Aromatherapy personalization might seem intimidating; however, trying new oils and blends at the spa or for personal use isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The Olfactory system is complex and has been thoroughly studied throughout the ages. An odorant molecule is one that contains a scent, or stimulates smell perception. What characteristics of an odorant molecule leads the brain to the perception of a particular scent? Although it is not known exactly how odorants are transduced into neural code, it is known that the information perceived is based on the following features of the odorant molecule:
- Physical and chemical properties
- Electrical charge
- Chemical reactivity
- Molecular structure
However, it’s been difficult to characterize odorant molecules because even if a molecule has a similar structure to another molecule the scents could be completely different. Likewise, two odorant molecules that have remarkably different structures can have scents that are very similar!
Olfactory receptor neurons vary widely in their response to odors. One olfactory receptor neuron will fire to a wide range of stimuli (odorant molecules) while another will only respond to a few. Similarly, one neuron may respond to stimuli with similar physical structures while another receptor appears to fire more randomly. The pattern we see when observing the firing rates of the olfactory receptor neurons is the same pattern of response seen when we look at the firing rates of the glomeruli in response to different stimuli.
French chemist René-Maurice Gatttefossé gave birth to the word commonly used to describe the use of essential oils today – Aromatherapy. While working in his laboratory, Gatttefossé quenched a bad burn when, out of reflex, he plunged his arm into the nearest liquid, a vat of Lavender oil. He was amazed by how quickly the burn healed, and without scarring. This piqued his interest in essential oils even further, and through his study and definitive writings on the subject, Gatttefossé is now remembered as one of the pioneers of Aromatherapy. In 1937 he published the book, Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales (later translated into English as Gatttefossé’s Aromatherapy), which is still in print today.
Finding your personal fragrance or blending of aromatherapy notes truly is an adventure like traveling through Europe or Asia and taking in the experiences, sites and flavors. It is helpful if you are new to blending to visit a reputable essential oil bar and start experimenting. Often, it is possible to start with very small amounts of various oils and see how your body “wears” them. The way in which you experience the breakdown of a top, middle and base note will be different from another. Your perceptions are unique and so is your body chemistry. Also, give pre-blended oils a try. They are typically in a carrier oil and include what you can expect from the oil such as, “Joy,” “Relaxation,” or “Sleep Ease.”
Traveling with your oils can be fun. Many oils are offered in padded kits that are small enough to either put in your travel bag or to check with your luggage. Don’t forget to include Peppermint for the occasional headache, Eucalyptus for clarification and breathing easily on the plane as well as a day blend, a night blend and a couple of medical choices like Tea Tree and Citronella, for bug repellant and skin health.
Eventually, your collection of oils will grow into a large family to play and interact with. You will have favorite blends as well as like individual oils so much you may choose to use them alone. It truly becomes a personal art, a wellness craft and a wonderful way to feel your best. Try to choose cobalt, green or amber glass containers for your oils to preserve their shelf life. Ditto with carrier oils although it may be convenient to have them in colored plastic bottles as well. Enjoy each new find and share your favorites with friends.