Aromatherapy to Enhance Your Holiday Experience

Understanding the differences between essential oils and fragrances

Tim BlakelyEssential oils are the volatile components that are produced by plants. The term "essential" is derived from the respect that these oils are the healing energy and essential life force of the plants. These essential oils are obtained using a few different methods. About 95% of all oils are produced utilizing steam distillation. Citrus oils are produced through cold pressing. Other methods of obtaining essential oils are by hypercritical CO2 extraction, as in vanilla; and as absolutes, such as rose and jasmine. Essential oils are very complex, containing as many as 400 constituents. They have a variety of health benefits and generally speaking are very safe to use.

Fragrances are produced in a laboratory from a petrochemical base, usually coal tar. Fragrances do not contain the same properties as essential oils, they are generally just a few synthetic components, and they are known to be far more likely to produce negative reactions in people. Some products, unlike pure essential oils, contain manmade chemicals that are extremely toxic. In the process of breathing them in or putting them on your skin, you can incorporate these chemicals into your system and suffer a variety of consequences. One of the more dangerous chemicals is diethyl phthalate (DEP), which causes a variety of problems (including reproductive issues) and has been banned in Europe and, more recently, in California. It's a common ingredient in many synthetic products (including colognes, perfumes, etc.) and is often used as an adulterant in body care products–in which case you would not see it on the label. Phthalates are bi- products of the plastic manufacturing industry.

Remember that most mainstream fragrance products (air fresheners, candles, fragrance oils, soaps, lotions, etc.) are based on chemical fragrances and and other non-natural ingredients. You may have guessed by now that your typical car freshener is not made from essential oils! It is also documented that the vast majority of air fresheners contain diethyl phthalate.

Pure essential oils can easily and naturally deal with unwanted odors by adding the beneficial scents of aromatic plant essences to the air.

One participant asked how they would know if a product contain these "dangerous chemicals"? And would that information be available on the manufacturer's website? The answer is that since many chemicals are used as "adulterants" they are often not on the label or listed on the website. In order for a consumer to feel comfortable that a product doesn't contain these chemicals, they should know and trust the company they are purchasing from.

Trust of a product begins with knowledge of the manufacturer. Any reliable company must test their products for adulterants.. If a company isn't testing their products, then the odds are pretty good that (at least on occasion) they will be selling products that aren't completely pure and safe.

There's never any guessing about what's in an Aura Cacia product. Every bottle and package lists all the product's ingredients. They show both the common name of the botanicals and the Latin. Aura Cacia always discloses everything that's in any of our products.

Essential oils for the holidays

There are certain essential oils that are ideal for the holidays. Aura Cacia has even created a blend called Candy Cane that is a festive and uplifting aroma created just for the season. Other perfect holiday oils are peppermint, wintergreen, pine, fir needle, Texas Cedarwood, cypress, juniper berry, and the common cooking spices, cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, bay, etc.

Essential oils of cypress, peppermint and pine were offered by a chat participant as one of their favorite holiday blends. She suggested starting with 5 drops of pine, 5 drops of cypress and 2 to 3 drops of peppermint.

Refreshing oils of peppermint and citrus may be just the thing to re-energize your family and guests after a big holiday meal. Peppermint is also quite effective in relieving indigestion and flatulence after a holiday indulgence or dietary indiscretions.

Diffusers, candle diffusers, lamp rings, dropping oils onto cloth, pillows, carpet, and an Aura Cacia favorite, the car diffuser, are . all easy to use. Each has a certain advantage. Electronic diffusers are quick, easy and very effective at getting oils into a big area. It is hard to beat a candle diffuser for creating ambience, and they are very effective. You want to use a little water in a candle diffuser to prevent the oil from burning.

You can give a more festive smell to you home by simply adding certain oils to your logs. Here are some oils you can apply to the logs.

Juniper Berry
Texas Cedarwood

You only need one or two drops per log, total. The oils are flammable, so they will ignite and spark a bit. Apply a drop and let it sit for a few minutes before putting the log into the woodstove. Another method is to put oils in water on top of the woodstove. Just use a pot with water and add a few drops of the oils above, and let the heat from the woodstove facilitate their diffusion.

Natural diffusers around your home

Adding essential oils to the water in your Christmas tree stand is a favorite way of one chat participant to diffuse holiday oil blends into the air space.

If you have an artificial tree, simply spray an oil and water blend directly onto the tree. Try a recipe of 20 drops of essential oil (pine, fir, etc.) into a spritzer of with 1 oz of water.

If you have or can find unscented pine cones, you can either spray or simply drop oils onto them. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom are spicy holiday favorites. Oils of pine, fir, and juniper are "scentsible" choices. The new Aura Cacia Candy Cane blend is a refreshing nostalgic blend that everyone loves!

Many oils, like lavender, peppermint and oils that are clear in color are easy to use by simply dropping them on carpet and cloth as they don't stain most fabrics. You may notice a slight stain on a lightly colored cloth, but generally not on a carpet. Citrus oils, on the other hand, will definitely stain. If you are using one of our precious oils, rose, jasmine, vanilla, etc., they contain jojoba oil, which will definitely leave a stain. When using them in a candle diffuser or lamp ring the jojoba will burn off and leave a scent in the room.

A favorite 'natural diffuser' of our Chat Host, Tim Blakely, is his mustache and beard. This is a perfect way to reap the benefits of inhaling essential oils.

There were a couple of questions about why Aura Cacia used vanilla extract instead of vanilla essential oil in the Candy Cane blend and is it o.k. to use in a diffuser. The first answer is that vanilla extract is much less expensive than vanilla essential oil and smells every bit as good. The second answer is 'YES'. This blend was formulated for safe and effective use in a diffuser and, in fact, is sold at Whole Foods stores as a 'combo pack' with the oil and the Aura Cacia ball diffuser together.

Making your own blends at home

Making your own blends at home is quick, easy, inexpensive and green! Simply purchase single note oils Aura Cacia oils or pre-blended oils from the Precious Essentials line or Essential Solutions line and blend them to create the aroma you like. Be sure to write down your recipe so you'll remember what you like and don't like. You can make more if needed and you can use your spray bottles over and over. Just remember to shake the bottle each time before spraying–the oil will separate from the water and float on the surface whereas the dispenser takes the liquid from the bottom of the jar. You generally need to shake about every 30 seconds if you are using it for that long or longer. Visit the Aura Cacia web site or purchase our Aromatherapy Deck from your favorite store or Aura Cacia website for endless ideas and recipes.

Preparing your home for the holidays; tackling odors and germs

There are numerous essential oils that can be used to cover odors as well as clean the air and surfaces of the home. Because many essential oils are antimicrobial and antifungal, they make effective cleaners and disinfectants. For instance, cinnamon, clove, pine, citrus, thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, oil and blends like Medieval Mix are all effective germ killers that can be used in cleaning the air, counter tops, sinks, toilets and showers. Just put a few drops into a water/soap combination to clean surfaces or mix with water in a spray bottle to clear the air. Remember that eucalyptus and peppermint are also quite effective as deodorizers and for helping clear mucus from the airways.

Some other cleaning ideas include putting a couple drops of grapefruit or orange oil down the disposal or sink; white thyme oil in the laundry water; and spritzing oils of lavender and vanilla onto a cloth and throwing it into the dryer with your clothes. Drop or spray essential oils onto your vacuum cleaner filter, air registers and returns, and car vents to get essential oils into the air around you and help clean the air in your home or car.

Remembering that covering up a bad or long lingering odor with another scent might be tricky and may take several applications. Choose a scent that is much stronger than the odor, and also work on treating the source of the bad odor as well.

One chat particpant said she received a bottle of grapefruit essential oil from a friend and added a couple of drops to 1/2 cup of washing soda and then run it down my garbage disposal. It makes an amazing difference.

Using essential oils in cooking

Essential oils have a long history of use in flavoring and cooking. There are many commercial products, from chewing gum to toothpaste, that contain essential oils. There are some safety issues to understand but, there are several books available that have information on using oils safely and effectively in cooking.

Some favorites uses of the Aura Cacia staff are to make peppermint cookies by adding a touch of peppermint essential oil to the batter. If you add it before baking, you'll end up smelling up the houseand leaving little flavor in the cookie as oils diffuse quickly under heat. Try adding a little essential oil to a spritzer, shake well, and spray it right onto the cookies directly out of the oven. It's intoxicating!

What about pets?

Essential oils should be used cautiously around pets as they may react differently than humans. Dogs have over 40 times the olfactory receptors of humans and are very sensitive to aromas. Cats are especially vulnerable to certain chemicals and will lick any oil you put on their body until they think they've eliminated it. Never leave essential oils where your pet can get into them, and if you are diffusing a fragrance, don't overdo it. Additionally, for any essential oils application involving a  pet, small amounts of oils should be used and should always be blended with a carrier oil for every application.

What about products that claim to be made with essential oils?

This can be a very confusing subject. If you're not sure that products are made with pure essential oils, they probably aren't. Companies that manufacture products with pure, high quality essential oils, like Aura Cacia, want you to know that and will put it clearly on the packaging. But you do need to be cautious -- not all essential oils are as pure as they claim to be. Ask the company about their sourcing and testing practices and how often they test the essential oils they purchase. It is also important to understand the marketing terms that are used to confuse the consumer. Misleading words like 'fragrance oils' and, 'essential oil fragrance' are commonly found used on products that don't contain any essential oils at all. If your candle, perfume, or oil blend doesn't say "pure essential oils", you can be pretty sure it's made with synthetics. Additionally, it is difficult and expensive to make candles with pure essential oils.

Keep in mind that purchasing candles that are made with synthetics is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're looking for an aromatherapy benefit, you won't find it in any product made with synthetic fragrances.

Is it safe to use essential oils around people with respiratory conditions like asthma?

It is possible for any product, pure or not, to trigger an asthma attack. Asthma sufferers are constantly having to work with this issue and it is not easy to know what may or may not trigger a response.

Oils that linger vs. oils that 'disappear' quickly

Oils are generally divided into three categories based on their volatility: top note oils, middle note oils and base note oils. Top notes volatize within minutes and quickly fill up a room with their scent. Citrus oils are great examples of oils dominated by top notes. Middle notes linger much longer and this category would include lavender and bergamot. Bottom or base notes would include sandalwood, patchouli, myrrh and vetiver. In order to really extend the time an essential oil blend remains in the atmosphere, consider adding base note oils to your recipe.

Another way to distinguish top, middle and base notes is by doing a simple test using the oil and a piece of paper. Simply drop the oil on paper and smell it over an extended period of time. Smell it right away, wait a bit and smell it again, and then smell it 30-60 minutes later. An oil like patchouli will easily smell quite strong an hour later, whereas orange oil will have dissipated and left little or no smellin that time. Generally speaking, the thicker, more sticky oils, like sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, frankincense and myrrh, tend to be base note oils that take much longer to evaporate.

Is Sandalwood Endangered?

Because we mentioned sandalwood above, we want to talk a little bit about sustainability. There are 15 species of sandalwood that grow from Hawaii, down through the Pacific to Indonesia, through Australia and across the Indian ocean to India. It has been over-harvested in much of its range. In Hawaii it was harvested almost to extinction in the mid 1800s and this similar pattern occurred throughout most of its range. Today the only 'sustainable' supply of sandalwood is coming from Australia, where the Forest Products Commission actively plants and manages sandalwood growth, harvest, trade and commerce. Because the supply from Australia is limited, init cannot meet the world's need. Hence, pure sandalwood prices are somewhat high, and the adulteration of sandalwood essential oil is common.

Essential Oil and Aromatherapy Gifts

Offer a festive container filled with coarse sea salt and your favorite essential oil blend. The recipient can use it in the bath, or simply displayed on a shelf or counter to scent the air. Tim suggests 20 drops of our Rose Absolute Precious Oil, 20 drops of lavender and 10 drops of neroli to about 2 cups of salt. Add a small pinch of sodium bi-carb (baking soda) to make the blend very softening to the skin. To make a bath salt fizz, add a bit of vitamin C powder.

Spritzers also make nice gifts. Simply buy a glass or aluminum spray/spritzer bottle, blend your favorite oils and add water.

Holiday Survival

Tim's Holiday Foot Soak: to ease the pain of all day shopping, cleaning or cooking:

Bowl of water big enough to soak your feet
10 drops of Frankincense Precious Oil from Aura Cacia (preblended in jojoba to make the formula easier on the foot)
2 drops of peppermint oil
2 drops of sandalwood oil

Kristen likes this blend added to Aura Cacia's Unscented Body Polish (minus the water) as a foot massage.

For help withtrouble sleeping or just to relax try Aura Cacia's Pillow Potion, jasmine or vanilla.

Are you a snow-bird?

Don't forget that Aura Cacia's lemon eucalyptus essential oil is an indispensable addition to any warm weather travel kit or backpack. The easily carried 1/2-oz. bottle holds approximately 300 drops of oil.

Lemon eucalyptus can also be combined with other natural ingredients to create a variety of summer formulations. If you don't like the scent of citronella, you can substitute lemon eucalyptus in recipes, including candles and lamp oils. Below are all-natural formulas featuring lemon eucalyptus for a lotion, a body mist (for easiest overall application) and a patio spray.

Outdoor Lotion

1 cup sweet almond or apricot kernel oil
3/4 ounce (or about 22 grams) beeswax
1 cup lukewarm water-based liquids like green tea, hydrosol, and rainwater or aloe juice
28 drops lemon eucalyptus
6 drops lavender
4 drops grapefruit
2 drops geranium

Add beeswax to oil in a Pyrex cup or bowl. Place in a hot water bath. Heat until melted. Place the water in a blender. Allow the oil/wax mixture to cool. When the temperatures of the oil and water are comparable, turn on the blender and add the oil in a thin stream. Blend until a cream develops. Blend in the essential oils and store in a jar in the refrigerator.
A pinch of sodium borate (Borax) dissolved in the water prior to blending will help emulsify the mixture and prevent separation.

What are carrier oils?

Carrier oils would include sunflower, safflower, olive, avocado, sesame, etc. The favored oil of the Aura Cacia educators is jojoba. It never goes rancid (as will all other carriers). It is non-comadegenic so it won't promote bacteria (important in treating wounds and acne) and it's nearly identical to the structure of our skin's sebum, so it is absorbed quite well.

If your store doesn't offer these oils in their body care section, you can usually find them in cooking oil section of your grocery, and definitely on the Aura Cacia web site.

More fun stuff from our staff and chat participants:

Kathy offers that she likes to diffuse cypress, pine and peppermint essential oils around the holidays. She says it "really helps get me in the spirit while I'm cleaning or decorating my home".

Kristen says that Medieval Mix is one of her favorites for killing germs but that it's also a nice aroma to diffuse in the house. She also likes Pep Talk, especially in the morning. A few drops in the shower (with eucalyptus in the winter). She also keeps a bottle in the car. It's great for a pick me up and to stay focused and alert.
Tim adds that there are often a lot of people at holiday parties, creating an excellent opportunity for bacteria and viruses to spread. You can reduce this risk by diffusing antimicrobial oils in the room. Use any diffuser you wish. Here are some appropriate oils:

cinnamon bark or leaf
clove bud
pine or fir

Kathy loves a nice hot cup of cocoa in the winter. She adds 1 drop of peppermint oil to the cup.

Tim's Chocolate Lovers Blend - Excellent for chocoholics and chocolovics, alike:

20 drops of Vanilla Precious Oil
1 drop of Sweet Orange oil
4 drops of Rose Absolute oil
1 drop of Cardamom Seed Oil
Mix these together and drop in a diffuser or Aura Cacia's Unscented Massage Lotion or carrier oil

Kristen likes a drop of peppermint to her homemade kahlua.

Jmac suggests refreshing your potpourri with drops or spritzes of essential oils.