For a full list of Aromatherapy Oils click >here<
What is it?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, extracted from the flowers, fruits, leaves, stems and roots of flowers, shrubs and trees. The oils are usually obtained by steam distillation. Other techniques include expression (squeezing the oil from peel), maceration (immersing the plant in hot oil to release the essence) and enfleurage (pressing flowers between oiled glass plates).
Essential oils may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Inhaled scents stimulate the olfactory centres in the nose and particular parts of the brain. Oils massaged into the skin pass into the bloodstream and can influence nervous system function, mental function and emotions.
Modern aromatherapy stems from the work of French chemist Réné Gattefossé in the 1930s and physician Jean Valnet and biochemist Marguerite Maury in the 1960s.
How is it used?
The oils are highly concentrated and should be used sparingly. For inhalation, place one to five drops on a tissue or in a burner or vaporiser. The oils can be used to scent rooms, enhance mood and relieve stress.
If you’re using the oils for massage, dilute one to five drops of the oils per teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil, such as sweet almond or wheatgerm, cream or gel. Warming the oil, or generating heat from massage friction, enhances absorption.
The oils may also be added to bathwater. For best effect, add four to six drops to a teaspoon of carrier oil or milk and mix vigorously in the water so the oil dissolves evenly.
Medical aromatherapists prescribe the oils internally, but this requires specialist knowledge and training.
What’s it used for?
Research has shown aromatherapy to be effective for stress-related conditions, insomnia and emotional problems. Some oils are contraindicated if you’re pregnant or suffering from epilepsy or high blood pressure. Oils shouldn’t be used undiluted, by the eyes or near naked flames and must never taken internally without medical supervision.
For a list of the most widely and commonly used aromatherapy oils and their applications, have a look at the A to Z of aromatherapy oils.
If you’d like to know more about aromatherapy and its uses, the following organisations and publications may help:
PO Box 6522, Desborough, Kettering, Northamptonshire NN14 2YX
Tel: 0870 774 3477 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm)
Aromatherapy: An A to Z by Patricia Davis and Sarah Budd
The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless
The Directory of Essential Oils by Wanda Sellar
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.
First published in October 2002.