French Aromatherapy: Methods of Application
French Aromatherapy utilizes a variety of applications when using essential oils for therapeutic purposes. In general, these applications will fall under one of three main categories: Aromatic, Topical, Internal. I’ll be discussing each of these in a little more detail below.
Aromatic: Diffusing and Inhalation
Perhaps the simplest method of application is aromatic. There are several ways one can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils through their aroma, including direction inhalation (smelling the oils direction from the bottle or using 1-2 drops on a cotton ball, handkerchief, or your pillow case), diffusing, steam inhalation, make your own inhalers, or even making your own smelling salts. In general, aromatic application can be beneficial for:
- reducing stress or anxiety
- promoting relaxation or a restful night’s sleep
- providing relief from discomfort from headaches or migraines
- to minimize motion sickness or nausea
- to enhance focus and concentation while studying
Aromatic diffusion involves the use of an electric diffuser that helps break up the essential oils into microparticles which can then be dispersed throughout the air. You want to make sure to use a cool humidifer rather than one that heats the oils over 55°, as this can cause the breakdown of the therapeutic properties. Also remember that some essential oils, especially citrus, can degrade plastic (that’s why we store them in glass) so make sure to purchase a diffuser that is made of medical grade plastic, or glass, to prolong the use of your machine. Young Living has several diffusers to choose from, including the ones available in the Premium Starter Kit. Some, like the Home and Dewdrop diffusers double as cool-mist humidifiers. The newest diffuser, and a user favorite, is the Rainstone diffuser (pictured) which not only functions as a diffuser but also features a negative ionizer which helps remove pollutants from the air and increases oxygen flow to the brain! This will be my next diffuser for sure!
Aromatic diffusion is especially helpful when wanting to:
- purify the air, in lieu of candles or air fresheners, or to create environmental ambiance
- help reduce stress and minimize depressive or anxiety symptoms
- promote relaxation and a restful night’s sleep
- increase alertness, energy levels or motivation
- to support the immune system and keep your family healthy
- to support the respiratory system
Read the instructions on your diffuser for more detailed directions and follow the times recommended in your resources guides for details on how many drops to use and how long to diffuse.
Safety note: Be cautious diffusing essential oils if you have a history of asthma or epilepsy. Use with caution around small children. Be mindful of which oils you are diffusing and be aware of any contraindications or mucous membrane irritants in your selected oil/blends.
Steam Inhalation is another method of aromatic application. It is one of the classic ways of using essential oils, originating in ancient Egypt and still often used in France for the treatment of common colds, flu and sinus infections. It is a relatively easy method that anyone can do in their own home. To use steam inhalation, simply bring 2 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Pour your water into a large glass bowl and add 2-5 drops of essential oil, or blend, to the water. Place your face above the water and inhale the vapors. You can also place a towel over your head to increase the concentration of the steam inhalation. (Does anyone else automatically think of that scene in Crocodile Dundee 2 where Mick dumps the playboy’s cocaine into a bowl of steaming water to help him clear up his congestion!?! lol)
Steam inhalation is a wonderful option to help:
- provide relief from congestion in the upper respiratory tract (such as common colds or the flu)
- help reduce pressure and breathe easier when you are suffering from a sinus infection or sinusitis
- overall respiratory support
Oils that are beneficial to use with steam inhalation are Laurus nobilis, Myrtle, Pine (to help reduce mucous), Cypress, Lavender, Eucalyptus globulus, and Roman Chamomile.
Safety note: Keep your eyes closed during steam inhalation to avoid irritation. Use with caution if you have a history of asthma. Avoid essential oils rich in phenols, such as Clove and Thyme ct thymol as these can be mucous membrane irritants.
Inhalers are a great DIY project for ease of application or to take your essential oils with you on the go! Check out Sage Marie’s, The Wellness Sage, video on how to make your own inahlers. She also has a new eBook which has tons of great inhaler recipes for you to try out at home!
Smelling Salts are yet another way you can make your own blend to use for inhalation. Combine your desired essential oils (using 3-5 desired oils, 20-30 drops total) to create a synergy, or essential oil blend in a 10 ml bottle. Fill the remainder of the bottle with sea salt, can be fine or coarse. Simply waft the bottle under your nose while taking deep inhalations. You can do this 3 to 4 times per day or as needed.
Topical: Cutaneous or Dermal Application
Because essential oil molecules tend to be lipophilic (they combine with or dissolve in fat) they have a unique ability to penetrate the dermal layers of the skin. Essential oils rich in monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and esters have especially strong penetrating power. Topical, also known as cutaneous or dermal, application is the most widely used method of essential oil application. The absorption of essential oils into the skin allows for a local effect (just the area of the skin that is covered), a regional affect on the tissue and organs under the skin (through applications like deep tissue massage), and even a general effect by being absorbed into the blood stream. There are many methods of topical application, including:
- facial or body creams, oils, serums, butters or exfoliants (scrubs)
- massage oils or lotions
- full body baths, hand and foot baths, or sitz baths
- warm or cool compresses
Topical use of essential oils is the preferred method of administration for many conditions, including:
- to moisturize and promote healthy skin
- to slow the visible effects of aging on the skin
- to assist with ridding the skin of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
- to relieve itching
- to reduce inflammation
- to help promote cellular regeneration and healing of skin, preventing scar tissue formation
- to address musculoskeletal issues, including aches and pains, spasms, and sprains
- to relieve stress and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
Most often topical application will involve diluting the essential oil with a carrier oil of some kind but some are gentle enough to be used neat, or undiluted. Traditionally, dilution can range anywhere from a 0.5% solution to 10% depending on many factors including: age, constitution/terrain, pregnancy, use or intention, and the specific essential oil. Some trained aromatherapists may even use oils in 20, 30, 50 or even 100% dilution for specific uses. A good rule of thumb to follow with regards to dilution is:
- 0.25-0.5% for infants 6 months or older, the elderly, individuals with a poor constitution, or immunocompromised individuals
- 1 % for children ages 2-5 years old
- 1-2% for use when pregnant or breastfeeding
- 1-5% for facial serums, creams, or exfolliants
- 2-5% for stress management, to support the nervous or endocrine systems, for general massage lotions and oils and for body butters and lotions
- 7% to promote wound healing, to support the lymphatic and circulatory systems and for stronger massage concentrations for localized treatments
- 10% to musculoskeletal support, including inflammation of the joints, tendons and muscles as well as for deep tissues massage, trauma injury, and to make salves
- 20% is the highest dilution recommended for oils that can be dermacaustic (irritating to the skin), these include essential oils rich in phenols and aldehydes
- 30% for localized action, acute musculoskeletal trauma, and for the treatment of warts and worms
- 30-50% for gentle essential oils and those used for acute treatments
- 100%, or neat/undiluted for localized frictions (undiluted, 1:1 or 1:2 essential oil combinations use for localized treatment), especially for use to help calm bronchial spasms and as an expectorant
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for how to determine a specific dilution percentage. And remember, less is often more with essential oils. Always start with lower dilutions to make sure that the individual will not experience any irritation before increasing your dilution. And always do a patch test (Mix a very small amount of essential oil/carrier at twice the concentration you plan to use. Using the inside of the forearm, apply a couple drops of your double concentration mix to the pad of a Band-Aid and keep the bandage on the skin. You may repeat to check for allergic sensitivity).
Often you will hear that you should apply essential oils to the Solar Plexus. But what is the Solar Plexus? Basically it is concentration of nerves belonging to the sympathetic nervous system that are linked to the stomach, liver and spleen. The role of the solar plexus is to aid in digestive function and the absorption of food and nutrients. It is located in the middle of your belly button and the tip of your sternum, you might refer to this point as the “pit of your stomach” when you feel anxiety or loss. In Ayurveda, yoga, and some forms of meditation the solar plexus is associated with the Manipura chakra point. This chakra point is the source of our personal power and self-esteem, transformation, and our warrior energy.
In French Aromatherapy, it may be recommended to apply essential oil(s) or blends to the solar plexus. It is believed that this application helps calm the nervous system, can aid in digestion or soothe digestive distress, and provides overall support to the individual’s terrain. It is usually recommended to massage the oils into the solar plexus or other vital organ areas in a clockwise manner.
Vita Flex is Gary Young’s reflexology method based on an ancient Tibetan technique that means “vitality through the reflexes.” The premise is that slight pressure applied to reflex points throughout the body can stimulate all the internal body systems. When applying essential oils to specific reflex points an electrical charge is released which sends energy throughout the body via neuroelectrical pathways. The idea is that this electrical energy will travel throughout the nervous system following these pathways until it reaches a break in the electrical circuit, usually caused by damaged tissues, toxins, or loss of oxygen. Vita Flex is different from common reflexology techniques due to the gentle rolling and releasing motion using the fingertips. You will often see references to applying essential oils on the bottoms of the feet according to the Vita Flex chart and it is a complement to Gary Young’s Raindrop Massage technique. You can find more information about both these techniques in the Essential Oil Pocket and Desk Reference Guides available through Life Science Publishing.
Safety Notes: Essential oils rich in phenols, such as carvacol, cinnamic aldehyde, eugenol, and thymol as well as aldehydes, such as citronellal, citral, geranial, and neral may be skin irritants or sensitizers. These oils should always be diluted prior to topical application. Examples include: Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Clove, Cintronella, Ginger, Lemon, Lemongrass, Lime, and Melissa. In addition, some oils can cause photosensitization, or a darkening or burning of the skin when exposed to UV light. Some pharmaceuticals, like tetracycline, may exacerbate this reaction as well. Use caution with sun exposure when using potential photosensitizing oils. These oils include: Angelica, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, and Lime.
Internal: Oral, Suppositories, or Pessaries
Perhaps the most controversial method of essential oil application is through internal use. This appears to be unique to French Aromatherapy and is often shunned by essential oil users that follow English or Anglo-Saxon Aromatherapy guidelines. However, when properly trained, internal use of essential oils can be utilized safely for a number of conditions. There are three main ways that essential oils can be used internally: taken orally, through rectal suppositories, or through vaginal pessaries.
The oral route involves ingesting essential oils through the mouth where they are passed into the digestive tract. Essential oils can be ingested using honey, sugar cubes or alcohol as a delivery medium or through the use of gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, syrups, or pastilles/lozenges. I personally like to add essential oils to my herbal tea to support my immune, digestive, and/or respiratory systems. I like to sweeten my tea with honey so I will get a spoonful of honey, drop 1-2 drops of my desired essential oil into the honey, stir with a toothpick to disperse the oil, then stir the honey mixture into my prepared tea (after I have removed the tea bag – you don’t want the tea bag to absorb your precious oils!). Some like to drink water with essential oils to help detox or flush the system or for weight management. It should be noted that oils and water do not mix and your oils will tend to float on the surface (so shake before each drink) and there is the possibility of mucous membrane irritation with this route if you are particularly sensitive. You can add a small crystal of Himalayan salt to your water which will help bind the essential oils or you can premix an oil blend with a fatty oil, like Olive Oil, which will envelop the essential oils and help prevent irritation as they are ingested. Remember to always use glass or stainless steel, not plastic, if you choose to add essential oils to your drinks.
Rectal suppositories are another method of internal application. Suppositories are an effective means of delivering the essential oils into the circulatory system bypassing the digestive system where some of the therapeutic properties of the essential oils may be lost due to hepatic metabolism. They are especially powerful for the treatment of lower respiratory infections, bronchial disorders, constipation, hemorrhoids or rectal fissures.
And vaginal pessaries, a form of suppository, is the third method of internal application. They are generally utilized for vaginal infections, like Candida (Thrush), to soothe irritation in the vaginal canal, or to help with vaginal dryness.
Safety note: You should be proficient in your knowledge of essential oils or under the care of a trained aromatherapist before using essential oils internally. Make sure to research any essential oil you ingest or apply internally and know the safety precautions and contraindications of that oil before using. Remember essential oils are powerful and small doses may be very effective. A general rule of thumb is no more than 12 drops of your essential oil or synergy should be used internally per day. Some practitioners use more than this dosage safely and effectively but they have extensive experience with essential oils and know how their body reacts to them before beginning these regimens. For more information or training on the internal use of essential oils I highly recommend the French Aromatherapy course I’m taking through East-West School for Herbal and Aromatic Studies!
- Reference material provided by East-West School for Herbal and Aromatic Studies as part of their French Aromatherapy certification class
- Chakra information from The Chopra Center
- Vita Flex information from The Essential Oils Pocket Reference Guide, 6th edition from Life Science Publishers
Note: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. I am an aromatherapy student but I am not a medical doctor. Products and techniques mentioned here are to help support your specific areas of concern and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Information here is in no way intended to replace proper medical help. Consult with the health authorities of your choice for treatment.