It is essentially the fragrance


It is essentially the fragrance

Essential oils are a boon at many levels. Their aroma soothes the mind, they have healing properties when combined with other carrier oils, and they are natural beauty ingredients, enlightens Shahnaz Husain.

The use of essential oils, obtained from plants, to care for the body and treat ailments, is known as aromatherapy. Like herbal therapy, aromatherapy is a branch of natural healing, but there is a basic difference. Herbal therapy involves the use of the entire herb, while in aromatherapy, the essential oils are used. The curative action of herbs is also different from their essential oils. 

The use of essential oils has existed since the ancient times, going back 4000 years. The ancient Egyptians used them in their embalming process and also added them to cosmetic preparations. In India, it has been part of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of herbal healing. Ancient Indian texts contain records of essential oils, their medicinal usage and even their cosmetic benefits. The ancient women of India used many of these to beautify and perfume themselves.

Essential oils are present in a large number of plants. The term “essential oil” is misleading, because they are not really oils, like coconut oil, sesame seed oil, olive oil, almond oil, mustard oil and other “pressed” oils. In fact, even in consistency, they are more like water. Essential oils are very complex in nature and constitute the volatile and aromatic part of the plant. They are like the life-force of the plant. Apart from their medicinal properties, essential oils have been valued for their fragrances too. The fragrance of rose, sandalwood, jasmine, and lavender is due to their essential oils. 

The part from which the essential oil is obtained also differs from plant to plant. Cinnamon and sandalwood oils are obtained from the bark; oil of rose and lavender from flowers; mint, basil and rosemary from the leaves; oils of citrus fruits are obtained from the rind, lemongrass oil from the grass and so on. There are various methods of extraction too, but distillation process is the most common. 

To understand aromatherapy, we also have to understand how aromas and our sense of smell work. The olfactory function allows a direct connection to the brain. Aromas can evoke various responses, positive or negative. Just smelling them can have the power to alter a person’s mood or mental state, as many of them have a calming effect on the nerves, helping to induce relaxation and reduce stress. Apart from being used in inhalations and as bath additives, massage is also an important form of treatment in aromatherapy. They have wider applications too, because they are absorbed by the skin and have local, as well as systemic effects. They have been incorporated in medicinal and cosmetic formulations, as active ingredients and also as fragrances. 

It must be mentioned that essential oils have to be used with caution, as their action can be highly potent when applied directly on the skin. For massage and treatments, they are diluted with other oils, like almond, olive or sesame seed oils, which are called “carrier” oils. Two or three essential oils can be used in combination with such carrier oils, to achieve specific cures or benefits. 

Here are some tips:

* The essential oils cannot be used by themselves and must be added to water or a carrier (pressed) oil in an appropriate manner, which must be learnt.  

* It is best to blend in small quantities as they can turn rancid.  

* To make a fragrant massage oil, add 8 drops of essential oil to 100 ml carrier oil. Almond, sesame seed, jojoba or olive oils make good carrier oils. 

* Use essential oils of rose, sandalwood, orange flower (neroli), lavender or lemon to prepare blends with carrier oils. 

* Essential oils can also be added to rose water and used as fragrance or skin toner. Add 5 drops of sandalwood essential oil to 100 ml rose water. Or, you can add lemon essential oil. 

* While blending essential oils, it is important to keep the dosages low initially. These can always be increased later as you learn more about them. 

* Remember that the actual fragrance emerges about twenty minutes after application and that fragrances have a lot to do with individual body chemistry. 

* Essential oils can also be used in Aromatherapy candles, tea lights and diffuses, or in pot pourri.

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