Aromatherapy is the use of plant essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Essential oils have been used in fragrances, flavourings and medicines for thousands of years and there are around 400 different oils extracted from plants all over the world.
The use of essential oils for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes goes back to ancient civilizations including the Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman who used them in cosmetics, perfumes and drugs. The healing properties of oils were described by Dioscorides in his ‘De Materia Medica’, written in the first century AD. Distilled essential oils have been employed as medicines since the invention of distillation in the eleventh century when Avicenna isolated essential oils using steam distillation.
Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the effects of aromatherapy on the body. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils. Each oil has its own special therapeutic properties, and can be used in a variety of ways, including body massage with the oils being blended with a carrier oil and massaged into the skin, or inhaled or used in compresses on wounds. It is important to consider that essential oils are very potent and some may not be universally suitable- especially in pregnancy and around babies and pets. It is strongly advised to check for appropriate application before use. Preparation of the oils is carefully regulated by The Aromatherapy Trade Council (ATC).
Aromatherapy has many uses including relaxation, pain and anxiety reduction, enhancement of energy and short-term memory, hair loss prevention and reduction of skin disease-induced itching. When combined with massage, which helps to soothe away muscular tension and improve circulation, an aromatherapy treatment can be either deeply relaxing or uplifting, depending on the oils and massage techniques used by the therapist. Aromatherapy massage and essential oils are commonly used in hospitals, hospices and other healthcare settings, to help support patients and their carers. Many aromatherapy oils, such as tea tree and eucalyptus oils, are commonly used for their antimicrobial properties in wound healing and sterilisation.
The Aromatherapy Trade Council regulates the manufacture and trade in essential oils
The International Institute for Complementary Therapists
International College of Holistic Medicine
British Holistic Medical Association
The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists