Lavender, rose, sandalwood…sure, they smell amazing, but did you know these essential oils reap healing powers? Kathleen Bailey, who has been teaching classes on aromatherapy and essential oils for 16 years in the Sacramento area, explains that “essential oils date back to ancient times...For many centuries, essential oils and other aromatics were used for religious rituals, the treatment of illness, and other physical and spiritual needs.” Despite the fact that this form of healing is rapidly growing in popularity, many still don’t realize that life-changing benefits could be just an oil away.
USESAromatherapy—a form of medicine that uses essential oils from plants or roots for psychological and physical well-being—can be used in a wide range of settings to treat a variety of conditions, says Jodi L. Webb, RN, a certified aromatherapist and education coordinator at Sutter Roseville Medical Center. “In general, aromatherapy relieves pain, improves your mood, and promotes a sense of relaxation,” she shares. “In fact, several essential oils—including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon and sandalwood—have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress and depression. And they are used for a wide variety of applications, including pain relief, mood enhancement and increased cognitive function.”
SAFETYWhile Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils (TGEOS) are safe for most healing or medicinal purposes, education is critical, Bailey explains. “For example, it’s important to know the difference between lavendula agustafolia (true lavender) and lavandin (grosso or super),” says Bailey, who is also an instructor at Healing Arts Institute in Citrus Heights and became internationally certified in aromatherapy in 2000. “While lavendula agustafolia is used to relieve a burn, lavandin is a hybrid—and usually cut with synthetics—that can cause a burning sensation.” Some oils can be caustic to the skin and should be diluted with a carrier oil, like vegetable, olive or grapeseed, prior to use. What’s more, these oils should not be used in or around the eyes, and she also suggests consulting a reference guide, such as Essential Oils Desk Reference (Life Science Publishing), Medical Aromatherapy by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, or The Art of Aromatherapy by Robert B. Tisserand.
BENEFITSEssential oils are complicated compounds containing up to 100 different chemical components, Webb explains. “Each essential oil is ‘multi-talented,’ having more than one single property, like anti-inflammatory, calming or stimulating, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antispasmodic or mildly analgesic,” she says. Other benefits include: promoting healthy skin, relieving rash and skin irritation, stimulating mental focus and energy, improving respiratory health, and relieving discomfort in joints and muscles. For example, peppermint (mentha piperita) can be used for respiratory infections, headaches and nausea; while lavender (lavendula agustafolia) is great for skin conditions, burns, hair loss, insomnia and nervous tension; and lemon (citrus limon) can improve microcirculation, increase white blood cells and improve memory.
BUYINGSince not all essential oils are created equal, the only way to know you’re getting a pure, therapeutic-quality essential oil is to know your supplier, Webb advises. “Growing conditions vary (pollutants, pesticides, climate, altitude and time of harvest), as well as distillation methods (time and temperature),” she says. At Sutter Roseville Medical Center, Webb works with the company Young Living, which is the only one in the industry that guarantees a “seed to seal” process. “Other companies may [claim to] provide ‘therapeutic-grade’ essential oils; however, there is no regulation of the industry,” she explains. “Typically, buying them off the shelf from a health food store isn’t a guarantee that it’s a 100-percent, therapeutic-grade essential oil.”