Yes, the world is stressful — especially these days — and there are plenty of healthy and unhealthy (queue the wine) ways to cope.
by Carrie Law
One of the most effective stress-relief solutions we know of just happens to be one of the healthiest, tapping into your in-born response to scent. We’re talking, of course, about aromatherapy, a combination healing ritual and beauty treatment that you can use to switch gears mentally and boost your mood nearly on command.
But how does it work? Aromatherapy has been a buzzword for decades, but the concept can still seem a little mysterious — or possibly much ado about nothing. Many things smell good. What makes a fragrance therapeutic?
The key lies in your own biology — how you react to specific scents — and in the quality of the products you’re using: their purity, their choice of combinations, and any added health benefits they offer (such as muscle relaxation or skin care).
If you’ve ever had a Proustian moment—that rare, slightly jarring experience of being instantly transported to another time or place after encountering a specific taste or smell — you understand the direct link between scent and emotion.
At its best, aromatherapy works on the body in a similar way. Even when you’re at your most tense and stressed out, a good aromatherapy product can instantly alter your mood — whether you’re ready for it or not.
For years, our go-to purveyor of mind-bending aromatherapy products has been Aromatherapy Associates, a London-based company that, despite its office-y name, has been creating nuanced cocktails of essential oils for more than three decades. We love them because they use the best-quality naturally derived essential oils available, draw from years of experience when blending their products, and avoid the use of synthetic ingredients whenever possible. Says Isabel Vigil, Red Door’s national director of retail, “Aside from being high-quality ingredients, the whole concept of the brand is to take time out of your day and relax.”
While there’s no guarantee that any one aromatherapy product will work for you, Aromatherapy Associates’ skill in blending oils provides the best chance we know of for transporting you to another place. A happy place.
Below, three of our favorite stress-relief products from the brand. You can sample — and purchase — them at any Red Door location.
De-Stress Muscle Gel
The essential oils in this gel smell great, but they work on your senses in another way too: by providing an immediate cooling sensation, then a longer-lasting warming sensation to ease muscle fatigue, aches, and stiffness. Use it after intense workouts or as a way to treat everyday discomfort after common but not-so-healthy physical situations: a day spent sitting in front of the computer, a long drive, or a cramped flight.
Spiked with black pepper, ginger, rosemary, and lavender essential oils, this gel is one of Aromatherapy Associates’ best-selling products for good reason. When we don’t have time for a deep yoga session, long bath, or massage (or even when we do), we like the way this gel can help us transition from a tight-muscled I’ve-been-working-all-day body to a lighter, more relaxed life-is-good feeling. Use it as a daily way to bridge the gap from day to night, or integrate it into massage therapy for an extra dose of relaxation.
Support Breathe Essence
A relaxation aid and a life-saver during some of daily life’s most stressful situations, the Support Breathe Essence is an ingenious product that can enhance your mood while it helps to maintain your health. It’s packed with essential oils known for their ability to ward off infection and germs, including Australian tea tree oil (filled with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral compounds), Austrian pine oil (an anti-septic), and eucalyptus oil (an anti-viral decongestant also credited with assisting lymph circulation).
On any occasion that you’re near coughing or sneezing — at home, on the subway, in a shop — or breathing in less-than-fresh air (for example, on a plane), shake a few drops of Support Breathe Essence on a tissue or piece of paper and breathe in deeply. According to an Aromatherapy Associates expert, the light vapor will sift through your lungs, providing a natural barrier against germs.
While you might be more concerned about getting sick, while you’re taking deep breaths of the oil blend, its clean, woodsy scent will also help to calm you down and regain focus. Housed in a tiny bottle, it’s the kind of product you’ll want in your makeup bag (or pocket!) at all times.
Light Relax Bath & Shower Oil
Whether you turn it into a nighttime ritual (which, per the product’s reviews, many Aromatherapy Associates fans have) or reserve it for just your most stressful days, a bath or shower with Light Relax Bath & Shower Oil can loosen tightly wound nerves in just a few minutes.
A physically light oil — there’s nothing thick or greasy about it — it has a warm yet breezy scent that’s hard to fully identify. Yes, it’s rich in ylang ylang, a sweet-smelling yellow flower native to tropical Asia. (Aromatherapy Associates sources it from the Comoros Islands, near Madagascar.)
But the oil’s scent is many layered, revealing itself in waves after you apply a few drops to your skin, and the steam from a hot shower or bath only amplifies the effect.
Perhaps that’s why the oil works so well as a relaxant — you can’t fully put your finger on what’s enveloping you, so you have no choice but to stop thinking, lean in, and relax!
Of course, if, like us, can never quite stop thinking, after your first shower you’ll immediately check the ingredients list to figure out why Light Relax Bath and Shower Oil was so effective. It turns out that it contains a clever combination of both sweet flower oils (lavender and ylang ylang) and fresh but earthy botanicals, including petitgrain oil — the oil that’s extracted from the leaves and twigs of the bitter-orange tree — and vetivert-root oil — an ancient, complex scent that reads as immediately as “outdoors.”
Like most bath and shower oils, Light Relax is highly versatile and lends itself to personalization. Consider using it as a substitute for shower gel or soap, mixing it with water in a loofah or sponge to create a moisturizing exfoliation routine. You can also rub it into skin after traditional cleansing at the end of a shower, or drop it into bathwater for a long, restorative soak.
One unique ritual has caught on among Aromatherapy Associates customers and we love it too: First, use your hands to massage a few drops of Light Relax Bath and Shower Oil across your torso, focusing on areas where skin needs the most help (such as sun-stressed skin on the upper chest). Then step into a hot shower, cup your oil-infused hands, and breathe in deeply several times to relax totally.
When you’re ready, continue with your normal cleansing routine. As you shower, the oil on your chest will vaporize and diffuse, creating a cloud of dreamy fragrance.
Sold in 55 ml bottles, Light Relax Bath and Shower Oil used this way will create about 20 deeply relaxing showers. (A few drops also go a long way in a bath.)
While its scent is the most obvious attraction, Light Relax Bath and Shower Oil also works to improve the health of skin and hair. Ylang ylang oil is known for curbing sebum in the skin and promoting healthy hair, while petitgrain oil is a mild antiseptic that some credit with reducing anxiety.