What is aromatherapy and how it can benefit your health and wellness
While some still view the use of essential oils to be 'airy fairy', it has certainly gained increasing recognition in the medical and science fields in the last 100 years or so! Originally an 'Eastern' method of healing, ancient cultures in China, India, Egypt and elsewhere, incorporated aromatic plant components in resins, balms and oils.
Although aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years, the term 'aromathérapie" was only coined in 1920 by French chemist, René Maurice Gattefossé ("the father of aromatherapy"), when observing the amazing healing properties of Lavender Essential Oil after burning his hand!
The art of aromatherapy (also known as essential oil therapy) has been practiced for about 5000 years by people using extracts from plants and trees in herbal medicine. Long before medical science was dependent on pharmacologists in the cure of ailments, people were using these essential oil extracts for healing and religious ceremonies.
Definition of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is an art form that involves the inhalation or topical application of aromatic oils extracted from a variety of plants. 'Aroma' refers to the characteristic fragrance of the essential oils, while 'therapy' refers to healing. Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils medicinally to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit! Both the physical and emotional healing properties from essential oils have been well-documented throughout time!
Aromatherapy essential oils don’t just smell absolutely gorgeous, they are made from concentrated plant extracts, which many people believe to provide powerful medicinal, cosmetic, therapeutic or spiritual benefits, and have been used for thousands of years for various reasons!
The science behind aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a holistic approach to treating and renewing the mind, body and spirit. Incorporating the senses of smell and touch, the central nervous system responds to the stimuli, resulting in the body reacting in a physiological and emotional manner! Whether the essential oils are applied directly to the skin or inhaled, one may either way reap the therapeutic effects!
When inhaled, the fragrances of the essential oils are detected by the olfactory organ in the nose, which then sends messages through the nervous system to the limbic system - the part of the brain that controls emotions. This stimulation then triggers psychological and emotional effects, resulting in different outcomes depending on which oils were used! When essential oils are applied to the skin, the oils are absorbed through the skin, attaching to body fat and fluids, and enter bodily systems to deliver physiological therapeutic effects.
The choice of essential oils will determine the benefits derived from an aromatherapy treatment and could include one or several of the following:
- Balance mood, relieve depression and enhance relaxation
- Trigger feelings of happiness, vibrancy and confidence
- Increase mental clarity, memory and concentration
- Soothe muscle cramps, aches and pains
- Relieve headaches
- Stimulate healthy blood circulation
- Eliminate toxins and waste from the body
- Alleviate symptoms of PMS or menopause
- Improve skin conditions such as acne, wrinkles, wounds, scars and stretch marks
- Stimulate cell regeneration and delay signs of ageing
- Balance hormone levels
- Boosted immune system and resistance to infection
- Promote healthy sleep patterns and alleviate insomnia
- Fight colds, flu and fever
- Improve digestive complaints
Various strategies of aromatherapy
There are many ways in which aromatherapy can be practiced. Some forms of aromatherapy can be performed at home, requiring only basic understanding of essential oils and aromatherapy. Other forms of aromatherapy require extensive knowledge and understanding of the therapy, and sometimes even an official qualification is required!
Here are the various ways aromatherapy can be applied:
- Aromatherapy massage
- Inhalation via oil burners, vaporisers, humidifiers, facial steamers or diffusers
- Soaking in a warm bath, adding a few drops of your favourite essential oils, or adding bath salts infused with essential oils
- Soaking in a foot or hand bath
- Jacuzzi or hydrotherapy
- Cold or hot compress
- Creams, oils blends, lotions, ointments and gels
- Aromatic spritzers, sprays or mists
Where to buy essential oils
Essential oils are readily available almost everywhere! You can find them easily in health food stores, supermarkets, pharmacies and various online stores. Before purchasing essential oils, it's important to know the difference between poor quality and reputable product.
The quality of essential oils can vary widely. As a responsible consumer and inhabitant of Earth, it's always recommended to choose essential oils that are organic, eco-friendly and sustainably-sourced! No fragrances, additives or synthetic ingredients should be added to essential oils, and you should always make sure that the product you're buying is 100% natural and pure.
Because the pure oils are very concentrated and can be expensive, unethical manufacturers sometimes add artificial fragrances and synthetic ‘parfum’. Cheap is not always best when it comes to essential aromatherapy oils! The good news is that a few drops go a long way!
Safe use of essential oils
While aromatherapy is a wonderful and powerful healing tool, improper practice can lead to negative side effects and even systemic poisoning! Before using aromatherapy, it's best to educate yourself on the various essential oils, their uses and their contraindications.
- Never ingest essential oils, unless under supervision of a qualified aromatherapist! Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic if used incorrectly.
- You should always dilute essential oils in a carrier or base, such as water or oil.
- Do not attempt to cure or treat any serious disease with aromatherapy.
- Avoid using on pregnant women unless you're fully trained in aromatherapy.
- If you suffer from any medical condition, first research which essential oils are safe and which are contraindicated to your condition.
Caution: Essential oils should not be taken internally. Add to a carrier oil, as a massage oil, rub onto temples, use as a burner oil, in the bath or as a steam inhalation. Essential oils are not recommended during pregnancy, breastfeeding or on small babies.
If you have any health-related questions, please contact us or leave a comment below for FREE advice. We always love hearing from you!