Aromatherapy dates back to ancient Egypt, where plants and flowers were distilled to extract their essential oils for use in the making of perfumes as well as in healing. In the early 20th century a French chemist and perfumier, Rene Gattefosse, badly burned his hand whilst working in his laboratory. In an attempt to cool the burn he plunged his hand into a vat of lavender essential oil that was waiting to be used in perfume. To Gattefosse’s astonishment, he found that the burn healed extremely quickly, without blistering or scarring. He then went on to research the healing properties of other plants. During the Second World War, Jean Valnet, a French doctor, used essential oils to treat the wounds of the soldiers. A French biochemist, Marguerite Maury, further developed the idea, using essential oils as an integral part of healing massage.
Aside from the healing properties many major perfumes and colognes are enriched, and receive their specific aromas, from blends of a wide range of essential oils. By balanced blending of alcohol, flower waters and a variety of essential oils, personalised perfumes and colognes can be made at home that are free of chemical additives and beautiful to use. Just as easy to prepare are creams and lotions that are beneficial for all skin types, from simple moisturisers to anti ageing creams that again are wholly natural with no chemicals additives.
How does it work? Aromatherapy works by absorption of essential oil molecules into the blood stream via the skin, and via the sense of smell. Human beings can distinguish up to 10,000 different smells through the olfactory system. It is believed that smells enter through the cilia, the fine hairs which line the nose, and then go on into the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls moods, emotions, memory and learning. Through massage essential oil molecules are absorbed into the body allowing the beneficial therapeutic content of the selected oils to freely circulate around the internal systems and organs.
Each essential oil from a flower, plant, root, leaf or piece of bark naturally contains up to one hundred different chemical components which can produce strong physical and emotional effects. For example, research has shown that the smell of Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) increases alpha waves in the back of the head, producing relaxation. The absorption of Carrot Seed (Daucus Carota) allows its diuretic properties to help purify the kidneys and its cell regeneration properties provide excellent skin care. The desired effect depends on the correct amount being used as some essential oils have both relaxing and stimulating properties depending on the dosage. It is always advisable to get advice from a qualified practitioner.
What does it involve? An aromatherapy massage treatment will begin with a consultation with the practitioner to understand your medical history and what you would like the therapy to achieve. On the basis of the information you provide, the practitioner will then mix a blend of essential oils, which is individually designed to suit your needs. The blend can contain anything from four to eight different essential oils where three of four drops of each one are blended with naturally produced carrier oil such as Vegetable, Almond or Grapeseed oil.
You will be asked to undress and lie on a treatment couch whilst the massage is carried out. Therapists are particularly sensitive to their clients’ need for modesty and the client is always covered with sheets or towels throughout the massage, which are removed only over the area of the body on which the therapist intends to work.
Aromatherapy oils can also be burned in an oil diffuser, diluted in water and sprayed into the air, or a couple of drops can be poured onto a tissue or cotton wool and tucked under a pillow whilst sleeping. Particularly beneficial is a hot bath with essential oils added or a light self massage with essential oils blended with carrier oil after a shower. The options available for treatment are endless and therefore reinforce how individual needs and requirements are paramount in determining the choices.
What is it good for? Aromatherapy can be used to treat a wide variety of both physical and emotional problems including stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, muscular pain, insomnia, coughs and colds, burns, digestive problems and skin disorders. The wide range of properties found in essential oils is outlined in the following examples:
Rose (Rosa Damascena), whilst being renowned for a wonderfully heady aroma found in many perfumes, has also bactericidal properties which help the circulatory and respiratory systems as well as anti-inflammatory properties that benefit the soft tissues of muscle and skin.
Melissa (Melissa Officinalis), whilst having a pleasant flowery aroma, is renowned for its calming and rejuvenating effects on the nervous and circulatory systems due to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and sedative properties. In Aromatherapy Melissa is widely used in the treatment of severe cases of depression and grief.
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale), which would not be on many lists of the most pleasant of aromas, is a fantastic antioxidant and antiseptic good for treating all kinds of skin and muscle problems as well as being a stimulant and tonic for the digestive system.
Tea Tree (Malaleuca Alternifolia), a well known and widely used essential oil which has a very ‘medicinal’ aroma and has excellent antifungal, bactericidal and strongly antiseptic qualities and is used for treating bites and stings, athletes foot, burns, itching skin, mouth ulcers and much more.
What are the benefits? Clients report that the process of having a gentle massage with aromatherapy oils is a wonderfully relaxing and soothing experience. Depending on an individual’s needs, essential oils can be used to soothe, uplift, energise, relax or stimulate the mind, the body or both. The major benefit being a renewed sense of wellbeing both mentally and physically that lasts well beyond the moment of treatment. With regard to issues such as skin disorders, applications and creams can be produced with a wide variety of essential oils that have specific benefits for problem areas and help to reinforce and support the body’s natural healing powers.
What are the side effects and when should it be avoided? Some essential oils must be strictly avoided during pregnancy, if you are epileptic, suffer from high blood pressure or exceptionally sensitive skin. Because of this it is vital that you consult a qualified Aromatherapy practitioner who will take your specific needs into account before creating a recipe of oils for use on your skin. Essential oils are very strong and can cause severe irritation unless they are diluted in a carrier oil. They should never be applied to any part of the skin unless diluted first. Ingestion of essential oils is not recommended under any circumstances and can be dangerous to health. Although legal in France it is only allowed through recognised and regulated expert practitioners.