Although the use of aromatherapy may seem like a more recent development in the treatment of certain health conditions, it clearly has its roots very much in the past and is strongly linked with herbal medicine.
The use of the term “aromatherapy” is reported to have first been used around 1928 by a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé.
At the time he was working for the family’s perfume business and became interested in the therapeutic properties of the oils purely by accident. He discovered that applying lavender oil to a severe burn on his hand, caused the burn to heal quite rapidly and helped prevent scarring.
From then on the health benefits of aromatherapy essential oils have been researched and developed widely from many different places. Madame Marguerite Maury (1895-1968), did much to establish the reputation of aromatherapy. She set up the first aromatherapy clinics in Paris, Britain and Switzerland. Much of her work was focused on the rejuvenating properties of essential oils.
The term aromatherapy can be somewhat misleading as it infers that it is a form of healing that works exclusively through the sense of smell and on the emotions. This is far from the case as apart from the fragrances of aromatherapy oils, each oil has an independent blend of ingredients which reacts with the body’s unique chemistry in a one on one manner. As a result this affects certain internal organs or systems in general.
An example of this is when essential oils are used as a massage treatment; they are easily absorbed by the skin and transported throughout the entire body.
Aromatherapy essential oils possess 3 distinctive modes of activity
- The psychological effect.
- The physiological effect.
- The pharmacological effect.
The psychological mode affects the system of the body, whether it’s in a state of sedation or actively stimulated in some manner, etc.
The psychological effect happens when an essence is being inhaled and a response occurs to the smell.
The pharmacological effect is centered on the chemical changes that occur when an oil enters the bloodstream.
One of the most frequently asked questions is how to use aromatherapy essential oils? Another question that should also be asked is how not to or who should not use them.
Although these oils are all natural, if used incorrectly they can have some very harmful effects. In line with the current aromatherapy code of practice, it is best to use essential oils for external use only. This is mainly due to the high concentration of the oils which have the potential to irritate or damage the mucous membranes and the delicate stomach lining.
Caution should also be taken when applying essential oils onto the skin. With the exceptions of lavender oil and tea tree oil, most essential oils should be diluted in a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, in the correct proportions. Children should not be treated without expert advice and pregnant women should always seek advice before using essential oils as some of them have emmenagogue properties (stimulates the uterine muscles), and can result in miscarriage.
Those with other existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, epilepsy and diabetes should also use essential oils with caution and seek advice as some oils can have adverse effects on the condition.
Aromatherapy essential oils undoubtedly have the potential to treat or ease many different conditions. They are widely used in a variety of ways to treat skin, muscle and joint problems, respiratory conditions, digestive, genito-urinary, nervous disorders as well as the immune system. One of the biggest areas that essential oils are used is to treat the mind. Many know of the relaxing properties of essential oils, whether inhaled, used as a massage or added to the bath.
When it comes to buying essential oils there are different grades of oil for different purposes. Essential oils are obtained from plants in two main methods, by simple expression or pressure, or by steam distillation. Different plants require different methods. For example most citrus oils require the expression method, while the majority of oils require steam distillation such as lavender and cinnamon.
It is these process that determine the grade of essential oil that is finally produced. In some cases a residue of the chemicals used to extract the oils remains, making it less pure. These types of oil are not recommended for therapeutic use. Always check the bottle to see if it is 100% pure essential oil. Anything that is labeled aromatherapy oil may not be of a good enough quality and purity for health needs but would be perfectly adequate for its scent.
Oils that are simply labeled ‘fragrance oils’ are most likely to be poor quality or synthetic and so should not be used for aromatherapy purposes.
Aromatherapy essential oils can deteriorate very quickly once exposed to the air and can evaporate. For this reason they should be stored away from direct sunlight, preferable in darkened bottles. Once opened for more than a few months their healing properties wane and should only be used for their scent, for example as room fragrances or to add to the bath.
There are many different ways to use essential oils depending on what you want to use them for. These include, compresses, (an effective way to treat and relieve inflammation), baths, vaporization, massage, or neat application. Generally speaking essential oils are not applied directly to the skin, however as already mentioned lavender and tea tree are the exceptions. Lavender is often used to treat conditions such as stress and headaches and tea tree can be used for insect bites as it is a powerful antiseptic.
Essential oils have certainly established their place as important health products. They have been used extensively in the commercial world for perfumes and the cosmetic industry. Oils such as rose is a popular oil added to skin treatments. Whereas tea tree oil is widely used as an antiseptic in soaps, toothpaste, face washes etc. Eucalyptus is commonly used in products to relieve catarrh, sinusitis and coughs.
As there are so many different aromatherapy essential oils, each with its own very specific scent, properties and use, it is vital that before you use the oils you either seek the advice of an aromatherapy expert or do some research to ensure you use the correct oils in the safest and most effective way.