skin. If you are looking for an energetic pick-me-up, rub the blend on acupressure point ST36 (Leg Three Miles), which can work actual wonders on fatigue.
How-to: Replace your commercial body moisturizer with a comforting body oil that rejuvenates leg muscles. Add 13 drops marjoram, which works wonders for tired muscle aches, 10 drops palmarosa, and 3 drops neroli into 1 oz. of sweet almond oil. For localized pain, substitute no more than 2 drops of potent analgesic wintergreen or precious neroli.
Essential oils applied on the soles of feet do not magically cure colds or other ailments. Additionally, claims that essential oils support immunity when paired with reflexology are not evidence-based. Our feet sweat and boast the body's slowest absorption rate, but it's not a waste to use essential oils on feet.
How-to: Bugs seem to fancy me, and I always get bitten on the tops of my feet and around my ankles. Most healthy adults can use a drop or two of undiluted essential oils for itch relief. If you're bit by a mosquito or other bug, and there's no open wound, drop some tea tree, lemongrass, or lavender right on the bite.