Aromatherapy has become completely divorced from its own name. Today people seem to associate it more with the “aroma” component and no longer the “therapy.” In fact, aromatherapy uses essential oils to treat the individual through three different methods: inhalation, topical application, and orally. Aromatherapists treat the individual in a holistic sense, by doing diagnostics through questioning and using the feedback to blend the different oils to suit that individual’s needs. Then depending on the ailment, the aromatherapist will select the appropriate method. For example, colds, depression or anxiety might be treated through inhalation, whereas skin and muscle conditions might be treated through blending and applying the oils through massage. In the US and UK, essential oils are not prescribed to be taken internally, although in France some doctors are actually trained in this.
There is an amusing story behind the birth of modern aromatherapy. Although herbal remedies have been around for millennia, it was a Frenchman by the name of Gattefosse who first coined the term in 1936 when he published “L’Aromatherapie.” The origins of his research began after an unfortunate incident where he burned his hand in a laboratory. Seeing no water or appropriate liquid immediately available, he went with his instinct and plunged his hand into a vat of lavender oil. Voila! His hand was healed (not instantaneously, but noticeably quicker than after using other conventional treatments of the day). It was then that the world’s love affair with the classic and most used essential oil lavender began (don’t you just love happy endings!)
[Side note: Most people only think about an aromatherapy massage as a nice-smelling way to relax, however aromatherapists struggle to get across that aromatherapy is a serious complementary therapy. When I attended a 6 day introduction course on aromatherapy at Neal’s Yard Remedies in London, the aromatherapist who taught the massage content joked about how happy she was to teach us, since she could finally do a relaxing massage on the lucky student who was selected for the demonstration. In the course of her work, she rarely gives relaxing massages!]
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant and flower essences made through either distillation or cold pressing processes. They are extremely potent, so only used in small quantities (usually a few drops per bottle of product). Generally your body will let you know whether or not a certain essential oil is good or bad for you. If you hate the way an essential oil smells, that’s your clue! For example, neroli is an amazing essential oil for skincare. It helps replenish and repair dry, damaged skin, is great for mature skin, treating scars and stretch marks. However, try as I might, I can’t make myself like the way it smells. Sadly, neroli is just not for me.
Often, natural beauty products will be laden with essential oils and it can be hard for the beginner to figure out which oil or oils aren’t agreeing with them. A good way to start out is by making a trip to your local health food store and sniffing some of the essential oils. If you want to try your hand at mixing up something, a good product to make first is a facial oil . Make sure you adhere to the right ratios, and when in doubt contact a local aromatherapist. When it comes to essential oils, less is more: start with less, as you can always add more!