What is the aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses natural essential oils that are found in plants, flowers, tree barks and fruit. These oils have powerful therapeutic effects on both a physical and psychological level. The oils can be absorbed through the skin through massage, bathing, or the application of compresses. Massage is the most common way to use essential oils as it combines their therapeutic effect with the relaxing effect of massage. It is also quite common for essential oils to be inhaled using a vaporizer.

Essential oils can be taken internally, but this should only be done under professional supervision as oils have varying levels of toxicity and the effects are often rapid and intense.

Over one hundred and fifty essential oils have been extracted. They contain a wide range of complex natural substances. They have similar properties to conventional drugs but generally do not have the side effects of many drugs. All essential oils have antiseptic qualities. They can be used to treat viral infections, fungal infections, various inflammatory conditions, and to treat different emotional states.

Essential oils appear to work on the whole body system in a complex way. All oils are a combination of many chemical substances, and it is the combined action of these on the whole body that has a therapeutic effect. The aroma from essential oils has a direct effect on our emotions, as our sense of smell is connected directly to the limbic system of the brain – associated with our moods, memory and learning. Molecules of essential oils are also easily absorbed through the pores of the skin, and are circulated round the body to various organs by the bloodstream. Essential oils, that have important functions in plants, are also able to stimulate a wide range of actions within the human body.

What does aromatherapy therapy involve?

Massage is the most common and an enjoyable form of treatment. Massage, usually of the whole body, is carried out using aromatic oils diluted in a vegetable base carrier oil. The technique combines the relaxing effect of massage with the quick absorption of essential oils through the skin into the bloodstream.

Your first consultation will last between one to one and a half hours, as the therapist will need to spend time asking you about your medical history, lifestyle and current state of health. She will need know if you are pregnant, have problems with your blood pressure, suffer from epilepsy or have had any recent operations. Occasionally, contact with your GP may be necessary, but your permission would be sought before this happens. Partial treatment, for areas such as back, neck and shoulders may be arranged and would involve a shorter consultation.

Treatment will usually take place on a massage table in a warm, comfortable and relaxed environment. You will be asked to remove some of your clothes to enable the therapist to massage your body. The therapist will discuss with you the oils to be used and ask how you like the smell of particular oils. We are often drawn to the scents that have a beneficial effect on us. Many therapists use a traditional Swedish massage technique but this will vary between practitioners who adopt slightly different styles of working. The therapist will not normally talk to you during the massage, as it is important for you to relax and be aware of the feelings and sensations you are experiencing. One of the immediate effects of the treatment will be the release of tension in the muscles and organs of the body. A full-body massage normally lasts between thirty to forty five minutes. You may feel a bit oily after the massage, but it is advised that you don’t bathe or shower for at least four hours to allow the oils to fully absorb through the skin.

Aromatherapy compresses are good for relieving pain, reducing inflammation and for bruising. Place four drops of essential oil in a basin of hot or cold water depending on the nature of the problem (e.g. hot is soothing for back and menstrual pains and cold/iced is good for headaches, sunburn and acute injuries). Soak a piece of cloth or flannel in the water, squeeze it out and place it over the affected area. Cover the cloth with a towel and leave it for at least thirty minutes.

Bathing is an easy way to use essential oils in your home. You can simply add up to five drops of your chosen oil into the bath water (three for young children). Alternatively, you can dissolve some essential oil in alcohol such as vodka or brandy, and keep it in a container by the side of your bath to add to your bath water. This is more effective than adding the oil directly as it helps the oil to disperse more easily into the bath water. When it is not convenient to have a proper bath, you can bathe your feet. Add four drops to a bowl of warm water, soak your feet and relax.

Inhalations of aromatic oils are an excellent treatment for colds in the head, sore throats and sinusitis. Add five drops of essential oil to a basin of hot water (not boiling), cover your head with a towel and breathe in the steam for about ten minutes. Alternatively, you can put one or two drops on a handkerchief and inhale throughout the day or night.

Vaporizers can be used to spread an aroma around your room or office. A few drops of essential oil may be added to water in an oil burner or radiator humidifier. Choose an appropriate essential oil e.g. lemon or rosemary for activity, lavender or camomile for relaxation, tea tree as an antiseptic.

What conditions does aromatherapy help?

The following are some of the conditions that can be relieved by the use of aromatherapy:

  • Stress and fatigue
  • Mild anxiety and depression
  • Mild insomnia
  • Cuts and mild burns
  • Skin problems
  • Poor circulation
  • Aching muscles and joint pains
  • Poor immunity

Is aromatherapy safe?

Aromatherapy is safe when practised or prescribed by a qualified therapist. Some essential oils are toxic, but are perfectly safe when used in the correct way. Essential oils have a powerful affect on the physiological systems of the body, and certain oils need to be avoided when dealing with the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy
  • Sensitive skin
  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy

Some oils can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and their application should be avoided before exposure to strong sunlight.

Many essential oils are fine to use in the home in vaporizers, in the bath or shower, or for application to the skin. For example: lavender oil has low toxicity and is particularly useful for acute conditions such as minor cuts or burns and to encourage sleep. Before using essential oils at home, I would advise you to consult a good aromatherapy encyclopaedia or visit a reputable site on the Internet. Do not take essential oils internally unless under the supervision of a suitably qualified therapist.