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Health Column: Need to relax? Try out an essential oil

10/18/2015 6:00 AM |

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A few weeks ago, I did something I quickly learned was a mistake: I applied a dab of peppermint essential oil to my temples and wrists, inadvertently giving myself a mild chemical burn. 

“Agh! Ow!” I shouted to my fiancé as the affected areas quickly became inflamed. Within seconds, my skin felt like it was on fire. “This can’t be a normal reaction!”

It wasn’t. While essential oils smell fantastic and are thought to have healing properties, I later found out that you can’t just rub them onto your skin without diluting them first. Peppermint oil, in particular, is highly concentrated, making it a skin irritant.

Maybe that’s common sense, but I had just assumed a drop of peppermint oil would help me relax!

Happily, for people like me — or those who just want to learn more about them — a workshop on various ways to use essential oils is taking place this weekend at North Fork Natural in Cutchogue.

“Introduction to Aromatherapy” will be held Sunday, Oct. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Main Road shop, which opened this past summer. During the class, North Fork Natural owner and certified clinical aromatherapist Fernanda Menegassi-Lojac will present an overview of essential oils and their uses. She’ll also help participants make their own aromatic mist, massage oil and five sample-size essential oils to bring home.

“Not everyone knows a lot about essential oils or aromatherapy or how to use them correctly,” Ms. Menegassi-Lojac told me. “The purpose is just to educate people.”

So, why are essential oils worth checking out? For one thing, they’ve been around a long time: Ancient Egyptians used natural resins like frankincense and myrrh to embalm bodies during mummification. And, according to the National Cancer Institute: “Laboratory studies and animal studies have shown that certain essential oils have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, calming or energizing effects.”

Peppermint, my scent of choice (even after the aforementioned debacle), gives me a mental pick-me-up whenever I inhale it. Others swear it even relieves their headaches. Lavender and chamomile, Ms. Menegassi-Lojac said, have calming properties. Others, like tea tree oil and patchouli, are antimicrobial.

“Essential oils aren’t here to cure anything,” Ms. Menegassi-Lojac stressed, but they do “support our body’s own ability to heal itself. They can be uplifting. They can be calming. They just help us on a day-to-day basis to manage stress, to relax.”

To make sure you get a calming reaction from essential oils (instead of a painful chemical burn), remember to dilute them before application. To do this, mix a drop of oil with a few drops of a carrier oil, like coconut or jojoba oil, then apply a dab to your temples or wrists.

If you aren’t sure how much an oil needs to be diluted, contact an aromatherapist. And avoid using them if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Ms. Menegassi-Lojac said.

To learn more about North Fork Natural’s “Introduction to Aromatherapy” workshop, visit northforknatural.com. Registration is required and the $40 fee includes all materials.

Photo Caption: Essential oils, like the ones sold at North Fork Natural in Cutchogue, are believed to have healing and energizing properties. (Credit: Rachel Young)

Have a health column idea for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].

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