INTRO TO AROMATHERAPY
& AROMATHERAPY SAFETY
Copyright Aroma Queen 2017
Whether you're completely new to aromatherapy, interested in additional reading on various aspects of the world of Aromatherapy, or just brushing up on the subject, this page covers easy-to-read information on the following topics:
* What is Aromatherapy?
* True Oils vs Synthetic vs Blended
* How Can I Tell if an Oil is the Real Deal?
* Aroma Queen Premium Oils - And Are They Therapeutic Grade?
* Can I Ingest Essential Oils? - SEE ALSO 'AROMATHERAPY - THE INGESTION QUESTION' for more discussion
* What is the Difference Between Essential and Carrier Oils?
* Aromatherapy Safety Notes
FOR ADDITIONAL READING visit our HOW TO USE YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS and other LEARN MORE pages, or visit our AQ FACEBOOK 'NOTES' PAGE where we regularly publish blogs, notes and recipes regarding Aromatherapy and other natural products - don't forget to LIKE the page while you're there to let us know if you've found it helpful!
WHAT IS AROMATHERAPY?
Put simply, AROMATHERAPY is the controlled use of plant-derived aromatic oils for medicinal purposes - whether to remedy a cold, assist in healing a burn, to uplift or reduce stress, or even to aid the insomniac in falling asleep. Basically speaking, Aromatherapy concerns the effects of pure and natural Essential Oils on both the body and the mind, achieved by absorbing the oils through the skin via methods such as massage, compresses or aromatic baths, or via the nose using oil diffusers, inhalers or vaporisers. Pure essential oils have varying documented therapeutic benefits, from oils that have an influence mentally (eg calming or sedative, uplifting, energising and even aphrodisiac), to specific effects on the body (eg respiratory, stomachic, bronchial, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, rubefacient / warming), or against germs and bacteria (oils with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal qualities etc). The list goes on: if you have a specific issue that needs treating, chances are there is an oil that can help - naturally.
TRUE OILS VS SYNTHETIC VS BLENDED
Essential Oils are completely plant derived, with the oil extracted from various plant parts including seeds, rind, petals, leaves, twigs, roots, bark or heartwood. Some are cold pressed, eg the rind/peel from citrus fruit; others are steam distilled, which is the most common method; the ones that are more precious, come from very delicate petals, or don't yield much oil are often solvent or CO2 extracted to obtain the most oil. All of these different methods, and the fact that some plants yield less oil or are harder to grow, mean that prices vary greatly from one oil to the next. Rose Oil, for example, takes up to 30 FULL FLOWERS to produce just ONE DROP of essential oil. That's why it costs so much, though as with most oils, the essential oil (or absolute, as solvent-extracted oils are called) is an extremely concentrated oil, so you don't need to use much at a time. While oils such as Rose, Jasmine, Neroli or Sandalwood can be quite a financial investment, other oils such as Sweet Orange, Eucalyptus or Camphor, are significantly cheaper as they are much less expensive to produce.
A true essential oil is 100% pure, just the natural oil that has been extracted from the plant, with nothing added. This is the type of oil that we use in aromatherapy.
On the other side of the coin, we have Fragrant / Perfume oils, which are simply synthetic copies - they are made up of a combination of chemicals, with the intention of emulating a certain scent. You'll find these for a couple of dollars each in your local discount store, alongside candy-flavoured scents you won't usually find as an essential oil, such as Peach, Coconut or Strawberry. These kind of 'fragrant oils' are also found in the candlemaking industry, with literally thousands of fragrances available - some sounding like natural plants or flowers, others with 'perfumey' names like 'bubblegum', 'baby powder' or 'Chanel No 5 Type'. These synthetic oils have absolutely no therapeutic qualities, and many are also believed to be toxic or even carcinogenic, though in low enough readings to be approved as legally 'safe' to sell. There are many names for these, most of which try to make the product sound less chemical and thus more desirable - terms such as parfum, perfume, scent, fragrance, fragrant oil, essence. They're all pretty much the same - synthetic, and these have no place in the realm of aromatherapy as they have no therapeutic benefit whatsoever.
Unfortunately there's often confusion as to whether an oil is natural or man-made, mainly because marketing companies aim to tap into the fact that many people do prefer to use natural products. So they'll bandy the word 'Aromatherapy' into their advertising even if there's no plant-based essential oils in their product and it's scented entirely with synthetic perfumes.
Or to be underhanded, a company will use MOSTLY synthetic fragrances and add a tiny token amount of essential oil in with them, and then advertise that it's 'made with essential oils'. Yes, this may be true, but they're not advertising the fact that it's actually MOSTLY synthetic. To start to understand what is genuine / natural, and what is just marketing hype, try this trick: read the ingredients list of some of the scented products in your local supermarket or gift shop, items such as 'aromatherapy air fresheners', 'aromatherapy candles', 'reed diffusers' or 'aromatherapy skincare'. If the ingredients list says 'Parfum', 'Perfume', 'Fragrance', or anything along those lines, then it contains synthetic fragrance. The higher up the list, the more there is of that ingredient as it's Australian law to quote your ingredients in the order that they are most prevalent. So if it says 'Parfum' high up, and 'Essential Oil' (or a Latin plant name) as one of the last ingredients, then it probably contains just a token inclusion of essential oil for the sake of gloating about it in the advertising blurbs - probably in an amount too low to be of any aromatherapeutic benefit. Ultimately it's cheaper (and sometimes more reliable) for a company to use synthetic perfumes than it is to use pure essential oils, which is why it's so rare to find commercial items without any synthetic additives.
It doesn't help matters that many companies selling 'oils' also twist the names or terminology, and call themselves things like 'Queenie's Essentials' or label their oils 'Essential Fragrances', to give the impression that they're selling pure essential oils, or show up in a web search alongside the natural versions. It can all be very confusing if you don't understand the correct terminology, and these companies are banking on that confusion.
HOW CAN I TELL IF AN OIL IS THE REAL DEAL?
If you are looking for oils for use in aromatherapy, then you need to be searching for pure 'Essential Oils'. A pure essential oil doesn't have anything added to it - no preservatives, fillers or chemicals, and isn't diluted in a carrier oil (some expensive oils are available as 3% in jojoba, which means it's a very diluted essential oil - still useful in aromatherapy, but difficult to use in burners or blended with other oils).
A quality essential oil should give you the full plant name (eg Roman Chamomile instead of just 'Chamomile' - there are many types available and some are more useful than others, so you need to know which type you are purchasing). Many oils also need to list what part of the plant has been used (eg Cinnamon Bark or Cinnamon Leaf, the oil from the leaf being inferior to that of the bark, so again you need to know what you are buying). It should also give you the full Latin plant name, as the genus of plant has a big bearing on the quality of the oil and any benefits that you're going to get from it. If a seller doesn't advertise, or can't tell you any of this information, then it's unlikely to be a real, plant-based oil.
A pure essential oil must be derived from a single plant type, not a 'blend' of different plants or plant extracts. The oil should be from the one country of origin - if that isn't guaranteed then it means the oil is probably a 'blended natural', 'blended origin' or 'nature identical' type, which can be a blend of various extracts from different plants, or cheaper oils from different countries, resulting in an oil with a similar scent to a pure oil but not necessarily the same therapeutic qualities. Terms such as these are used very loosely, so often a re-seller may not admit that their oils are created using these methods, they'll simply call them essential oils - even if the oil is made from reconstituted extracts. If you're unsure about the quality of an oil, then looking for extra information such as a single country of origin or plant genus, may give you an indication of whether the oil is a good quality, true and natural oil.
As we mentioned above, natural essential oils will also vary greatly in price, which is a great indicator of how reliable a supplier is. If a seller has a full range of oils that are all roughly the same price, then it's almost guaranteed that they are synthetic. Some oils are incredibly easy and cheap to produce: citrus oils or common oils like eucalyptus will be at the cheaper end of the scale, usually priced under $10 a bottle; precious oils that are the most difficult to extract oil from, are in shortage due to climactic conditions such as drought or flood, or are rarer / harder to grow (such as Rose, Sandalwood or Jasmine) are likely to cost hundreds of dollars a bottle. If a precious oil (eg Rose) is cheap, and the price seems too good to be true, then it probably IS too good to be true. There is no cheap way of creating quality pure Rose oil, full stop. If it's priced cheaply, or the same price as all the common oils, then sadly it's either synthetic, reconstituted, padded out with a mix of 'Roselike' natural chemicals from other plants such as Palmarosa, or a 'blended natural' which blends various 'natural' extracts from different plants together to create a similar scented but therapeutically inferior oil. We call pure oils like Rose or Jasmine 'precious' as they are hard to come by, but incredibly valued when you are lucky enough to get some for your collection. In the same way that a cubic zirconia cannot replace a true diamond, there is no way to skimp on quality oils and expect to get the same value from them when using them in aromatherapy.
A pure oil must also be stored in amber, cobalt or green glass to preserve it, as essential oils are susceptible to light. Make sure that any essential oil you are looking to buy has been packaged correctly - if it's packaged in clear glass it still COULD be a natural oil, but it also indicates that the seller hasn't packaged it in a way that will preserve its use as an oil suitable for use in aromatherapy. Avoid also any oils packaged in plastic - most pure essential oils will eat through plastic and it's generally accepted that you should never store them in a plastic bottle unless they are extremely diluted in a carrier oil or other medium (carrier oils are fine stored in plastic).
Having a basic understanding of what makes a good essential oil can go a long way into figuring out whether you are purchasing the real thing, and a little time spent researching your suppliers can help you understand whether you can expect good value and quality oils when purchasing from them. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you're unsure - most sellers are happy to help answer any queries.
AROMA QUEEN PREMIUM OILS - Are They Therapeutic Grade?
What's the difference between PREMIUM oils and cheaper oils? Why is it worth paying a little more?
PLANT PARTS: Many lower grade oils use cheaper plant parts. For eg, Cinnamon Leaf rather than Cinnamon Bark, which is considered to have better therapeutic properties. Similarly Clove Bud oil is considered of higher quality than Clove Leaf oil, and Juniper Berry yields better quality oil than Juniper oil extracted from the plant's small branches.
PLANT TYPE: Some plant genuses produce better oils than others in their family, so a good quality oil will use these choices rather than cheaper, inferior species. For example, Pine Scotch (Pinus sylvestris) or Cedarwood Atlas (Cedarus atlantica) are more desirable than some of the related alternatives. Chamomile Roman or German are not to be confused with cheaper and therapeutically inferior Chamomile Maroc - while it's vaguely related, the oils are quite different and buying the cheaper version is unlikely to provide the therapeutic benefits you could expect from the Roman or German varieties. Rosemary French 'verbenone' is better suited to application to skin than the less expensive Tunisian 'cineole' variety. Good oils should always clearly display the Latin plant name, so you know which type you are buying.
GRADE: Many oils are available in varying grade, with the earlier 'skims' producing a stronger and higher quality oil, and the later skims resulting in a watered down 'commercial' grade, which is generally lower in many of the chemical constituents that are revered for their therapeutic benefits. The scent can also be much weaker or poorer in commercial grade oils, which are also often made from inferior plant parts (the whole flower instead of just the petals, for eg). 'Commercial quality' or lower grade oils often have little fragrance, or reduced therapeutic benefits.
ORIGIN: Premium oils usually feature the best quality oils available, which may mean they come from a country whose climate / environment produces the best results, compared to other countries who may be able to produce cheap oils that aren't up to the same quality. It may be quite surprising to compare the scents of two oils from the same plant (eg commercial Lavender and High Altitude French Lavender) as they can be almost entirely different. While scent isn't everything, it's also often a good indicator an oil's value therapeutically.
If you're looking for oils for their scent only, then you might find that any oil will suit your purposes. However if you're looking for a therapeutic benefit of any kind, whether it's for the body, mind or against germs or bacteria, then ensuring that the oil you're buying is the correct oil for that purpose may mean the difference between whether that oil works for you or not.
We are often asked if our Aroma Queen Essential Oils are 'Therapeutic Grade'. Here's the thing: There is no such grading system as 'therapeutic grade', it's just a term that's been trademarked by some companies to indicate that their oils are pure, and of a quality good enough to be used for their therapeutic benefits - in exactly the same way that ours are - yet as the term is trademarked, no other companies are allowed to use the term. Sadly, this can be used as a marketing ploy to try to put you off using oils from other companies, suggesting that only oils that say that they're 'therapeutic grade' are good enough to use - even though it's not an actual 'grade'. Please have a read of our LEARN MORE 'INGESTION QUESTION' article for a more detailed discussion on this.
The truth is, as long as an essential oil is a pure oil that comes from a plant known to have medicinal values, then it can be used therapeutically, regardless of the brand or the terminology on the label. For certain there are differing qualities of oils, depending on the country of origin, plant type, plant part and distillation methods, but if you have a recipe that calls for use of a certain brand's oils, then you CAN substitute it with a good quality pure essential oil from any other company. It's the plant (and the distillation) that makes an oil valuable - not the brand name.
CAN WE SUPPLY MSDS / ANALYSIS SHEETS FOR OUR OILS?
Aroma Queen has been providing quality essential oils since 2005 and we continue to source our oils only from established, reputable distillers who are renowned for their reliability and consistency, and who we have come to trust over many years of supplying aromatherapy products. As we source our oils from a number of distillers worldwide to ensure that we can offer the best from each region, and as we specialise in smaller batches so that each oil is as fresh as possible, it is impossible for us to be able to offer lab analysis data for each oil that we stock without adding extra costs and charges onto every bottle that we sell. While we are confident in the quality and authenticity of all of our products, if you'd like to compare our oils to your usual brand we do list inexpensive 2ml sample vials for a number of the more common types of oils, including Lavender French, Peppermint Premium and Tea Tree Australian Essential Oils.
CAN I INGEST ESSENTIAL OILS? ARE AQ OILS 'FOOD GRADE'?
This has become quite an issue recently as many companies are advertising that ingesting oil is safe. It is not safe - whether a company calls their oils 'food grade' or not.
'Food Grade', like 'Therapeutic Grade' is not an actual certified grade - it's used as a marketing term. PLEASE READ OUR LEARN MORE 'INGESTION QUESTION' ARTICLE FOR A FULL DISCUSSION OF THIS TOPIC.
In Australia the agreed medical guidelines are that NO essential oil should be ingested unless prescribed for a specific condition by a qualified aromatherapist (ie not the company trying to sell you oils). And so in keeping with the guidelines, we strongly recommend that you do NOT ingest ANY essential oil - this includes swallowing, a drop under the tongue, or even using oils in food preparation. Some international companies tend to ignore the Australian guidelines, and make more lax (and dangerous) recommendations, and we often hear stories of recipes to drink, cook with or swallow all kinds of oils for various health complaints. This is potentially very dangerous, regardless of whether a company claims their oils are ‘food grade’ or not: most essential oils are toxic, even common Eucalyptus oil which can, will and HAS killed children as well as full-grown adults if ingested - a dose as small as 3-4ml can kill a small child. Essential oils are particularly strong and the body is not designed to be able to excrete them completely, and so even if an initial dosage doesn't appear to cause any illness, a toxic buildup over time may result in organ failure, or in extreme cases - death. Being such strong liquids, essential oils do need to be treated with respect.
As the practice of ingesting essential oils goes against Australian guidelines, we request that no Aroma Queen oil be used for this purpose.
What is the difference between ESSENTIAL OILS and CARRIER OILS?
Carrier oils used in aromatherapy are typically cold pressed vegetable oils. They are similar to cooking oils in that they are thicker oils that don't tend to have much scent, however commercial cooking oils are usually 'hot pressed' which yields more oil but destroys any nutrients in that oil; the 'cold press' process used for aromatherapy carrier oils such as Sweet Almond, Rosehip or Jojoba oil, preserves the valuable nutrients in the oils so that they can be used for skincare, moisturisers or other skin applications, with great benefit. Carrier oils are also used for massage, either on their own or with added essential oils, as they have great slip while also being wonderful for the skin. Note - Grapeseed Oil is a cheaper oil often used for massage; it doesn't have any particular skincare benefits so this oil tends to be hot pressed as there are no nutrients to destroy by the process.
Carrier Oils get their name from the fact that they're often used to 'carry' essential oils for application to the skin. While Essential Oils are very concentrated and should never be applied to the skin neat, Carrier Oils are safe to apply directly to the skin undiluted. So these skin-safe vegetable oils make an excellent medium to dilute essential oils into, and 'carry' them to the skin in massage, topical applications or body rubs.
As a general rule, if you want to apply essential oils to the skin, you need to use no more than 3% total essential oil in a carrier oil base for application to the body, and no more than 1% for the face. A helpful hint is that 20 drops of essential oil = approximately 1ml. So, for example, if you're making up a massage oil for the body use no more than 3ml (60 drops) total essential oil for every 100ml of carrier oil - see the table below to calculate how much essential oil to use in your products. Skin creams or balms can also be used as a medium to apply essential oils to the skin (using the same ratios), but avoid petrochemical creams such as sorbolene, as these form a barrier that stops the oils from being absorbed into the skin. Natural vegetable oils work much better as the skin readily absorbs them.
AROMATHERAPY SAFETY NOTES
NEVER APPLY OILS TO SKIN NEAT:
Always dilute essential oils in a natural vegetable CARRIER OIL such as Jojoba, Grapeseed or Sweet Almond oil, or a base cream, before application to the skin. Dilute at no more than 3% total oils for application to the body, or 1% for the face (20drops = approx 1ml). The only exceptions are neat Lavender or Tea Tree, which may be used directly on burns or small wounds. See our separate CARRIER OIL listings in store.
PREGNANCY: As a general rule most Aromatherapists advise against using Essential Oils during pregnancy, though others disagree. Oils to definitely avoid during pregnancy include: Arnica, Basil, Birch, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Cypress, Fennel, Jasmine, Juniper, Marjoram, Myrrh, Peppermint, Rosemary & Thyme. Also steer clear of Lavender & Rose during the first four months of pregnancy.
EPILEPSY: Anyone suffering from epilepsy should avoid Sweet Fennel, Sage & Hyssop.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: People with high blood pressure should stay away from Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage & Thyme.
PHOTOSENSITISATION: A few oils cause photosensitisation, or sensitivity to UV light and should not be applied to skin before exposure to the sun. These include: Angelica, Bergamot (unless 'Bergaptene Free'), Cumin, Lemon, Lime (unless 'Distilled' rather than 'Cold Pressed'), Orange & Verbena.
NEVER INGEST ESSENTIAL OILS: and always KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Even small amounts of Essential Oil may be toxic if swallowed. Immediately contact your local Poisons Hotline if ingested. PLEASE SEE OUR ARTICLE "THE INGESTION QUESTION" for more discussion on this topic, as there is currently a lot of confusion on this matter.
If Essential Oils get into eyes, immediately wash with whole milk or carrier oil, followed by water. Some people may experience an allergic reaction or sensitisation to a specific oil. If this is the case, discontinue use immediately.
Always remember, Aromatherapy is intended to complement, not replace traditional medicine.
TO VIEW OUR AROMATHERAPY SECTION, CLICK HERE
AQ carries a full range of Essential Oils, Oil Blends, Carrier Oils and Accessories (burners, inhalers, cases, kits and more).
Take a look at our HOW TO USE YOUR ESSENTIAL OILS page for easy-to-understand information about using your aromatherapy oils.
The advice within this page is general and not specific to individuals and particular circumstances. Before using herbs, essential oils or other natural treatments, check all cautions and restrictions. Aroma Queen cannot be held responsible for any injury, damage or otherwise resulting from the use of any treatments or products within this website. Do not attempt self-diagnosis or self-treatment for long periods or for serious problems, without first consulting a qualified medical practitioner. Always seek professional medical advice if symptoms persist.