Healing Garden World

By Carolyn Agosta
Copyright 2005, 2011

Aromatherapy 101

(Please note: This article is provided as a guide and not as medical advice or a prescription. For best results seek personal advice from an expert in the field of aromatherapy. Internal use of aromatherapy is recommended only with the guidance of your health care professional.)

Nature has provided humans with a powerful, beautiful form of healing: essential oils. They are simple to use and easily available. And your nose knows high quality – if you pay attention, you can discern excellence simply by sniffing. So take the time rather than my word for it!

There are approximately 300 essential oils available today and in use by aroma-therapists and health care professionals. You do not need to be an expert to use them and with the exception of a few precautionary measures, they are safe to use.

This article is not intended to be the final word in aromatherapy. This isn’t even the Reader’s Digest version of Aromatherapy. Though I have been using and studying essential oils for 10 years, I have barely scratched the surface on the volumes of information available. Hopefully this article inspires you to take the plunge, so to speak, and learn more, experiment, and eventually take a course.

How Essential Oils Work

Essential oils and humans are made up of “essentially” the same stuff. How the oils travel through the body is still being researched and still not clearly understood – which explains why allopathic medicine is reluctant to recommend essential oils in response to illness or disease in the body… if they don’t understand it, they won’t use it, which actually is a good rule to follow.

There are two ways that essential oils affect the body – through our sense of smell and by absorption through the skin. When the oils make contact with the skin, they eventually reach the nose. When dispersed in the air, oils reach the olfactory nerve system, which is linked directly to the brain. These sweet-smelling molecules not only delight our senses, they ward-off bacteria, fungi, viruses, and they make us feel really good!


Beginning with precautionary measures prepares you for how to think about essential oils. They are not to be taken lightly. They are powerful tools for healing. And you are quite capable of learning to use them.

The skin, the largest organ in the human body, reflects internal health. If you are sensitive to any food or have allergies, you may find sensitivity to essential oils as well. It is best to place three drops of essential oils into a vegetable oil, place some on a small patch of skin and wait 24 hours to see if you are sensitive to that particular oil. If you are allergic to citrus fruits, you may want to avoid lemon, orange, grapefruit seed oil, mandarin, and tangerine – and other citrus based oils.

If you tend to be sensitive or allergy prone, prior to using oils, test them on yourself first. If you have a reaction to an oil, wash the affected area thoroughly with cool water and soap, then apply a gentle vegetable oil, like almond oil, to the irritated area. Never put any oil in your eye. If you know how to muscle-test (see UTube for tons of info on how to do that) then you can muscle-test to see if an oil is appropriate for you.

Many essential oils may not be placed full strength on your skin. Eucalyptus and peppermint are two of the most popular that should never be used full strength and should not be placed directly on the skin. However, if you place a few drops in vegetable oil, you may be able to use it on your skin – if you are not sensitive to them. Again, always test first.

Also, children are very sensitive to oils. Their little bodies are still developing, they don’t have the thicker skin of adults. Please, if you are thinking about using oils with a child, either work with a healthcare professional who specializes in aromatherapy for children or do your homework so you can help the child and not make matters worse! There are tons of books and websites full of information on aromatherapy for children.

Essential oils affect the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual parts of humans and should be used with care and thought. For example, if you are tired and want to sleep, it would be a huge mistake to use peppermint oil (a stimulant). However, if the employees at your place of business tire by mid-afternoon, a little peppermint (or lemon oil) on a diffuser or a light bulb would stimulate them and give them renewed energy. Or a little of those oils on a tissue and inhaled periodically would do the trick too.

If you have sinus congestion and you put eucalyptus on a q-tip swabbing the inside of your nose – it would irritate your skin, cause you to cry, your nose to burn and in addition to the pain, totally defeat the purpose of the aromatherapy. However, place a drop of eucalyptus, a drop of peppermint, and two drops of rosemary on a tissue and inhale – not only will you feel instant relief, it feels very refreshing. (Of course, you remembered to test the oils on yourself prior to sniffing!)

Tea Tree Oil requires great care when using. While it is a powerful anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-biotic, it can also irritate any skin. Never, ever use it in close proximity to delicate eye tissue. This is true of peppermint and eucalyptus oils as well. Tea tree can, however, be used on the skin with caution.

Essential oils are flammable. Tissues used to wipe up oils or used as an inhaler should be disposed of carefully. Excessive heat and essential oils are a huge NO… unless you plan to start a fire with them!

Store oils in dark bottles in a cool dry place – more fragile oils keep refrigerated. Dispose of oils once they’ve reached their expiration date. And as you dispose of them, remember that they are still flammable, even if expired.

When making your own blend of essential oils, date the blend and list what is in it. Discard unused portions of blends after about six months. Again learning which oils have a short shelf-life and using the ones with a longer shelf-life is recommended especially as youa re beginning to learn about oils.

Always wash your hands following mixing or using essential oils – this avoids the problem of inadvertently rubbing your eyes and getting oil in them. If you do get oil in your eyes, wash your hands, then rinse the eye (or sensitive area) with cool sterile water.

Some oils should be avoided during pregnancy. Here is a partial list: basil, black pepper, cedar wood, cinnamon, clary sage, hops, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and wintergreen. If you are pregnant, find out about all of the oils you should avoid before using them!

And lastly, there are restrictions and limitations for children and babies, persons on certain drugs, people with substance abuse due to drugs or alcohol, those with certain types of chronic pain and the terminally ill. Before using essential oils on these individuals, do your homework – learn about the contra-indications. For many, half doses or less are needed and with these individuals many oils are to be avoided.

How to Use Essential Oils

There are multitudes of ways to use essential oils. Some of them are listed here. To learn more, take a class or read a book – a few are recommended at the end of this article. This begins your exploration into understanding essential oils – to get you excited about the concept and to encourage you to use this ancient form of healing.

Finding Good Quality Essential Oils

In order for essential oils to be really effective, they must be pure. Organic or ethically wild-crafted oils ensure their quality. And they need to be properly distilled or extracted from a reliable source. The botanical name should be listed following the common name. If you encounter a company that sells all essential oils at a similar price in the same size bottles, you are not dealing with quality oils. Also, if there is jojoba oil in the “blend,” it is not pure essential oil. And if you find “a really good deal” on essential oils … it probably isn’t.

You cannot go wrong in choosing either of these brands:

Carrier Oils

These are the vegetable oils that are used to carry the essential oils. They are base oils that carry the essential oil to the part of the body needing the oil. It allows the tiny molecules of the essential oil to be spread over a larger area of the body. It prevents the skin from absorbing too much of the essential oil at one time and it protects the skin from oils that may cause irritation to delicate skin. And essential oils can be expensive.

Carrier oils work synergistically with the essential oils. In other words, they make the oils work better than they would on their own – the sum is better than the individual parts.

Following is a list of some of the more popular carrier oils. When making your skin oil, choose two or three that are best suited to your skin type.

Essential Oils No Home Should Be Without

Finding a Good Course to Study Aromatherapy

Here are a couple of highly recommended schools for further study. Be careful when searching the web for schools. Check to see if the individual or source you are considering is reputable. If you receive a certificate at the end of the course, find out who issues the certificate – and if it’s worth the paper it’s printed on. The two sources that I feel comfortable recommending are: Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy, as well as any course by Gabriel Mojay. There are others out there, I just don’t know about them and hesitate to recommend anything without first-hand experience with them. Take a basic, inexpensive course from a school that appeals to you. If you still like them after the course is over, take more courses … and let me know about them! Now go ahead … have some fun!!!

Reading List

Here are some books I’ve enjoyed and found helpful. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands more. Choose carefully, so you find what is useful to you!

--- December, 2005
--- Revised and updated November, 2011