Are you one of the many nurses using aromatherapy? If not, you may want to consider it.
You can use aromatherapy to help relax, soothe aching muscles, relieve tension, and disinfect your environment. And, if you receive formal training, you can use it to help your patients deal with such problems as pain, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
As you may know, aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine that uses essential oils—volatile fluids extracted from the leaves, flowers, stems, bark, roots, and fruit of plants.
Commonly, these oils are diluted in a carrier and applied to the skin. You can use vegetable-based oils, such as olive, almond, grape seed, apricot, and sesame, as carriers.
To use essential oils in bath water, blend them with an agent, such as milk, Epsom salts, baking soda, or vegetable oil. Without such an agent, the oil will just float on the water.
To disperse oils in the air, use a commercial diffuser, or put several drops in hot or simmering water. Use essential oils with caution near open flames: many are combustible.
Don’t sprinkle essential oils on clothes or bedding because they may stain fabric. Instead, place a drop on a cotton ball and tuck it under your pillow. Or wear the essential oil in special jewelry.
If you choose to use aromatherapy in your practice, use these safe-practice tips:
• Consult an up-to-date textbook on essential oils before administration.
• Be aware of contraindications and drug interactions before using an essential oil. Consult a reputable source, such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website (www.naha.org/safety.htm).
• If your patient is pregnant or breastfeeding or has epilepsy or asthma, consult a physician before using any essential oil.
• Never use essential oils orally.
• Before applying an essential oil to the skin, perform a patch test. Many oils can cause skin reactions.
• If you accidentally get an essential oil in your eyes, rinse them with milk or light oil.
• If you feel light-headed or ill, get some fresh air and wash any oil off your hands.
• Store oils in dark-colored glass bottles in a cool area away from children and pets.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
This nontoxic, nonirritating, and nonsensitizing oil is one of the safest and most versatile essential oils. It’s used as a calming agent, an anti-inflammatory, and an antiseptic.
Lavender can be administered via direct inhalation, lotions and creams, vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, and Epsom salts.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint is nontoxic, nonirritating, and possibly sensitizing. The oil is used as an analgesic, a decongestant, and a stimulant.
Peppermint can be administered via vegetable-oil carrier, Epsom salts, cotton ball, foot bath, lotions and creams, and room vaporizer.
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
This nontoxic, nonirritating, and possibly sensitizing essential oil is used as an antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic.
Tea tree can be administered via vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, foot bath, lotions and creams, and roomvaporizer.
Eucalyptus radiata (Eucalyptus radiata)
If ingested or applied to the skin in large quantities, eucalyptus may cause liver or nervous system toxicity. The oil is used as an analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and a decongestant.
Eucalyptus can be administered via cotton ball, direct inhalation, and room vaporizer.
Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
This nontoxic, nonirritating, and possibly sensitizing oil is used as an antiseptic, a diuretic, an antibacterial, and an antifungal.
Geranium can be administered via direct inhalation, lotions and creams, vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, Epsom salts, foot bath, and room vaporizer.
Oregano, Spanish (Thymus capitus)
Spanish oregano is a strong skin and membrane irritant used as an antimicrobial and a cleaning agent.
Spanish oregano can be administered via room vaporizer to kill airborne microbes.
Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis, Chamaemelum nobile)
This nontoxic, nonirritant, nonsensitizing oil is used as an analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and a sedative. If your patient is allergic to the daisy family, don’t use Roman chamomile.
Roman chamomile can be administered via lotions and creams, vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, Epsom salts, foot bath, and room vaporizer.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This nontoxic, nonirritating, and nonsensitizing oil is used as an analgesic, an antidepressant, a hypertensive, a diuretic, and a stimulant. If your patient has hypertension or epilepsy, do not use this oil.
Rosemary can be administered via direct inhalation, lotions and creams, vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, Epsom salts, foot bath, and room vaporizer.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is nontoxic and nonirritating but may be sensitizing. It’s used as an antiseptic, an antispasmodic, a diuretic, a stimulant, a hypertensive, a disinfectant, and a bactericide. If your patient has hypertension, don’t use thyme.
Thyme can be administered via vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, Epsom salts, and room vaporizer.
Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata)
Ylang ylang is a nontoxic, nonirritating, nonsensitizing oil. It’s used as an anti-
depressant, an antiseptic, an aphrodisiac, a hypotensive, and a sedative. It may cause nausea and headache if overused.
Ylang ylang can be administered via direct inhalation, lotions and creams, vegetable-oil carrier, cotton ball, Epsom salts, foot bath, and room vaporizer.
If this overview has piqued your interest in using essential oils, you can learn more about aromatherapy and endorsed aromatherapy programs at the American Holistic Nurses Association website (www.ahna.org).
Buckle J. Clinical Aromatherapy. 2nd ed. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 2003.
Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006;19(1):50-62.
Cooksley VG. Aromatherapy: Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate, and Heal. New York: Prentice Hall; 2002.
Price S, Price L, eds. Aromatherapy for Health Professionals. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2007.
Smith-Palmer A, Stewart J, Fyfe L. Influence of subinhibitory concentrations of plant and essential oils on the production of enterotoxins A and B and a-toxin by Staphylococcus aureus. J Med Microbiol. 2004;53:1023-1027.
Worwood S, Worwood VA. Essential Aromatherapy. Novato, CA: New World Library; 2003.
For a complete list of selected references, visit www.AmericanNurseToday.com.
Becky Graner, MS, RN, IAC, is a holistic stress management nurse educator at Stress Management Solutions in Mandan, North Dakota.