A is for Aromatherapy

(From an active aromatherapist with 30 years experience)

Aromatherapy means the therapeutic use of aromatic oils. However a traditional aromatherapy treatment is very different to a massage with nice smelling oils. 

In your deep tissue, holistic, Swedish, remedial, sports etc massage the hands do the work in order to smooth out and stretch the muscles removing tension.  It is a physical massage where the oil or wax used is a medium that helps the hands to work deeply without dragging the skin.

In a traditional aromatherapy massage it’s the blend of oils that do the work and the massage is there to apply the oil and deeply relax the client, so that the body can use the therapeutic oil in the best way.  The pace of the massage is like rocking a baby to sleep placing the client into a sedative state. Here you are completely aware of what is going on around you. 

So what are essential oils?

EO’s are a plants immune system protecting it from predators and diseases. They also send messages and activate functions in the plant, like hormones do for us, as well as provide an internal transport system like blood in animals. You need to think of essential oils as highly concentrated substances so less is more.   

All essential oils are:

Oxygenating – they act as oxygen donors allowing cells to breathe and therefore help in the formation of new skin or tissue cells. 

Detoxifying – cleansing, antibacterial, clear and clean waste matter out of the body. (there are ones that are better at this than others)

Volatile – evaporate in the open air, hence why inhalation is a good method of use. If a blend is suitable for you it will be pleasant to smell.  Odours affect various parts of our brain. The limbic system is associated with emotions and memory and may trigger off a childhood memory, work feelings, sexual arousal, food appetite and body temperature. 

Top note oils

  • Evaporate quickly
  • Effects last about 24 hours
  • Absorb quickly
  • Have a sharp aroma
  • Are stimulating and uplifting
  • Eg citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruit, orange), tea tree, lemongrass, eucalyptus 

Middle note oils

  • Evaporate moderately
  • Effects last for 2-3 days
  • Absorbed moderately 
  • Have a floral aroma
  • Are balancing, aid organs and usually antiseptic
  • Eg lavender, chamomile, geranium, marjoram, rosemary

Base note oils

  • Evaporate slowly
  • Effects last for 1 week
  • Absorb slowly
  • Have a heavy and earthy aroma
  • Are relaxing, soothing and sedating and will prolong the life of a blend
  • Eg woods and resins, neroli, rose, ylang ylang and vetiver

Excellent Penetration Power – when applied on the skin it takes about 20-30 minutes for the oil to reach the blood circulation and start to flow around the body and then 1.5 hours to start being eliminated.

The liver processes the some parts of the oils and if for you this process is slow, the oils can accumulate in the liver.  To avoid this creating a problem it is important change your oils regularly and not use the same ones for more than 3 weeks before giving the liver a break.

How are they absorbed?

Creams are absorbed through the skin cell by cell and can take 24 hours to reach the living base layers of the skin

Mineral oils are not absorbed but roll around on the surface forming a barrier

Vegetable oils have large molecules, which are too large to pass through the skin. Only the parts that have a water content like fatty acids will pass to the dermis

Essential oils are attracted to the oils and fats in the skin and therefore travel down the hair follicle towards the sebaceous gland and straight into the dermis. Here it is absorbed into the circulatory system by the nearest blood supply.  This means that essential oils are absorbed more quickly than any other substance.

Experiments show that more essential oil is absorbed when covered after application. So compresses are highly effective and only a low dosage is needed.

How do I use them?

Topical– essential oils can be diluted in base creams, oils, bath products, compresses, and poultice. 

Inhalation– neat in facial steamers, burners, hankie, tissue etc (for water/tealight burners light the candle with doors and windows shut and blow out the flame after 5 mins and remember that essential oils are flammable.

How much should be used?

Below is a chart showing how many drops are needed for varying amounts of base oil (or cream, shampoo, shower gel) The percentages down the side are the dilution rate. To use the right % think about whether the oil is to be used for:

Room Inhalation use 1-9 drops 

Close inhalation on a collar or tissue 1-2 drops

Topical application on the face, children and sensitive skins use .5 – 1% 

Adult Topical to body all over (including bath oils) up to 3% dilution

Adult Topical as a shampoo, shower gel that is going to be immediately washed off up to 5%

Remember Less is More! So the number of drops means the maximum number or less.  If the oil is particularly strong like Ylang Ylang, Rose, Vetiver, Jasmine, Lemongrass 1 drop is all you need and in fact any more that this, in a blend, may overpower the other oils.


Can I use them internally?

Statement from 2ndedition of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young “only practitioners who are qualified to diagnose, trained to weigh risks against benefits, and have a knowledge of essential oil pharmacology should prescribe essential oils for oral administration”

Yield for peppermint oil

5 g of dried herb for 1 drop oil

One drop of peppermint is like drinking over 3 tea bags of tea

One drop of chamomile is like drinking 20 tea bags of tea

So why would you drink a drop of essential oil?

Essential oils and water do not mix, as they are hydrophobic meaning they do not like water and lipophilic meaning they love oil/fats

When taken internally most oils (even the purest, best quality, unadulterated ones) will firstly upset the lining of the mouth and throat irritating the mucous membrane.  If a client has sensitive skin or is unwell their internal tissue is going to be more sensitive.  

After a while other substances will sensitize the digestive lining. This can quickly build up causing irreversible damage.  Only clinical aromatherapist with advanced training can safely prescribe this treatment.

What works well?

If you want to use the plant’s medicinal qualities internally use the herbs, fruit and vegetables by pouring boiling water over them and steep to 5 mins.  The water produced can be cooled and safely used on the skin, eyes and drunk for healing.


Heat, light, air and moisture damage the effects of the oils.

So store in:


Some oils will improve with age (base notes) whilst some may last little more than six months see table below for information.

 Top noteMiddle noteBase note
Opened Go cloudy after 6 mths1 yearImproves with age
Unopened 1-2 years2 yearsImproves with age

It is always worth making a record of the purchase date or the date you open the bottle to make sure you are always using the highest quality.  A good sense of smell and experience of what oils should smell like is also useful. 

How do I know I am buying the best quality and unadulterated oils?

The healing properties of an oil is all about the chemicals that come through the distillation process. The amount of a particular chemical component will change depending on the plant used, the soil its grown in and the conditions like too much or too little rain and sun. Like a fine wine this can change from year to year, region to region. An example of this is tea tree. Even though the same plant (melaleuca alternifolia)is grown, the oil produced in the north of Australia will have a higher terpinene-4-ol content and a lower cineole content compared to the south. This means that while cineole is good for treating bacterial infections it can be irritating on the skin and mucous membrane. So northern tea tree is better for wound healing.

All good oil companies will have a strong relationship with the growers and if possible insist on organic and pesticide free crops. When buying from a new company ask to see the certificate of impurity. This is done for every batch by a specialised chemist. This certificate shows the result of a Gas Liquid Chromatogram (and other tests) with a list and percentage of all the chemicals found in an oil.  The information should also have the botanical classification and origin. Each bottle should be clearly labelled with best before dates and batch numbers too.

So to buy effective good quality oils ask a qualified aromatherapist and to really test which are right for you ask a kinesiologist/aromatherapist 

Any further questions email me Jo@johayns-serenity.co.uk

To buy oils and bases visit my website http://uk.nyrorganic.com/shop/JoHayns