Can you smell your way to happiness? According to current research, inhaling natural essential oils does affect the chemicals in brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins that are key to our sense of well-being. Lavender, peppermint, and patchouli are some of the most commonly used scents, so common in fact, that you might find them less than appealing. If the old standards are making your nose wrinkle—in a bad way—there are so many more to try, blend, and experiment with.
In Europe, using plant-based therapies in complementary medicine is an accepted practice and goes back hundreds of years. Expert Wolfgang Steflitsch, MD, a respiratory physician and vice president of the Austrian Association of the Austrian Association of Aromatherapy and Aroma Care says that in Austria and other European countries about 100 different essential oils are used therapeutically.
If you are looking for unique scents to play with, you can make your own blends. Think about what smells particularly appeal to you: Floral? Piney? Citrus? Sweet? Earthy? Purchase a few that you really love but are in different families of fragrance.
When you are ready to start mixing, choose two to four oils, balancing different profiles (e.g. citrus, spicy, and earthy or grassy, floral, and woody), and put a drop of each on a perfume testing strip. Note how it makes you feel when you smell it. Does it smell balanced and harmonious? Are are certain elements particularly pleasing? Are any overpowering? Check again in a minute or two. Essential oils are volatile compounds, which means they break down when exposed to oxygen or light so their scents change over time, at different rates. That's why the perfume you dab on in the morning may smell completely different by the time you get to work.
Here are some ideas to get started
Bergamot, jasmine, and coriander seed oils. Bergamot, which comes from a the citrus plant used to flavor Earl Grey Tea, is balancing and relaxing. Jasmine is euphoric and sensual. Coriander seed is a traditional aphrodisiac.
Mix sweet, floral ylang ylang with soft, earthy sandalwood. Both fragrances are soothing and at the same time uplifting. These are strong scents, a little goes a long way.
Use lemon for clarity, fatigue-fighting neroli, and stimulating ginger for a daytime energy boost.
When you are looking to de-stress but not feel sleepy, mix two parts rose with one part anise seed and one part nutmeg. This lightly spicy, chill-out blend is wonderful mixed into a carrier oil, such as jojoba or sweet almond, and used for massage.
If you prefer to buy a pre-made mix, the company Doterra, which specializes in high quality, therapeutic grade essential oils has many proprietary blends.
How to use
Now that you have your blend, what do you do with it? There are many ways to diffuse essential oils. Always start with just a drop or two.
Put a couple of drops onto a handkerchief or cotton ball and tuck into your pillowcase.
Add to a hot bath or basin of steaming water.
Mix a tiny bit with unscented laundry detergent or fragrance-free, natural all purpose cleaner.
Blend with massage oil or body moisturizer.
Use an essential oil diffuser.
These come in a range of prices and can be electric, battery, or candle operated. Some have lots of bells and whistles such as colored lights, timers, and humidifiers. Factors to consider when choosing a diffuser are cost, ease of cleaning, aesthetics, room size, and portability.
Smells Like Teen Spirit?
Essential oils can be powerful substances—it's not all woo woo and whalesong. It's important to use pure essential oils and avoid artificial fragrances and synthetics which tend to trigger more adverse reactions.
A 2015 systematic review found aromatherapy to be generally safe, but warned that eye and skin irritation or allergies can occur, especially with direct contact. If you are going to apply directly to the skin, start with one drop of essential oil mixed with a a few drops of a neutral carrier oil to test for sensitivity. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy also cautions to use in a well ventilated area, keep away from children and pets, and says never ingest unless under the guidance of a qualified holistic practitioner.