Essential oils sometimes get a bad rap. Between the aggressive social media marketing for the products and the sometimes magical-sounding claims about their healing properties, it's easy to forget what they can actually do. But if you look beyond the pyramid schemes and exaggerations, experts believe they have legit benefits to offer both mind and body.
How can dancers take advantage of their medicinal properties? We asked Amy Galper, certified aromatherapist and co-founder of the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies:
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the aromatic extracts from plants that can be absorbed into the blood stream or inhaled. "In one sniff you're getting a mind-body experience along with feeding your body the chemical compounds it needs to heal," says Galper. "The aromatic component affects our unconscious mind and triggers electrical signaling. It instigates part of our brain to start producing enzymes and proteins that become our hormones. So essential oils can trigger appetite, adrenaline, reproductive system, etc."
How to Use Them
To accommodate both absorption into the body and inhalation of the scent, you'll want to add the oil to a delivery system, says Galper, like a base lotion, unscented oil or bath salt.
What's the best method for dancers? If you're looking for fast-penetrating delivery before performing or rehearsing, Galper recommends a gel, as they are non-greasy and won't interfere with costumes or partnering. For a post-performance essential oil experience, try adding oils to your bath.
The Best Oils for Dancers
For reducing inflammation: Try a combination of peppermint, which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and chamomile.
For stress: Galper recommends rose geranium, or a combination of chamomile and orange.
For pre-show nerves: Lavender, which has anti-bacterial, sedating and anti-inflammatory qualities, would be best for calming down before a show, says Galper, and blending with rosemary and orange could help dancers stay focused while quieting the mind of excess worry. Avoid chamomile, which might be too sedating.
For post-show relaxation: To soothe the muscles, try a combination of ylang ylang, lavender and chamomile. Or blend lavender and clary sage with marjoram, which is deeply sedating, says Galper.
For muscular soreness: Galper recommends blending peppermint, frankincense and lavender. Roman chamomile also has anti-spasmatic qualities and can help soothe aches and pains, as well as clear up congestion.
For working through exhaustion: Peppermint has awakening and brightening properties that can improve concentration, says Galper. Black spruce can also reduce exhaustion while quieting the nerves, and citrus oils are energizing and good for the digestive system.
Common Essential Oil Mistakes
The word "oil" can be misleading, says Galper, because essential oils should not feel greasy to the touch. If they do, they aren't real essential oils and shouldn't be used. (They are called oils because their chemical compound is such that they do not dissolve in water.)
Galper says many people use too much at once. One drop is usually plenty, she says, and using more will not make it work better. It can take over 20 pounds of plant to create one small bottle of oil, so they are extremely potent.
Always air on the side of safety: Never use essential oils near an open wound or near the eyes, nose or mouth.