Discover the Many Benefits of Aromatherapy

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Chances are, you've heard of aromatherapy and have experienced it in some form—be it at a spa, hair salon, hotel, or even in your own home. But aside from smelling really good, what else does aromatherapy do for us? A lot of good things, apparently. 

We chatted with registered aromatherapist Dawn Shipley, who offers custom aromatherapy treatments at Cote d'Azur Spa in Pasadena, California.  She gave us the lowdown on the major health and beauty benefits that these special oil blends offer, from decreasing stress levels to helping relieve pain and so much more:

What is aromatherapy and what are its benefits?

Aromatherapy is an amazingly small name for an amazingly huge field relating to the benefits of plant material—specifically volatile essential oils—to the human body in physiological, psychological and spiritual ways. Though the name makes you think it's only about how smelling the plants' essential oils affect emotions, there is much more to it than that. The natural state of an essential oil is being a defense or attraction mechanism, or something along those lines that is beneficial to the plant. In the way it benefits the plant, it may also benefit us. 

Essential oils can act as anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), cicatrisant (wound healing), decongestant, hypotensive (reducing blood pressure), and many more things in the body. One essential oil can have so many different chemical components that it can be used for many different things.

For example, rose (Rosa damascena) has over 500 chemical compounds that make up its delicate but very intricate and deep scent. Not even all these compounds are known to science at this point, but these chemicals work together to make rose wonderfully relaxing, an antidepressant, an aphrodisiac, antiseptic, and much more.

 Registered aromatherapist Dawn Shipley

Registered aromatherapist Dawn Shipley

How did you become a registered aromatherapist? What do you enjoy about it?

It's been a wild and wonderful journey! As a kid I enjoyed making natural beauty treatments with my mom; we'd incorporate the mud from the lake in our backyard, eggs, oatmeal, cucumbers, beer, etc. into our face mask and hair conditioning recipes. I've always enjoyed creating things, whether physical art, software, clothing, food, and now aromatic blends and skin care. My creative skills but desire for a stable career (and something I was good at) led me to get a degree in computer science and work in the software industry for about 15 years.

And then what really changed my life was my health. I found myself having to take time off work for being overstressed. My blood pressure and heart health were in danger, as was my mental stability. I'd already been using a couple of essential oils to make a homemade natural deodorant that didn't leave my armpits feeling sore and toxic, but then in my time off, I learned I could also use essential oils for emotions. And then I learned that I could take a class and learn even more! And it just keeps going like that—there is always something out there to learn when it comes to essential oils, plants and skin care.

I enjoy so many things about it—the adventure of learning, the balance of creative and scientific aspects, blending things to smell good but also provide specific benefits at the same time, and being able to help people.

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How can one incorporate aromatherapy into their daily life?

Aromatherapy is definitely something that can be incorporated into daily life. It's a perfect addition to any healthy lifestyle to maintain homeostasis. With that being said, this is a huge question! There are a lot of ways to do aromatherapy and most are right, but there are a few popular things out there that just don't really make sense. Some pointers:

1) Essential oils should be inhaled, used topically diluted in a carrier oil (or similar), and in the bath. Dilution rates should generally be around 2-3 percent for health adults; less for pregnancy, children, elderly and the ill.

2) Some essential oils should be avoided in certain health conditions. Always check safety information before using an essential oil.

3) Quality is very important when buying essential oils. Look for vendors that share test information per batch of essential oil and have prices that reflect the current market and difficulty of extraction.  For example, rose should be expensive (around $350.00 for 1/2 oz) but something like sweet orange or tea tree that is easy to extract and in abundance should be under $20 per 1/2 oz.

4) A diffuser is a fun, easy way to enjoy essential oils, especially as a beginner. It doesn't take a lot of essential oil, it's easy to use, and it doesn't take a lot of space. Most diffusers require only five to seven drops of essential oil for up to six hours of use. You may not smell the scent so much after the first few minutes as your nose adjusts to it, but you're still getting the benefits.

5) You may have heard that putting essential oils on the bottoms of your feet is effective, but this is not actually so. Though feet are a good way to stimulate nerves through reflexology, aromatherapy does not work through nerve induction in the way that would be helpful. Essential oils are transported through the body through the blood stream. The bottom of the feet have some of the thickest skin, making it difficult for this to occur. 

On the other hand, if you use a foot soak, this works through osmosis and enters the thinner areas of skin on the tops and sides of the feet, so it can be beneficial. It's recommended to use a solubol (something to get the essential oils to mix with the water) when using them in water. A good starting resource for more information on safety, dilution rates and much more is www.naha.org, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

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Do you recommend any particular oils to treat certain conditions?

I wouldn't actually use the word "treat," but essential oils are very beneficial for many conditions.  Some of my favorites are:

Lavender (Lavandula angustifola): This can help with inflammation, pain, wound healing, balancing emotions, relieving stress, headaches, lowering blood pressure, keeping skin looking young, and more.

Lemon (Citrus limon): Lemon and all citruses are very uplifting to the mood, plus they are brightening to the skin and cleansing—even antibacterial and antimicrobial.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis): My favorite thing about rosemary is its ability to quickly remove cobwebs from the brain. It can stimulate thinking and help decrease headaches.

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Who can benefit from aromatherapy? 

Everyone! It's so versatile that anyone can find a use for it, even as simple as just creating a pleasant aroma for the home. A diffuser is probably a good place to start, as mentioned, plus two or three essential oils. Learn about the oils as you buy them and test them out. It's fun and great for your health!

I could go on and on about essential oils! For now I will just note that I have created a line of 100 percent, all-natural aromatherapy-based skin care and wellness products to help people live healthier, cleaner lives and harness the amazing benefits Mother Nature has to offer. You can find them at www.bluedawnaromatherapy.com.

Follow Dawn on Instagram: @bluedawnaromatherapy