Aromatherapy is an ancient therapeutic treatment that uses naturally extracted essential oils from plants. It originated from herbal medicine and was initially concerned simply with the medicinal use of the essential oils.
Over the years, however, it has become far more holistic in its approach and the essential oils are now utilised within aromatherapy to balance, maintain and promote the health and well-being of your body, your mind, and your spirit. Aromatherapy aims to relieve stress and help with the rejuvenation, recovery, and regeneration of your body.
Occasionally called essential oil therapy, aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils to enhance and optimise both your physical and emotional health and well-being.
Essential oils have been used for their therapeutic benefits for thousands of years and, in Europe, medical practitioners have been using them successfully since the early 20th century.
A qualified registered aromatherapist, such as myself, is often referred to as a clinical aromatherapist. This means I am trained to a high level and, after your consultation, am able to select essential oils especially for you, and mix them into your own bespoke blend with a vegan-friendly, organic carrier oil.
Each essential oil has its own aroma and healing properties.
Sometimes two, or more oils, are mixed together into a synergistic blend – where the sum of the mixed oils is greater than their individual parts. For example, lavender and tea-tree oils are both known for their anti-fungal properties; mixing these two oils together produces a blend that is more effective than either of them would be on its own.
How can aromatherapy help me?
Essential oils are believed to treat and prevent illness and also encourage peace, rest and relaxation. Being a holistic treatment, aromatherapy aims to balance your whole being, improving the health of your body, your mind, and your spirit. Aromatherapy is also good for soothing and relaxing stressful lifestyles.
Aromatherapy is an extremely popular complementary therapy and possibly the fastest growing in the UK. It is generally accepted as being the most comprehensive of the natural therapies.
Complementary therapies are often used alongside regular medical treatment and can help you feel better, and cope better, with what is happening in your life. Aromatherapy works naturally and holistically to support your own system of healing and, incorporating aromatherapy into your life allows you to take responsibility for your own good health.
As well as being used in the treatment and prevention of illness, essential oils can also be used simply because you like the fragrance or for the effect they have on your emotions or mood.
How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy typically works in two ways through smell and skin absorption.
Inhalation (smell) – by stimulating the olfactory system, the part of the brain that connects to aroma and memory. Our sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 times more acute than our other senses. Smells can affect moods and be either relaxing or stimulating. Imagine freshly cut grass, bread baking, your favourite perfume…. Oils that are inhaled have a physiological and psychological effect on the systems of the body.
- When you smell an essential oil, tiny molecules are inhaled and get sent to the sensory neurons in the olfactory epithelium
- The olfactory epithelium is situated about 7cm up and into the nose from the nostrils!
- The olfactory epithelium gets the ‘message’ from the essential oils, reacts, and passes the information on to the olfactory bulb.
- From the olfactory bulb, the aromas are transported via the olfactory tract to the limbic system
- The limbic system is often referred to as the emotional brain, hence why smells evoke such strong emotions!
- From the limbic system, the qualities of the oil are recognised and it is sent to the system where it is needed i.e., digestive, circulatory, etc.
- All this in a matter of moments!
- Some molecules go past the olfactory epithelium and continue to the lungs, here, the alveoli transfer the essential oil molecules to the bloodstream via capillaries allowing for a physical reaction to the essential oil
Dermal Application – the skin is the most common route by which essential oils enter the bloodstream.
Containing fat-soluble constituents that dissolve in the sebum on the skin, a minute amount of the essential oil is then then able to penetrate the skin via the sweat gland ducts and hair follicles and reach the capillaries. From the capillaries they are carried into the main bloodstream. After applying the oil topically to your skin it can be detected within your bloodstream within 2 minutes!
Consequently, whether you inhale, or apply the essential oil, within about 20 minutes every cell in your body will have been affected.
Essential oils can affect you physically, emotionally, and spiritually; and often all three simultaneously.
Aromatherapists, such as myself, believe essential oils can work:
- Physically – their individual constituents working pharmacologically on the systems of your body once they have been absorbed into the bloodstream stream via the skin.
- Emotionally – the effect they have on your brain via their interaction with the olfactory system.
- Energetically (spiritually) – as their vibration interacts with the energy flowing through your body.
Sounds Great! How can I Incorporate Oils into my life?
As mentioned, aromatherapy enters your body via the skin or via inhalation.
As well as having an aromatherapy massage or taking a deep breath in through your nose, you can easily benefit from the therapeutic benefits of essential oils by incorporating them into your daily life. You could try:
- Aromatic Spritzers
- Bath – ensure to mix the essential oil with an emulsifier such as unscented bubble bath or full fat milk.
- Shower – mix with unscented shower gel.
- Hot and cold compresses – ensure the essential oil/s are mixed with water
- Creams – mix essential oils into your favourite cream
- Shampoos & Conditioners – mix essential oil/s into your unscented products.
- Clay masks – select essential oil/s for your skin condition and mix with the mask.
Whilst, when carried out correctly, aromatherapy is considered safe, if you are using your own oils at home, please respect the power of the oils and always dilute them according to the instructions on the bottle or leaflet. In this country we do not ingest essential oils, in fact, many oils are toxic if swallowed so be sure to keep them out of the reach of your children and pets.
I Really Fancy an Aromatherapy Massage – what will it involve?
After your consultation, and with consideration of your medical history, lifestyle and your general health, I will have a comprehension of why you have come for an aromatherapy treatment and your desired outcomes. This consultation and the knowledge gained from chatting with you will assist me in recommending the best treatment plan for you.
I will then select essential oils that I believe will have a positive effect for you and blend these with an organic, vegan-friendly carrier oil. Typically a blend will contain between two and five essential oils, I usually choose three that I know will work synergistically and give you the optimum treatment.
For the oils to work their magic, they need to be absorbed.
I will leave the room and you will be requested to undress to your underwear and make yourself comfortable on the treatment couch covering yourself with the sheet / blanket. Your oil is then massaged onto your body. Please be advised that the area that is being worked on is all that will be exposed at any one time. Also, if there are areas you do not like being massaged such as your hair, or feet, please do mention that in advance so that I can avoid these for you.
Clinical aromatherapy sessions are usually 75, or 90 minutes in length. Shorter aromatherapy sessions are available should this be your preference.
To get the most out of your treatment, please allow plenty of time for travel to ensure you arrive as relaxed, and calm as possible. Similarly, it is advisable to have an aromatherapy massage when you are able to relax afterwards. Essential oils take, on average, four hours to be absorbed by the body and it is most beneficial for you to relax after your massage.
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What Conditions can Aromatherapy Help me With?
A ‘relaxing’ aromatherapy massage can really help you relax and destress. You may be feeling mentally and emotionally frazzled, especially with the uncertainty and upset that COVID-19 has brought; you may feel you are not coping with what life is throwing at you or that you are in desperate need of the nurturing, calming and peaceful properties that an aromatherapy massage can bring; and these are all fantastic reasons to schedule a massage. However, as well as being relaxing, aromatherapy has the potential to help with many conditions. It doesn’t actually ‘cure’, but, by inducing a sense of relaxation and working holistically, it assists your body achieve its own healing potential.
There have been many scientific papers written showing the efficacy of aromatherapy, and lots of research has been undertaken and evidenced that indicates the benefits of essential oils on a number of conditions; you can read more here, and here.
From the IFA (International Federation of Aromatherapists) website we learn that successful research trials have shown essential oils to be beneficial in treating many conditions including:
- Acne Vulgaris
- Allergies – effect of inhalation on patients with perennial allergic rhinitis
- Alopecia Areata
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Essential Tumor
- Heart disease / cardiac patients
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Lower Back Pain
- Mental Health
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)
- Nicotine Cravings
- Renal Colic
- Thyroid Issues
Aromatherapy has also shown to be highly effective on:
- Labour pain
Are there any risks involved with Aromatherapy?
Providing essential oils are used correctly, there is little, or no risk.
As previously mentioned, store safely away from children and pets and always dilute according to the instructions on the leaflet.
You should not take essential oils orally, nor should you put them inside your ears, eyes, or nostrils.
It is recommended that you do not apply essential oil undiluted on your skin. However, having said that, a lot of people do apply neat lavender oil or tea tree with few, if any, side-effects. If you are unsure, please seek advice from a qualified aromatherapist before applying neat oil to your skin.
If you are prone to skin sensitivities it is advised you carry out a sensitivity test prior to using the oil. You can do this by adding twice the recommended volume of carrier oil to your essential oil and seeing if it causes any reaction.
Similarly, if you suffer any allergies, please ensure you advise your aromatherapist prior to treatment or, if you are using oils at home that you ensure the oil/s you have chosen will not aggravate your condition.
The elderly, pregnant women, and children are recommended to seek professional advice before trying aromatherapy.
Each essential oil has its own chemical constituents and reasons for use. It is therefore advisable to speak with a trained aromatherapist before applying, or using, an oil for healing purposes.
Some essential oils may cause you to feel nauseous, headachy, or might cause a rash. If this is the case, remove immediately with plain water and cease use. If the condition continues, please seek advice from a medical professional.
Some oils are ‘photo-toxic’ meaning they react with UV light and might cause a skin reaction. You should not go out in the sun after application of a phototoxic oil.
Aromatherapy and its effects on medicines
Some essential oils may interfere with prescribed medicines. For example, they can affect antibiotics, antihistamines and sedatives. For example, a person with high blood pressure should avoid stimulants such as rosemary. If you are taking any medication, please let your aromatherapist know.
Remember that aromatherapy is a complementary therapy, so, whilst it can be used alongside conventional medication, it is not recommended that you use it instead of any medical treatment you might need.
Fancy trying some oils? Before you buy, here are a few tips and suggestions:
- Always purchase your oils from a reputable supplier.
- Price is not necessarily an indication of the quality of the oil. Different plants give different yields of oils so something like lavender is relatively cheap whereas rose is expensive since it takes a large volume of petals to produce a small amount of essential oil.
- Best before dates should be included since, as a general rule, oils will be at their best for up to two years. However, since many oils come from far and wide and may have taken some time to reach your supplier.
- Looking for the botanical (Latin) name on the bottle should ensure that the product you are buying is of a good quality and purity.
- Watch out for adulterated oils. Adulteration can take many forms including cheaper oils being added to more expensive ones such as lemon oil added to bergamot, or even oils being mixed with spirits or synthetic substances. If you purchase your oils from a reputable supplier, this should not happen.
So, Where did it all Start? A Brief History of Aromatherapy!
Aromatherapy has been used in some form or another for centuries. The use of essential oils can be traced back to at least 2000 BC with records in the bible describing the use of plants and aromatic oils being used both for the treatment of illnesses and religious purposes.
However, it is the ancient Egyptians who truly recognised the truly physical and spiritual properties of aromatic essences and began using them in a number of ways. The Egyptians extracted the oils by infusion and used them in resins, balms, and oils:
- as incense for religious purposes
- for embalming the dead to delay decomposition of bodies
- as cosmetics.
One of the most famous Egyptian blends was a mix of 16 aromatics which was later used as a perfume by Greeks and Romans. Essential oils are still used today in the manufacture of scents and cosmetics.
Ancient Greeks and Romans gained much of their knowledge regarding the use of aromatics from the Egyptians. In fact, it was the Greek, Herodotus, who first recorded the method of distillation in turpentine around 425BC.
The Greeks and Romans used aromatic oils for massaging and baths; they discovered that the essences had varying effects from stimulating through to relaxing and the Greek soldiers even carried Myrrh into battle for the treatment of wounds.
The earliest documentation of the use of aromatic oils in England was in the 13th century. When printing was developed, many recipes for making essential oils and blends were published and it is a known fact that the survivors of the Plague were those using essential oils!
The medicinal properties of plants were later reinforced by Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) in his book, Complete Herbal, which has proved so popular it is still available to purchase today.
Whilst plant oils and herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, the term ‘aromatherapy’ was introduced by the French cosmetic chemist, Renee Gattefosse, in 1928. Whilst making fragrances in his laboratory he burnt his arm, he had lavender to hand and so poured that over the wound and was amazed by the speed of skin healing and that there was no scar. This led him to begin the scientific study of the therapeutic properties of the essential oils which in turn revealed that it was possible for essential oils to be carried in the blood and lymphatic system to the organs.
Aromatherapy was introduced to Britain by Marguerite Maury in the 1950s. As a student of Gattefosse she took the essential oils and thought about how to administer them more successfully. She developed specialised massage techniques and ‘individual prescription’ whereby she blended a mix specifically for each client dependent on their emotional and physical needs.