Aromatherapy Made Easy: A Beginners Guide to Essential Oils

There is a lot of conflicting advice out there about aromatherapy and it can be confusing when you are just starting out to know who or what to believe.

The purpose of this guide is to get you started on your journey to learn more about essential oils, as well as point you to respected resources for more information when you are ready to dig deeper.

My goal with this guide is to try and keep things as simple as possible, while still being a comprehensive introduction. We are going to cover:

  1. Introduction to Aromatherapy:
  • What are essential oils?
  • What can they be used for?
  • What are the basic ways they can be used?
  • How do they work?
  1. What to look for when buying essential oils
  • Why names are important
  • Wildcrafted vs. Organic
  • Testing
  • Pricing
  • Extraction methods
  • Myths
  1. Using essential oils
  • How to use oils topically
  • Introduction to dilution calculations
  • How to use oils by inhalation
  • When should you inhale vs. topical use
  • Should you ingest essential oils
  • Introduction to blending essential oils
  1. Safety Considerations
  • General safety guidelines
  • Oils to avoid
  1. Twelve starter oils and how to use them
  • Clary Sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet Orange
  • Tea Tree
  • Ylang ylang
  1. Four starter carrier oils 
  • Sweet Almond Oil
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Fractionated Coconut Oil
  • Olive Oil
Introduction to Aromatherapy

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are liquids extracted from plant materials. The plant materials that they come from can include flowers, leaves, twigs, bark, roots, and resins.

Essential oils are extracted from plants in a variety of ways however steam distillation is the most common.  Examples of other techniques include expression, solvent extraction and enfleurage. We will look at the differences between this a little bit later in this article.

Essential oils are volatile, meaning they evaporate easily. Despite the fact that many of them look watery, they do not dissolve in water.

What can they be used for?

Essential oils are used by aromatherapists and lay people because they have emotional and physical effects on the human body.

They can also be used as a natural fragrance in homemade soaps, diffusers, and perfumes.

They can be used in cleaning products because they are antimicrobial as well as provide natural fragrance.

Some people even use them to deter pests such as insects and mice. We will go more into usage later.

What are the basic ways they can be used?

Topically

Essential oils enter our bodies either through the skin when you apply them topically.

When we apply essential oils to our skin they penetrate into our bodies, entering the bloodstream.

Inhalation

Oils can also enter our body by breathing in their vapors.

When we breathe in oils, they affect us in two ways. The first is simple—they enter our lungs where they can pass into the bloodstream.

Breathing in an essential oil is a very efficient way to get them into our bodies. Furthermore, some essential oils are good for respiratory conditions. Inhaling these oils puts them in direct contact with lung tissue.

The second way inhaled oils affect us is through the limbic system. This one is a little more complicated. The limbic system is associated with emotions, behaviors, and the pleasure center.

The limbic system also influences our hormonal system.

The olfactory membrane located at the top of our nasal passages is linked to the limbic system. This is why sniffing an essential oil can trigger both emotional and physical reactions.

More about the limbic system

How do they work?

There are lots of wild claims on the internet about the wonders of essential oils. Essential oils are wonderful, but we should not treat them as miracle drugs. I love this quote since it sums up a reasonable way to view essential oils so concisely:

“Essential oils help our body do its job better. They do not do the body’s job for it.”

Marcel Lavabre

A good example of this is the popular story you may have heard of a scientist who burned his hand and soon after applied some lavender oil. His hand healed remarkably quickly.

Lavender helps to heal burns. The lavender did not heal the burn though, rather, it accelerated healing. The body healed the burn just like it always does, the lavender helped it along.

I like to call aromatherapy complementary therapy. Essential oils are a helper, not a drug. They assist and support the body’s functions.

A couple helpful analogies:

A walker helps a person to walk without falling over, it helps the person to walk but it doesn’t do the walking.

Another analogy is supplements. We take vitamins, herbs or minerals for our health. They don’t fix our body, they just help the body function better.

What to look for when buying essential oils

With the popularity of essential oils, everyone is suddenly in the essential oil business. Some of these companies don’t know what they are doing. That’s the harsh and unfortunate truth.

It can be difficult to know who to trust. Adulteration has long been an issue.

When demand exceeds supply, companies try to extend what they have. They may mix in some similar oils, add carrier oils, or substitute with a different oil altogether.

The following guidelines will get you started. If you want to know some specific companies that I recommend, I wrote a post describing 9 companies that have a great reputation.

Why names are important

Naming of oils is important so you know exactly what you are getting. Any essential oil that you purchase should display the proper botanical name. This is important because there are several oils that have similar common names but different botanical names.

For example, Rose oil comes from Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia (chk this). There are two main varieties of Chamomile available-German and Roman.

Sometimes these variations can mean different properties, other times the differences aren’t that significant—but as a consumer you deserve to know exactly what you are getting.

Lets you know what you are getting chemically. There can be variations in oils within the same species of plant. This is referred to as chemotype. These oils are usually labelled to reflect which constituents (i.e. chemical components) that they are high in.

Rosemary is a good example. There is one variety that is high in cineol which is good for respiratory conditions. A second variety of rosemary is high in verbenone and is better for hair and skin.  Choose a supplier who lets you know which chemotype you are getting.

Know where your oil comes from. Plants grown in different parts of the world will give oils that have slightly different chemical makeups.  Just like some grapes grow better in different parts of the world, some plants give oils that are better from different regions.

Lavender from high altitudes in France or Bulgaria are considered by many to be superior to lavenders grown in other regions.

And, to continue the wine analogy, just like a Chardonnay from Washington will taste different than one from California, the oil may smell different and be chemically different coming from one region or another.

Wildcrafted vs. Organic

Since essential oils come from plants, when plants are sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals some people are concerned that chemical residue will be in the essential oil. There is little evidence that this is true, but some people still prefer to buy oils that are extracted from organic plants.

Organic oils may or may not be certified organic. Becoming a certified organic facility is an involved and expensive process. Many smaller companies may not have the financial resources to become a certified organic facility but still carry organically produced oil.

Furthermore, essential oil companies usually buy their oils in bulk from the distiller or supplier. All companies in the chain from production to bottling need to be certified in order for an oil to carry the certified organic label.

Wildcrafted oils are worth seeking out. Essential oils can be part of a plant’s defense mechanism. When plants grow in the wild they often have to fight a little harder to survive than plants that are farmed which enjoy the luxury of regular irrigation and weed control.

Many believe that the oils from wild plants are superior to those from farmed plants.

We can find another analogy in the wine industry—some of the finest wines come from vines in the most rocky, forsaken looking soil. The reason the wine is said to be better is because the vines had to work harder to find water and survive.

Testing

While there are different tests available to evaluate the purity of an essential oil, one of the most common is the GC/MS. These are two processes—Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectometry.

The upshot of these tests are that they produce a profile—a blueprint of sorts—of the chemical makeup of the essential oil.

This allows the lab to compare the components to a reference of what is expected for that oil and identify compounds that either don’t belong, or are in unusual proportions.

It’s worth a few minutes of our time to discuss the limitations of GC/MS. First, this test can cost about $200 per batch tested. It can certainly be cost-prohibitive for all but the largest companies to test every batch of oil.

Companies that purchase in smaller batches may rely on developing relationships of trust with their suppliers or test random batches of oils as a “spot check” of sorts in lieu of testing every single batch.

While failing to provide customers with a GC/MS upon request can be a red flag, give the company a chance to present you with their reasoning for not testing every batch. I cut small companies run by knowledgeable people some slack in this area.

Other limitations of the GC/MS are that they need to be interpreted in order to be meaningful. They need to be compared to a standard reference for that oil, something the labs testing oils have access to, but the general public does not.

The average person needs to rely on an expert’s analysis of the data because we can’t interpret the test results ourselves.

Some companies will provide a certificate of analysis instead. A certificate of analysis will usually provide some basic information about the oil including the primary constituents.

It is not a substitute for a GC/MS, however this can give you some important information about the composition of the oil. It doesn’t give a complete enough picture to know whether an oil is adulterated.

Pricing

An oil that is priced too good to be true usually is. An expensive oil is not necessarily better, but an oil that is unusually cheap most certainly will not be worth your money.

Facebook groups can be a great way to network with other aromatherapy enthusiasts and get recommendations for good companies to deal with. Aromatherapy and Beyond: A Review Group has been around in various incarnations for a few years and has collected their member reviews in the files of the group.

Extraction methods

The most common method for extracting essential oils from plant matter is steam distillation. This technique involves placing the plant material in a chamber. In another area below that, water is heated and steam is produced.

The steam is directed through the plant material, which releases the oils. The oil saturated steam then goes through a coil that cools it down. When the steam cools it turns back into water and essential oil. This mixture is collected in a container.

Because essential oils do not mix with water, the oil floats to the top (or sinks to the bottom depending on its weight) and can be separated from the water.  The leftover water has some plant molecules and aroma in it as well so it is not discarded. That water is what is called a hydrosol or you may see it also called floral waters.

Some companies specialize in hydrosols and will optimize distillation methods to focus on producing a superior hydrosol.

The second most common method of extraction is expression. This is when the plant part containing the oil is squeezed until the oil comes out. This is used primarily for citrus oils where the oil is contained in the peel.

Expression is also common for carrier oils (such as vegetable and nut oils like avocado, olive, and sweet almond oil).

Expeller pressed oils have been squeezed under high pressure. This can generate a lot of heat due to friction. Excess heat is not a friend of many oils.

The term cold pressed is used to describe a special process where the temperature is controlled during extraction so that a specific temperature is not exceeded.

A method of extraction gaining popularity is CO2 extraction. Instead of using steam or water to release the essential oils, carbon dioxide under pressure is used. This causes the CO2 to behave like a liquid solvent to the plant material.

When the chamber is depressurized, the C02 returns to the gaseous state, leaving pure essential oils. One advantage to this method is extractions can occur at lower temperatures than steam extractions, which helps to preserve the chemical makeup of the oils. For many oils this process is thought to produce a superior product and availability of CO2 extracted oils is increasing.

You may also see oils that are solvent extracted. This is often used with more waxy or resinous plants. Some people avoid solvent extracted oils due to fears that traces of the solvent (e.g. hexane) may remain, however experts say that very little, if any, solvent remains in the essential oil.

When you are purchasing oils, the label or product information should tell you how the oil has been extracted. The method should be appropriate for the plant.

For example, if you saw lemon oil that was steam distilled you might be a little bit suspicious because most lemon oils are expressed.  That said, there is a lime essential oil that is steam distilled so there are exceptions. I am just saying if it seems suspicious, ask the company questions!

Myths

Myth 1: Only buy certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils.

Let’s break this down. There are no official organizations certifying or grading oils, so let’s toss out the words “certified” and “grade.”  Purity is a good thing, so yes, buy pure oils. Therapeutic? Yes, if the oil is pure it will be therapeutic. Again, no one is categorizing or grading oils.

Many companies offer pure oils, and as such, therapeutic oils. So, you can safely ignore claims of only using certified pure therapeutic grade oils as marketing talk to scare you into buying from only one company.

Myth 2: Essential oils have been used for thousands of years.

No, herbalism in some form has been used for thousands of years, including herbal oils. The process of steam distillation as we know it was only invented about 1000 years ago, well after Biblical times and/or the Ancient Egyptians or Chinese.

Myth 3: Frankincense essential oil is anti-cancer.

The component, boswellic acid, that has been linked to anti-tumor activity does not appear in the essential oil but in the resin. You can read a full explanation about that here if you are interested in learning more. https://tisserandinstitute.org/frankincense-oil-and-cancer-in-perspective/

Myth 4: If you use oils neat on your skin and you develop redness, keep using the oil since it is just your body detoxing.

This usually occurs after using an essential oil without diluting it, and it is not normal nor a positive thing. Your body responds this way when it is sensitive to a substance.

If your bar soap in the shower gave you a rash would you keep using it? If you ate a strawberry and got hives would you eat more strawberries? (Hopefully the answer was no on both counts!). A rash or redness is your body responding to something it doesn’t like.

Myth 5: Oils that the FDA labels as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) are okay to ingest.

We will talk more about ingestion in a bit, but the oils that are labelled GRAS have been labelled as safe as flavorings for use in the food industry. These are small quantities of oils added to large quantities of food so not the same as putting a few drops in your glass of water.

Also beware of oils labelled as nutritional supplements. There are no vitamins or minerals in essential oils.

balm and oil with plants scattered on a table
Using essential oils

How to use oils topically

One of the most common ways to use essential oils is to apply them to your skin.

You should never apply essential oils without diluting them in a carrier oil or some other base like a lotion. A carrier oil is a nut or vegetable oil such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, etc.

Topical application makes sense for massage (relaxation), help with sore muscles, and skin conditions.

Once diluted, apply the oil to the affected area, avoiding eyes and mucus membranes (mucus membranes include the inside tissues of your mouth, nose, or nether regions).

For example, if you had a headache you would apply the oil to your temples, or wherever your head was hurting.

Introduction to dilution calculations

Essential oils should be anywhere from .25%-3% of the total volume of a mixture.

.25-1% is the recommended dilution for children as well as facial care products you will use regularly.

1-2% is the most common dilution for adults.

3% might be used for a short term purpose like an illness or headache.

Professional aromatherapists may use higher dilutions, but for home users, I recommend sticking to the above dilution ranges.

To make a 1% dilution you would place 6 drops of essential oil in 1 ounce of carrier oil. To make a 2% dilution you would put 12 drops in one ounce of carrier oil.  If you don’t want to mix up a whole ounce you could also use the following rule of thumb:

For every teaspoon of carrier oil (5ml) place one drop of essential oil for a 1% dilution. To make a 2% dilution use two drops per teaspoon. A 3% dilution uses 3 drops per teaspoon…and so on.

How to use oils by inhalation

A popular way to use essential oils is with a diffuser.  Diffusers break up essential oils into a fine mist.  When inhaled, this mist can have emotional effects as well as enter the body through the lungs.

Essential oils can also be inhaled by using nasal inhalers or even diffuser jewelry.

Inhalation is particularly well suited for respiratory conditions, stress and relaxation, mental alertness, and other emotional effects.

When should you inhale vs. topical use

When deciding whether to use an essential oil topically or by inhalation, think about the use.

Topical use works well for skin care issues as well as muscle and joint pain. Discomfort from menstrual issues as well as digestive problems can be treated with oils applied over the abdomen.

Respiratory conditions like colds and coughs respond well to inhalation. Inhalation also works well for stress, anxiety, depression and other emotional conditions.

In some cases, you could go either way. Examples include headaches and stress.

Should you ingest essential oils

You may find some sources suggesting drinking essential oils diluted in water. This is not recommended for beginners or the general public for that matter. It can be dangerous, so just don’t do it.

As an example, only a little bit of eucalyptus oil can be fatally toxic when ingested. There are also reports of people developing kidney damage from ingesting oils on a regular basis.

Furthermore, since essential oils do not mix with water, the droplets of oil can burn your internal tissues on the way down.

Leave ingestion to the professional medical aromatherapists. This is so important it bears repeating—do not ingest essential oils, even if someone selling oils or writing on the internet tells you it’s okay.

This also applies to GRAS oils, food safe oils and oils labeled as nutritional supplements. Only someone with advanced training in this area of aromatherapy who has consulted with you personally should be prescribing this, and only for specific reasons and short periods of times. (Did I use enough bold and italics there to make my point?)

Read more about when you should and shouldn’t ingest essential oils

Introduction to Blending Essential Oils

Blending two or more essential oils can be helpful to:

  • Address more than one condition (e.g. dry skin and acne)
  • Address the symptom and the cause (e.g. headaches and stress)
  • Increase the power of essential oils through synergy—where two or more oils working together produce effects greater than the sum of all the parts (think 1+1=3)

The easiest way to use aromatherapy blends is to buy a premade blend. These are premixed essential oils for specific purposes such as breathing easier, stress reduction, or pain relief to name a few. They are usually formulated by aromatherapists.

Part of the fun of aromatherapy though can be to create your own blends. When it comes right down to it, blending can be as simple as choosing two or three oils that all have complementary purposes and see how they smell together.

Do you like the way it smells? One of the main reasons to create your own blend is to have something whose aroma makes you feel good.

If you want to take things a step further, you can combine oils based on their “notes.”  All a note really is is how long the scent lasts.

Top notes are the first scents that hit your nose but fade quickly.

The base notes are not immediately noticeable but become more apparent later and last for a long time, sometimes days. Base notes are sometimes fixatives in that they help the lighter top notes last longer.

The middle note falls somewhere in between and help to hold the blend together.

Tips for Blending

When blending, one approach is to start with a base note oil and work from the bottom up. Add a middle note oil and see how you like the two together. Then add a top note oil. Keeping your blends simple and just stick to three oils per blend at first.

When determining how many drops of each oil to use, be sure to take it easy with strong smelling oils. Geranium is an example of an oil with a high odor intensity. Too much Geranium can quickly overwhelm a blend so that it is all that you smell.

An easy rule of thumb can be to use 1 drop of base note oil, 2 drops of middle note oils, and 3 drops of top note oils. You can start with this formula and then adjust it until it smells good to you.

Let your blend sit for a day or so before deciding if you like it. It can take some time for the scents to marry and mingle with each other (kind of like the casserole that tastes better the second day).

Meanwhile, keep notes of what you did in case you come up with a combination you love. You want to be able to replicate it! Believe me, I learned that lesson the hard .

Safety Considerations

One very important thing to remember about essential oils is that they are very concentrated. It can take several pounds of plants to produce just a few milliliters of essential oils. This is why some oils are very expensive. Knowing that they are concentrated is important to know for a couple of reasons:

  • essential oils should always be diluted if you are going to put them on your skin
  • essential oils should not be used willy-nilly for anything and everything. You can get too much of a good thing. Oils are best used as needed for a specific purpose. Overuse can cause safety concerns

General safety guidelines

Each essential oil has its own unique safety recommendations. You should consult a reputable book or website for advice on specific oils. This section gives some general safety tips.

1. Always dilute essential oils before applying to the body topically. Essential oils are very concentrated and not following this advice could lead to sensitization (meaning that you won’t be able to use that oil again because you will get a reaction each time) or contact dermatitis. There are more risks to using undiluted or strong dilutions of essential oils than there are benefits.

2. Not all oils are safe for children (or our furry children). When using oils on or around children or pets, always check if an oil you are using is safe for them. Many oils are suitable for children over 2 years of age, but a few should not be used on or around children under 10. If you buy a pre-made blend, check the ingredient list before using around children.

When making topical applications for children, you should dilute the essential oils to .25 to 1 %

3.  Diffusing safely. When diffusing, most ultrasonic diffusers use 5-6 drops of essential oil diluted in the water reservoir (which usually holds about 4-8 oz. of water).

Nebulizing diffusers use several drops of undiluted essential oil. The reason this is okay is because when you run the diffuser, the oil is diluted by the volume of air in the room.

Diffusion is considered one of the safest methods of administration for essential oils because the concentrations are so low. That doesn’t mean it is not effective, in fact less is more with aromatherapy!

That said, diffusers should not be run continuously. Ultrasonic diffusers (the kind where you mix oil with water) are safer to run more often, but aromatherapy can be more effective when used in moderation so don’t go crazy! Thirty minutes at a time, up to 3 times per day is sufficient for ultrasonic diffusers.

Nebulizing diffusers, should not be used more than 2 or 3 times a day for 10 minutes at a time.

4. Avoid Overuse. Don’t be tempted to use essential oils for everything.  Essential oils mixed into your shampoos, your face creams, your soaps, in homemade roller ball pain relief blends, in your household cleaners—it all adds up.

Don’t overdo it. Aromatherapy enthusiasts may joke “I’ve got an oil for that” but in reality, aromatherapy should be used as needed.

5. Oils to Never Use. Some oils should be avoided altogether. Fortunately, most suppliers don’t even carry these. You can see the list at Aromaweb (which is a trusted website for aromatherapy information).

There are also some oils that are available, but are more likely to cause skin irritation. These include:

  •         Allspice
  •         Bay Laurel
  •         Cinnamon
  •         Clove
  •         Oregano
  •         Sage
  •         Thyme

If you are using oils around children, or if you are pregnant or nursing, then familiarize yourself with which oils are safe. Plant Therapy has compiled a nice list of safe oils and you can download a copy from this page.

6.  If you have a medical condition, it is especially important to look up each oil’s safety information. In particular, some oils are contraindicated with epilepsy, estrogenic cancers, high/low blood pressure, G6PD deficiency, bleeding disorders, take anti-depressants, endometriosis, diabetes, asthma, etc.

Twelve starter oils and how to use them

Now that you know the basics, this section delves into a small list of essential oils. I call these starter oils. So does the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists. Knowledge of these 12 oils is required for Level 1 Aromatherapy Training courses.

I am only going to talk about these 12 oils because I assume you are just starting out with essential oils and when you are new to something, too many choices can be overwhelming. When you read through these oil profiles you will realize that you can do so much with just these oils.

I recommend starting with just a few oils that seem like they will be most beneficial to you, and go from there.

Clary Sage
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)

Scent: Herbal, heady, sweet, floral

Physical: Menstrual issues: lack of a period, menstrual pain and cramps, PMS, symptoms of menopause, sedative and muscle relaxant

Emotional: Stress, depression and anxiety. Calms nervous system.

Skin and Hair: encourages hair growth, good for mature skin—cell rejuvenator, acne. Appropriate for all skin types.

Safety: Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use with alcohol as it might increase the effects of intoxication. Use in moderation—can cause sleepiness or in larger amounts be stupefying. Do not use while driving. May be estrogenic—avoid if you have estrogen related cancers.

Ways to use clary sage:

To promote hair growth blend 1-2 drops of clary sage with a tablespoon of carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil (both often used for hair health). Massage into hair and scalp and let sit for 10 minutes or more before washing as usual.

For calm and stress, blend 3 drops lavender and 2 drops clary sage in an ultrasonic diffuser and let it run for up to 30 minutes. You can also put this blend in a nasal inhaler and carry it with you, taking a whiff when you need a breath of calm.

For menstrual regulation, blend 3 drops clary sage with 2 drops Geranium in 1 ounce of lotion, cream, or carrier oil. Massage into the lower back and abdomen daily while symptoms persist.

Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

Scent: Sharp, strong, camphoraceous, woody undertones

There are several varieties of eucalyptus. Eucalyptus Globulus is the most common type.

Physical Uses: Colds and flus-helps with nasal congestion (decongestant) and coughs (expectorant), sore throats; sore muscles, rheumatism and arthritis; insect repellant; anti-viral and antiseptic, helps with infections in general.

Emotional Uses: none of note

Skin and hair: insect bites, acne

Safety: Use in low dilutions—can be hard on the kidneys in high concentrations. Up until recently it was advised not to use with children under 10 due to the possibility of depressed breathing and neurological problems, however noted safety expert Robert Tisserand has recently revised his recommendation to say that eucalyptus can be diffused around children age 3-6 and used in up to 1.0% dilution topically. Even so, he notes there are safer oils to use with children. If you do use eucalyptus with children, err on the side of caution and only use as needed and keep away from the nose and mouth. Don’t diffuse too long or too often and use in low dilutions. May not be compatible with homeopathic remedies. Can be toxic if taken internally. Avoid contact with mucus membranes (e.g. eyes, mouth, genitals)

Ways to use eucalyptus:

For congestion and coughs diffuse a few drops of essential oils with an ultrasonic diffuser. You can combine eucalyptus with rosemary or peppermint if you wish. The combination of moisture from the mist and the expectorant properties of the oils will help to ease congestion and coughing. Alternatively, you can add a drop or two of these same oils to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam. Be sure to close your eyes as the oils can be irritating. Finally, you could use these oils in a nasal inhaler. Remember that using eucalyptus around the mouth and nose of young children should be avoided.

For sore muscles: Dilute a drop of eucalyptus in a couple teaspoons of carrier oil and massage into the affected area. Eucalyptus’ analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties should bring some relief. You could also add a drop of peppermint to the blend.

For insect repellants:  Mix a few drops of eucalyptus in a teaspoon of vodka and top off with 1-2 ounces of water. Put in a spray bottle and apply to your body or spray into the air. You can also diffuse into the air. A variation of eucalyptus—lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) is even more renowned as an insect repellant.

Geranium
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

Scent: strong, sweet, floral with herbal and citrus notes

Physical Uses: helps to balance hormones; useful for PMS, menopause and menstrual problems; fluid retention, cellulite

Emotional Uses: depression, calms nervous tension, uplifting, stress

Skin and Hair: Balances sebum production for all types of skin, promotes healing and cell growth, acne, stretch marks, mature skin

Safety: Use with caution if taking medications for diabetes

How to use Geranium:

For menstrual cramping and flow: Dilute 2 drops geranium oil per teaspoon of carrier oil and rub into the abdomen at the start of symptoms. Repeat as needed while symptoms persist (2-4 times a day).

For anxiety and stress: Diffuse 1 drop of Geranium and 3 drops Lavender

For skin care: Dilute 1 drop Geranium and 2 drops Rose in a tablespoon of carrier oil and use as an oil cleanser. Gently massage the oil cleanser into your skin, avoiding the eye area. Place a warm, damp washcloth over your face and let the warm steam open your pores for a minute. Wipe off excess oil. After cleansing with this formula, it is usually not necessary to apply a moisturizer as your skin will be lovely and soft from the residual oil.

Lavender
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Scent: floral, herbal, camphoraceous, sweet, fresh

Physical Uses: insomnia, insect bites, headache, burns

Emotional:  stress, nervous tension

Skin and Hair: acne, promotes cell growth and healing, sunburns

Safety: Generally considered safe. Do not in 1st trimester of pregnancy.

How to use Lavender:

For insect bites, stir 6 drops of lavender oil into a tablespoon of unscented lotion and apply to the bites.

For stress and relaxation, diffuse 2 drops lavender with 1 drop Roman Chamomile and 2 drops lemon. You could also combine a few drops each of lavender and roman chamomile with some body wash and add to your bath.

For hair care, blend 1 drops Rosemary and 1 drops Lavender with a teaspoon or two of your conditioner. Shampoo and condition as usual. Note that most commercial products are not designed to have essential oils added to them in bulk. I recommend adding oils to your shampoo or conditioner in small quantities. This is because they have been preserved and tested in that formulation and adding essential oils to them changes the formulation.  You could alternately purchase unscented products that are designed to have oils added. Essential Wholesale is one place that you can get unscented shampoos, conditioners, lotions and more.

Lemon
Lemon (Citrus limon)

Scent: sharp, fresh, lemon peel

Physical Uses: disinfect air, stimulates immunity (production of white blood cells), detoxify lymph system

Emotional:  calming, refreshing, mental stimulation??

Skin and Hair: Astringent for oily skin and hair, relieves itching

Safety: Generally safe however can be sensitizing or cause skin irritation for some. Phototoxic—increases your risk of sunburns—don’t use within several hours of going out in the sun.

How to use lemon:

Lemon can be diffused to brighten your day and add a little liquid sunshine to your home. Try blending 2 drops lemon with 2 drops Sweet Orange and 1 drop rosemary when you need to focus.

Lemon can also be used in homemade natural cleaners. One recipe to try is to add 4 oz. of vinegar and 8 oz. of water to a glass spray bottle. Add 10-15 drops of lemon oil. Shake before each use. You can use this as a general cleaner, or as a glass cleaner. With any homemade cleaner, test in an inconspicuous spot first to make sure it is safe for your surfaces.

During cold and flu season, diffuse 3 drops lemon, 1 drop lavender and 1 drop tea tree to help prevent illness.

Peppermint
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

Scent: minty, fresh, slight menthol, somewhat grassy

Physical Uses: ease sore muscles and joint pain, headaches, nausea, colds, coughs

Emotional: mental stimulant

Skin and Hair: itching

Safety: Avoid if epileptic, avoid if you have cardiac fibrillation, do not use in excess, may interfere with some homeopathic therapies. Avoid use on children under 6, especially near nose.

How to use Peppermint

In a 10 ml roller ball bottle, place 2 drop peppermint, 1 drop rosemary and 1 drop lavender. Top with fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil or any other carrier oil. Roll on to areas of pain such as neck muscles, temples during a headache, or back muscles.

To ease congestion, fill a bowl with hot water (not boiling) and add a couple drops each of peppermint and eucalyptus. Drape a towel over your head, close your eyes, and inhale the steam from the bowl for a few minutes at a time, a few times a day until symptoms ease.

Place 2 drops peppermint and 2 drops lavender in a nasal inhaler. Sniff as needed for headaches or nausea.

Roman Chamomile
Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)

Scent: herbal, grassy, warm, sweet, fruity

Physical Uses: Regulates menstruation, insomnia (sedative), anti-inflammatory,

Emotional: Depression, anxiety, calming

Skin and Hair: good for sensitive skin, eczema, inflammation

Safety: Generally considered safe but may cause dermatitis in some

How to use Chamomile:

For insomnia, place a few drops each of Chamomile and Lavender on a tissue or cotton ball and place it near or under your pillow.

For it’s calming effects, use Chamomile in a diffuser. Try 1 drop chamomile, 2 drops clary sage and 2 drops lavender.

For menstrual issues blend with either Geranium or Clary sage. Add 3 drops of Chamomile and 3 drops of Geranium or Clary Sage to 1 Tbsp. of unscented lotion or a carrier oil. Rub on you lower back or abdomen.

Rose
Rose (Rosa damascena)

Scent: sweet, floral

Physical Uses: aphrodisiac, promotes and regulates menstruation

Emotional: anti-depressant, sedative, anxiety, stress

Skin and Hair: Promotes healing of wounds, mature skin, diminishes redness, astringent

Safety: Generally considered safe; possibly carcinogenic

How to use Rose:

For a facial serum blend place 3 drops Rose and 3 drops of Geranium in a 1 oz. bottle. Top with jojoba oil. Apply a thin layer nightly to your skin after cleansing, avoiding the eye area.

For stress and anxiety, diffuse 1 drop Rose with 2 drops lavender  and 1 drop lemon.

Rosemary
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Note there are two main types of Rosemary—Cineole and Verbenone. This entry refers to the Cineole type.

Scent: woody, herbal, fresh, camphoraceous

Physical Uses: Stimulates circulation, reduces water retention–cellulite and edema; respiratory; antiseptic; headaches and migraines; analgesic; muscle pain

Emotional: mentally stimulating, memory,

Skin and hair: Verbenone chemotype is generally better for hair and skin uses; stimulates scalp and promotes hair growth

Safety: Avoid during pregnancy; avoid if you have high blood pressure or are epileptic. May not be safe for children under 10.

How to use Rosemary:

Diffuse 2 drop rosemary and 3 drops lemon to enhance focus and concentration.

Combine 2 drops rosemary with 2 drops lavender and place on a tissue or use in a nasal inhaler. If making a nasal inhaler, use about 10-15 drops of each oil in order to wet the cotton wick.

Diffuse rosemary while studying for a test. Then, apply some rosemary to a diffuser necklace or on a tissue while taking the test. Rosemary enhances memory, and smelling the same scent while studying and taking the test seems to work best.

Sweet Orange
Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis)

Scent: sweet, fresh, citrus, tangy

Physical Uses: antiseptic, water retention, colds, flus, mouth ulcers?, stimulates digestion

Emotional: antidepressant, uplifting, depression, anxiety, nervousness

Skin and hair: cellulite, perfumes, oily skin (but may be too strong for the face)

Safety: Generally considered safe but may cause dermatitis is some; photoxic—avoid sunshine after use; oxidizes quickly so store in refrigerator or use within 6 months.

How to Use Sweet Orange:

Diffuse 3 drops orange with 1 drop Ylang Ylang and 1 drop lemon for an uplifting scent.

Combine 4 drops sweet orange and 2 drops geranium into 1 tbsp. of unscented lotion or carrier oil and apply to areas of cellulite.

Tea Tree
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Scent: medicinal, spicy, sharp

Physical Uses: Anti-microbial—effective against bacteria, fungi, viruses, bronchial congestions, flus, colds, immunostimulant

Emotional: fatigue

Skin and hair: nail fungus, acne, dandruff, head lice, soothes inflammation of sunburn or insect bites

Safety: may be a skin sensitizer

How to use Tea Tree:

Diffuse 4 drops lemon and 2 drops tea tree during times of illness. Tea tree is antiviral and antibacterial, and lemon stimulates immunity.

You can add this same blend to a tbsp. of carrier oil and dab the mixture on areas of toenail fungus or athlete’s foot.

Ylang ylang
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)

Note: Ylang ylang is fractionally distilled. The first oil removed from the still is called “Extra” with subsequent distillation resulting in 1, 2 and 3. A blend of 1, 2 and 3 is termed “Complete.” Use Extra, 1 or 2 for aromatherapy. Three works well for fragrance.

Scent: Intensely sweet, floral, heady, exotic

Physical Uses: Aphrodisiac, antiseptic, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, PMS

Emotional: Sedative, calming, euphoric, nervous tension, palpitations, anxiety

Skin and hair: Balances sebum production, promotes healthy hair and hair growth, oily and dry skin, especially dry, acne.

Safety: Use in low concentrations—too much can cause headaches or nausea. Can be a skin sensitizer for some.

How to use YlangYlang:

Blend 2 drops Ylang Ylang with 4 drops Sweet Orange. Add to 15 ml of your favorite carrier oil and use as a massage oil for stress.

You can take the same blend and add it to a tablespoon of body wash and add to your bath for a luxurious soap.

Ylang ylang is also lovely in perfumes. Try 1 drop ylang ylang, 3 drops lavender, and 2 drops Sweet Orange. Add to a 10 ml roller bottle and top with jojoba oil (or any other carrier oil).

Four starter carrier oils

Essential oils need to be blended with a carrier oil, or a lotion, butter or other base before applying to the body. These six oils are some of the most commonly used carrier oils for aromatherapy. Again, it is a small list because I don’t want to overwhelm you with choices.

Sweet Almond Oil: This is a popular oil for DIY beauty products. It is good for all skin types and is a good source of vitamin E. It is moderately priced and has a shelf life of about a year.

Fractionated Coconut Oil: This is coconut oil that has been processed to remove the solids. It is high in medium chain triglycerides, and you may often see it labelled as MCT oil.

This oil has a long shelf life and very little aroma. Having no aroma of its own makes it ideal for adding essential oils to.

It is good for most skin types, is easily absorbed, and reasonable priced. It may be slightly comedogenic.

Jojoba Oil: Jojoba is actually a liquid wax. It is non comedogenic, high in vitamin E, and absorbs fairly quickly without feeling too greasy.

Jojoba is another awesome oil as it has a long shelf life. It also is well loved because it is very similar to skin’s own sebum. I use straight jojoba on a cotton ball as a makeup remover. It’s one downside is it one of the most expensive oils on this list. You can get more mileage from your jojoba by blending it with another less expensive oil.

Olive Oil: Not only is olive oil very nice for the skin, but I include it because almost everybody has a bottle of it in their kitchen. If you don’t, you can easily get some at the grocery store.

I hope this answered a lot of your questions about aromatherapy and gave you some ideas for how to use essential oils in your life.

amber glass bottles, flowers on a paper with chemical molecule diagrams; text overlay getting started with essential oils a comprehensive introduction
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