Most of us believe that smelling a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers can turn frowns upside down. Why, then, has aromatherapy—which uses volatile plant oils, including essential oils, to promote well-being—been a tougher sell? For one thing, sound science is hard to come by. "Essential oils work physiologically, but they also work psychologically because people relate the smell to other experiences," says Laura DuPriest, a cosmetologist and aesthetician in Sacramento, Calif. "There aren't a lot of scientific studies on essential oils because it's difficult to take away that frame of reference, that history with the smell."
That's changing. Researchers have found that essential oils can promote physical health—for example, by killing off the deadly methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus and E. coli bacteria—and they have proof that essential oils can alter emotional states. Certain scents are especially effective at lifting the spirits, boosting energy and reducing stress, some of the most pressing concerns of an ever-busy and aging population. And shoppers are catching on to aromatherapy's benefits: From 2004 to 2005, essential oil sales increased 14 percent from $12.8 million to $14.6 million, according to SPINScan Natural. Here's how to help your customers use aromatherapy to boost their sagging energy.
Why blend oils?
Although individual oils provide unique effects, many experts recommend blending several oils for a synergistic application. When putting oils together, Mindy Green, an aromatherapist based in Minneapolis, considers the efficacy of oils, but to dial in the actual scent she thinks about odor intensities as much as healing properties. "Blending is very much an art," Green explains. "I create a pleasant blend to my nose. If it doesn't smell good, no one is going it use it." For example, take a blend of grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) and peppermint (Mentha piperita). Green would include more drops of mildly scented grapefruit than powerful smelling peppermint. "If I don't adjust the amounts, the blend won't seem like equal proportions," she says.
Likewise, DuPriest often uses agreeable scents to tone down what might be a beneficial albeit off-putting smell. "If one scent is strong and less pleasant, then I blend it with another pleasant scent, such as peppermint," she says.
If your customer rises from bed tired or feels her energy wane by mid-morning, she can blend 60 drops of black spruce (Picea mariana) with 40 drops of pine ( Pinus sylvestris) in a half-ounce bottle topped off with a few drops of grapeseed oil, a light carrier that allows essential oils to travel faster for quicker results. Both black spruce and pine invigorate and revitalize the body and support the adrenals, according to Corinne Adrion Israelsen, N.D., president of Almarome in Salt Lake City. For a fast fix, tell customers to apply 10 drops of this mixture to the lower and mid-back twice a day morning and night for seven days.
If people lose energy later in the day, they might try Green's blend of two parts rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis), three parts grapefruit and one part peppermint. A pick-me-up aromatherapy bath includes five to eight drops of the essential oil blend put into a tub full of water. For sensitive skin, mix one teaspoon carrier oil with the essential oil blend before adding it to the bath. "I use this if I work all day and have to go out at night," says Green.
Shakespeare had it right: Rosemary is for remembrance, according to a study in the January 2003 International Journal of Neuroscience, which showed this essential oil enhances overall memory. And peppermint shows promise for stimulating us physically by making us move, according to the July 2005 issue of Archives of Pharmacal Research.
For all-day energy, customers can try a blend of sage (Salvia officinalis), myrtle (Myrtus communis) and peppermint in equal parts, according to DuPriest. Peppermint stimulates brain activity and is pleasing to us. "It reminds us of Christmas candy," DuPriest says. Sage improves memory, alertness and mood, according to research in the Jan. 17, 2005 issue of Physiology & Behavior. Although essential oils can be diluted in lotion or carrier oil and applied to skin, DuPriest prefers to inhale them. For a boost any time of day, tell customers to put a couple drops in a cotton-filled container and inhale a few times. "It's like a morning cup of coffee," DuPriest says. Or they can create a spray in a proportion of one part essential oil to eight parts water. "I need energy all day," says DuPriest. "I keep this blend in my desk. I have it in my car." When she needs a lift, she simply mists the air in front of her and breathes.
If frequent travel and jet lag cause energy to sag, a drop of peppermint on the tongue can provide an instant lift. "It will put you back on track in seconds," says Israelsen, who suggests doing this two to three times a day only when the need arises. "If you take too much, it will invert the effect." The multitasking and balancing peppermint oil also helps relieve upset stomach and vertigo. But Israelsen cautions against taking essential oils other than peppermint internally, and before using peppermint in this way, people should choose a high-quality oil made for this application. "If you don't know where oils come from, then don't use [them] internally," says Israelsen.
Energy deficits tend to result from being overworked, depressed, sleep-deprived, nutrient-deficient and more. And those symptoms usually "rotate around stress," says Israelsen. For lasting health and energy, then, it's important not just to rev your body, but to calm the system and help it recover and heal.
To that end, Israelsen recommends a blend of 22 drops of orange petitgrain leaves (Citrus aurantium), 22 drops of mandarin zest (Citrus reticulate), 22 drops of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), 11 drops of verbena (Lippia citriodora) and 11 drops of ylang ylang (Cananga odorata). Mix this blend with 12 milliliters of grapeseed oil for a half-ounce mixture. According to a study in the September 2005 Physiology & Behavior, both orange and lavender scents reduced anxiety and improved the moods of dental patients. The other essential oils in the blend also work to relax and relieve stress, according to Israelsen. She suggests that people apply four to five drops of this relaxing and uplifting blend to their wrists or chest at the end of the day or before bedtime. They also can simply take a whiff of this concoction. Or if customers suffer nervous fatigue, they can mix 20 to 30 drops of the blend with one pound of Celtic sea salt and add to a warm bath. After soaking for 10 to 15 minutes, they should lightly towel off and go rest for the same amount of time they bathed. "This blend helps you recover and have a good night's sleep," says Israelsen. "It's not as potent as a sleeping pill, but it takes the edge off."
Another way to rebuild energy reserves is Green's blend of one part basil (Ocimum basilicum), three parts fir (Abies alba) and two parts lemon (Citrus limon). "It's more restorative than jumpstarting," says Green, who uses this blend to relieve stress. "You can inhale it, but I like the physical properties of putting it on. Water is such a restorative medium." For the bath, put five to eight drops of the blend into the water. Or if skin is sensitive, mix one teaspoon of carrier oil into the essential oil blend before adding to the tub. For massage, people can use 10 drops of the essential oil blend in one ounce of carrier oil, such as almond oil.
Why use aromatherapy?
Unlike other energy-boosting options, aromatherapy may work best for those who are looking for an immediate kick. "It works really fast," says Israelsen. Some herbs and supplements have a similar action to essential oils, but it can take time to reap their benefits. "If you're looking for a solution today that doesn't tax the system, go with essential oils," says Israelsen. "Plus, for a lot of people, aromatherapy is a real pleasure."
Pamela Emanoil is the managing editor of Delicious Living magazine and a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 110, 112