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Essential Oils

Essential oils are aromatic non-greasy plant extracts, produced using various methods such as steam distillation, expression, solvent extraction, or maceration. Depending on the plant and the way in which the oil is extracted they fall into three categories:

  • Base Note oils: These are composed of the largest molecules and therefore disperse more slowly (up to 7 days). They are usually deeply relaxing and grounding. Examples are Sandalwood and Rose.
  • Middle Note oils: These have a mix of small and large molecules, and therefore disperse after 2 to 3 days. They are usually balancing and centring. Examples are Lavender and Geranium.
  • Top Note oils: These have tiny molecules and can have an instant effect lasting up to 24 hours. They are usually uplifting, opening, releasing. Examples are citrus oils such as Lemon and herb oils such as Clary Sage.

When blending oils for your treatment an aromatherapist will normally try and pick an oil from each category, to give you both an immediate and lasting effect. When blending it is important to consider which oils blend well together.

Absorption of essential oils is more thorough than you might think. They are absorbed through the skin during massage or topical application, and from there pass directly into the bloodstream. Also, there are many nerve endings in the nose that respond to essential oil air-borne particles, which transmit messages to the brain and can evoke memories or release hormones. And finally they can be inhaled into the lungs and from there be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It is therefore not surprising that an aromatherapy massage enables the therapeutic properties of the essential oils used to be fully realised by the body, especially if the client is encouraged not to shower for 12 hours afterwards. Other ways of enjoying essential oils are in the bath; topical application in creams, gels, bath oils; inhalation through vaporisers, oil burners, candles; and even a few drops in the iron or vacuum cleaner.

The ONLY oils that can be used neat on the skin are Lavender and Tea tree. You should always perform a skin test before using an essential oil, as occasionally there may be an allergic reaction. Just dilute, dab a bit on the inside of your wrist, and wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. Also, essential oils should never be taken internally, diluted or otherwise. If you have any doubts about use of specific oils it is always best to consult a qualified practitioner, as they are trained in the properties and safety requirements of each essential oil.

Essential Oils: A to D

Basil - Top Note: A calming, uplifting oil, both warming and cooling. It is known for its ability to alleviate nervous problems, such as anxiety and mental fatigue, as it promotes calm and mental clarity. It is also good for aches and pains, the immune system, and digestive and respiratory conditions.

Blends well with: Bergamot, Black Pepper, Clary Sage, Fennel, Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Lemongrass, Lime, Melissa, Niaouli, Patchouli, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage.

Bay - Top Note: A warming, stimulating, spicy oil, great as a scalp stimulant when diluted in a hair rinse for dandruff, greasy hair, and promoting growth. Also good for muscular and joint aches and pains, neuralgia, poor circulation, rheumatism, sprains, strains, colds, flu, and infections. Often used in aftershaves and hair lotions.

Blends well with: Citrus oils, Coriander, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Ginger, Juniper, Lavender, Rose, Rosemary, Spice oils, Thyme, Ylang Ylang.

Benzoin - Base Note: An uplifting, warming, drying, comforting oil, good for poor circulation, skin conditions, respiratory congestion, and gout. It is also good for depression and loneliness, bringing clarity and calm. It has a strong sweet vanilla odour!

Blends well with: Cypress, Frankincense, Jasmine, Juniper, Lemon, Peppermint, Petitgrain, Rose, Sandalwood.

Bergamot - Top Note: A refreshing, uplifting, and balancing oil, known particularly for it’s powerful antiseptic properties in relation to skin, mouth, respiratory, and urinary conditions. It can build confidence and is effective for treating depression.

Blends well with: Black Pepper, Chamomiles, Clary Sage, Cypress, Frankincense, Geranium, Jasmine, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon, Neroli, Orange, Petitgrain, Palmarosa, Rosemary, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang.

Black Pepper - Base Note: A warming, drying, stimulating, strengthening oil, known for its ability to ease aches and pains after sports. It is also know for its digestive properties and ability to clear congestion (physical and mental). A masculine oil.

Blends well with: Citrus oils, Spicy Floral oils, Frankincense, Lavender, Marjoram, Rosemary, Sandalwood.

Cedarwood - Base Note: A warming, drying, strengthening oil, good for treating respiratory conditions (especially clearing catarrh), arthritis, rheumatism, and skin conditions including excess oiliness. It is also good for nervous stress/tension as it is calming and strengthening.

Blends well with: Benzoin, Cypress, Juniper, Melissa, Patchouli, Pine, Rose, Sandalwood, Vetiver.

Chamomile, German - Middle Note: A cooling, soothing, and uplifting oil, well known for easing digestive problems and it’s anti-inflammatory properties. Use in a compress over parts of the body that require treatment. It is bright blue and some people either dislike it’s smell or find it overpowering. It is also good for easing mental or emotional upset and irritability.

Blends well with: Benzoin, Bergamot, Clary Sage, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon, Marjoram, Neroli, Patchouli, Roman Chamomile, Rose, Rosemary, Tea tree, Ylang Ylang.

Chamomile, Roman - Middle Note: A cooling, calming, and uplifting oil, well known for easing digestive problems and muscular aches and pains. It can clear mental paralysis and as such is good for easing anxiety and tension. It shares many properties with German Chamomile but is thought to be better if an antispasmodic effect is required.

Blends well with: Bergamot, Clary Sage, Geranium, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Lavender (Sleep…), Lemon, Lemongrass, Neroli, Orange, Palmarosa, Petigrain, Rosemary, Rose, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang.

Cinnamon Bark - Top Note: A warming, stimulating, spicy oil, energising and uplifting. It is a strong antiseptic and has a cleansing effect, and is best used as a room fragrance. In an essential oil burner it will blend wonderfully with oils such as Frankincense and Orange, and is a big favourite at Christmas.

Blends well with: Benzoin, Clove, Frankincense, Mandarin, Orange, Ylang Ylang.

Citronella - Top Note: An uplifting and calming oil, well known for it’s use as an insect repellent, and also good for stomach upsets, colds, fever, flu, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It has a strong, fresh, sweet lemon aroma.

Blends well with: Citrus Oils, Cedarwood (with which it is traditionally blended for use as an insect repellent), Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Tea Tree, and Thyme.

Clary Sage - Top Note: A cooling, calming, uplifting oil, good for high blood pressure and throat and respiratory infections. It is also good for addressing female hormonal imbalances and treating anxiety and depression. It is a general nerve tonic.

Blends well with: Citrus oils, Cedarwood, Frankincense, Geranium, Jasmine, Juniper, Lavender, Lemongrass, Pine, Sandalwood.

Clove Bud - Top Note: A warming, stimulating, and spicy oil, well known for it’s ability to sooth toothache, and also good for aches and pains, bronchitis, sinusitis, bowel spasms, dysentery, enteritis, memory loss, and neuralgia. It is a strong air antiseptic.

Blends well with: Bergamot, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Lavender, Orange (Sweet), Rose, and Ylang ylang.

Coriander - Top Note: A warming, comforting, and refreshing oil, good for everyday muscular aches and pains. Also good for eliminating excess fluids or toxins, arthritis, gout, poor circulation, rheumatism, digestive system problems, colds, flu, infections, and measles. Helps to alleviate nervous exhaustion, migraines, and neuralgia.

Blends well with: Bergamot, Citronella, Clary Sage, Cypress, Frankincense, Ginger, Jasmine, Neroli, Pine, Sandalwood, Spice oils.

Cypress - Base Note: A warming, drying, strengthening oil, useful where there is an excessive loss of fluid, e.g. sweating, menstrual, and incontinence. It is also good for respiratory conditions and strengthens glandular function.

Blends well with: Benzoin, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon, Mandarin, Marjoram, Orange, Peppermint, Pine, Sandalwood.
Available in our aromatherapy shop: Essential OilsNew Window


The following books were referenced for this section:
Aromatherapy – A Practical Approach by Vicki Pitman
The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless

See our full range of Aromatherapy books in the Further Exploration section.

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