Aromatherapist Mariafernanda Larraguivel swears by a simple rule: Don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth.
Aware that chemically derived insect repellent, perfume, lotion and makeup contain compounds that quickly make their way into the bloodstream, Larraguivel offers a respite from these and other harsh chemicals found in conventional air fresheners and household cleaning products. Aromaflor workshop, which opened in July in the western San José suburb of San Antonio de Escazú, is helping people breathe a little easier through the use of therapeutic essential oils for household, health and beauty needs.
One of Larraguivel’s goals is to educate Costa Ricans about plants and essential oils.
“Instead of a chemical base, we use the plant’s essential oil for all the benefits for body, mind and soul,” she says.
By tapping into beneficial plant properties, people can learn how to make their own products to replace everyday toxic substances with natural essential oils that promote health and well-being, Larraguivel says.
Aromaflor, which has existed as a company for seven years, opened the San Antonio workshop space last month on a small, charming street, a few steps from a traditional pulpería, a historic house and a trapiche (sugar mill), on the flanks of the mountains of Escazú.
The small white corner shop with lavender trim is set beside a garden where Larraguivel plans to grow medicinal plants.
A subtle, calming scent can be noted immediately upon entering the cool, simple room with its shelves lined with different-sized bottles and containers. The newly opened space is fast becoming a hub of aromatherapy workshops, consultations and essential oil and product sales. Through personal aromatherapy sessions and consulting, Larraguivel can create an essential oil blend or an array of products custom-designed for each user.
Medicinal plant extracts have been used throughout human history and in many cultures for a variety of needs. The ancient Egyptians used essential oils for embalmment and mummification. The biblical frankincense, myrrh and gold brought to Jesus by the three wise men all have medicinal purposes.
Today, aromatherapy is reviving the use of natural plant extracts in a modern world filled with chemical quick fixes for every discomfort. Essential oils can provide relief for insomnia, anxiety, muscle aches, stomachaches and depression.
“Essential oils can be used to help you sleep, lower stress levels, make you feel happy, have more energy, focus or breathe more deeply,” Larraguivel says. “They can even open your heart.”
Chemical engineers can now recreate almost any scent in a laboratory, but these imitations lack the healing and mood-lifting properties that are best delivered directly from nature, Larraguivel says.
“Essential oil is not a fragrance; it is actually the extraction of the oil from an aromatic plant in its purest form,” the aromatherapist explains. “It shouldn’t be diluted or altered with another substance.”
Aromaflor offers 15 different high-quality oils made by “eco-distillers” whose goal is to produce potent organic extracts. All the oils are organic, vegan and not tested on animals.
Forty percent of the plants used in Aromaflor’s oils are grown in Costa Rica, including ylang-ylang, for example. A famous aphrodisiac, this tropical plant is the key ingredient in the best-selling perfume Chanel No. 5. It must be distilled immediately on-site where it is grown and harvested through a steam distillation process, Larraguivel explains.
Imported oils include frankincense from Oman, lavender from France, tea tree from Australia, geranium from Morocco and peppermint from the United States.
Aromaflor’s products include handmade soaps, shampoo, jojoba face soaps and massage oils, each with specific properties. The luxurious jade detox clay for facial masks and body wraps, for example, uses lavender and lemon oils to suck toxins out of the body through the skin. A single product can have multiple uses, and Larraguivel suggests many creative and functional ways to use essential oils, including in laundry, disinfectant sprays, perfumes, air fresheners, diffusers, vaporizers and potpourri.
Larraguivel’s “Exploration Through the Senses” workshop is a journey into the beneficial properties of plants. The two- to four-hour workshop in Spanish or English includes an introduction to essential oils “from the plant to the bottle,” breath work, experiential exercises in smell, methods of distillation, and application. As a final treat, participants get to make their own product using their choice of essential oils.
I made my own moisturizing cream using essential oils, grape seed oil and beeswax.
I wanted a relaxing night cream to help me go to sleep; Larraguivel helped me to choose lavender, palmarosa and patchouli, combined with jojoba oil and grape seed oil for an all-natural face cream.
Workshops and consultations are by appointment only. Aromaflor products can be found in a number of spas, hotels and boutiques in Costa Rica, as well as every Wednesday at the organic market in Escazú Centro, across from the Red Cross. For more information about Aromaflor’s products, visit www.aromaflor.com.