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Natural Fragrances

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Imagine anointing yourself every day with a fragrance you created, one without chemicals, one designed not only to perfume your body, but also to stimulate creativity, ease your headaches, or help you through grief.

Imagine anointing yourself every day with a fragrance you created, one without chemicals, one designed not only to perfume your body, but also to stimulate creativity, ease your headaches, or help you through grief.

According to author Jan Balkam, natural fragrances can do just that. "Aromatherapy, as its name suggests, works partly through our sense of smell," Balkam says in her book, Aromatherapy. A practical guide to essential oils and aromassage (Blitz Editions, 1994). "However, the essences also enter the body through skin absorption. In these ways, essential oils can affect not just the physical body, but emotional levels too." Balkam points out that only pure essential oils, and not synthetic copies, will give you the therapy as well as the fragrance.

What's an Essential Oil?

An essential oil is the essence of a plant extracted from the petals, leaves, stalks, bark, or rind-the "essence" being the chemical molecules that contain the fragrance of the plant. These extractions contain numerous, maybe hundreds, of carbon-based and hydrogen-based compounds unique to each plant.

Which Are the Most Popular?

Louise Blisner, co-owner of True Aromatherapy Products in Fort Langley, BC, lists jasmine, rose, neroli, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, and vanilla as her top sellers, popular with her customers not only for their fragrance, but also for their therapeutic benefits. "Rose and jasmine," Blisner says, "have a lot to do with hormones and balancing hormones. Lavender is the number one oil for everything-an all-in-one oil. The scent is wonderful, but it also does so many things." Lavender, it seems, can do everything from heal burns to repel fleas to reduce stress.

How Do You Choose?

Experts say that orange and ylang-ylang relieve stress, jasmine is emotionally uplifting, rosemary's a stimulant, and sandalwood has long been used as an aphrodisiac. But Blisner suggests a more practical method for selecting your fragrance. "Go by your nose," she says. "Lots of things are going on subtly within that help us to choose. Certain products will help us emotionally, mentally, and hormonally. We intuitively will choose what we know will help us. The scent will more or less attract us."

Putting it All Together

It could be that one oil will be sufficient for you. But a blend of essential oils will produce a synergy, a complementary unison, creating an entirely different entity. Putting a blend together just sounds intriguing.

In the 19th century, a French perfumer developed a method to categorize scents based on the musical scale. A blend of essential oils is like a musical chord. There's a top note, the first scent you smell, which quickly evaporates to reveal the rest of the blend; a middle note, the body and centre of the scent; and a bass note holds the blend and lingers. You can select any oil for a top, middle, or bass note, and how you put your chord together depends on the desired effect.

Application

Essential oils are so concentrated that they should not be applied directly on the skin. They should be mixed with a carrier oil, such as almond, grapeseed, or jojoba. Once diluted, these oils can be safely worn on the skin much like perfume.

Many health and wellness stores carry both essential oils and carrier oils. And aromatherapy specialty shops are also becoming neighbourhood staples.

Range of Prices

Essential oils come from different parts of the world and are priced according to rarity and the amount of the plant required to make the oil. One small bottle of essential oil can contain a field of plants. For example, to produce just one kilogram of jasmine "absolute" (from which the oil is made) eight million hand-picked jasmine flowers are required. So a five mL bottle of peppermint might cost eight dollars, but a two mL bottle of rose absolute will set you back $60. If you're not ready to commit to a full bottle, some stores will blend your chosen top, middle, and base notes for you, by the drop, rather than by the bottle.

A Final Note

Remember that essential oils are plant extracts. If you're allergic to lavender flowers, you're probably going to react to lavender essential oil. Not all of nature's products are safe; some essential oils can be toxic, even in small doses. Stick with the popular choices, dilute them appropriately with the carrier oils, and consult your natural health practitioner if you're considering using essential oils for more advanced therapeutic purposes.

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