Aromatherapy dates back to ancient Egypt, where plants and flowers were distilled to extract their essential oils. In the early 20th century, a French chemist and perfumer, 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 a perfume. To Gattefosse’s astonishment, he found that the burn healed extremely quickly, without blistering or scarring and this led him to research the healing properties of other plants.
Other incidents recorded show that 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.
Human beings can distinguish up to 10,000 different smells – some delightful and others nauseating. It is believed that smells enter through the cilla – the fine hairs that line the nose – and then go on to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our moods, emotions, memory and learning.
Each essential oil from a flower, plant, root, leaf or piece of bark contains up to one hundred different chemical components (including esters, ketones, aldehydes and terpenes) which can have a strong effect on a person. For example, research has shown that the smell of lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, producing relaxation. The smell of jasmine increases beta waves in the front of the head, producing sensations of being more alert.
An aromatherapy consultation will consist of the practitioner finding out about your medical history and what you would like to achieve from the therapy. Based on this information, the practitioner will then mix a recipe of essential oils, which is individually designed to suit your needs.
The recipe can contain anything from four to eight different essential oils, and the practitioner will usually add three of four drops of each one to a carrier oil (normally sweet almond oil or something similar). 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 small portion of skin on which the therapist intends to work. Aromatherapy oils do not have to be only used on the skin to be effective. Instead, they can be burned in an oil diffuser (a small china pot that has a space for a tea candle underneath and a flat area on top for warm water to which a few drops of oil are added) to breathe in its therapeutic benefits. The recipe can contain anything from four to eight different essential oils. The candle warms the oil and water and releases the fragrance into the room. Essential oils can also be 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 your pillow whilst you sleep.
Aromatherapy can be used for a variety of physical and emotional problems including stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, insomnia, coughs and colds, burns, scar tissue, digestive problems and skin disorders.
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 your body.
Some essential oils must be strictly avoided during pregnancy, if you are epileptic, have high blood pressure or sensitive skin or intend to go into strong sunshine after applying the oils. Therefore, it is vital that you consult a qualified practitioner who will consider your specific needs before creating a recipe of oils for 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, and they should never be taken orally.