Aromatherapy uses the healing properties of essential plant oils to treat illness and promote well-being.
What can Aromatherapy treat?
Aromatherapy is most often used to help treat those suffering from:
- stress related problems such as insomnia and migraines
- digestive problems
- muscular problems
- PMT and period pains
- some skin conditions such as eczema and acne
- asthma, sinusitus and hayfever
Herbal oils have been used in the many cultures, from ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages, but the term ‘Aromatherapy’ was actually coined by French chemist Réné-Maurice Gattefossé in the early 1900s. Gattefossé accidentally burnt his hand and immediately applied lavender oil to the burn. To his amazement, the wound healed quickly and with little scarring, prompting him to research the therapeutic qualities of plant oils. He published his findings in 1936 and, since then, the popularity of aroma
therapy has continued. It is now one of the fastest growing complementary therapies in the UK.
Essential oils are extracted from the flowers, leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of certain plants and trees, usually by steam distillation. Each essence has a different property and effect. Tea tree oil, for example, has antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties and is often used to treat respiratory and gynaecological problems as well as a variety of skin conditions including acne and insect stings. Lavender works well both as an anti-depressant and as a sedative and is often given to those suffering from nervous tension and stress-related disorders. Rosemary works as a stimulant and a decongestant and is good for circulatory and respiratory problems. Understanding their effects is a crucial part of an aromatherapist’s training.
The oils can be mixed in a base oil and massaged into the body or face. They can also be inhaled, used in a bath or applied in a cold compress next to the skin. In theory, the essential oils enter the body through the blood stream. They can then affect mood and stress levels as well as physical and emotional well-being.
Consultation and treatment
The first session with an aromatherapist may last up to two hours during which you will be asked about medical history, health, lifestyle, work, exercise and sleeping patterns.
The practitioner will then select the oils for your treatment. Only oils agreeable to you will be used.
Treatment involves a light massage with essential oils mixed in a carrier oil such as sweet almond. A full body massage lasts about an hour; a facial 30 minutes.
The frequency and number of treatments required will depend on your condition, with chronic complaints requiring more treatments. The therapist may instruct you to use baths, compresses, inhalations and self-massage at home.
If you are simply looking for a relaxing massage, a single session may do the trick. However, a session once a week for several weeks is recommended for those with chronic conditions.
Cost starts from £25 for an hour’s massage. Allow up to 2 hours for the first consultation and up to 90 minutes for subsequent consultations.
Essential oils can be used in inhalations as part of a skin-care routine or for respiratory conditions, vaporised or added to baths for a relaxing and invigorating soak. However, essential oils are very concentrated and should be used with caution. Recommended quantities and dilution should always be observed.
Some essential oils may contain synthetic fragrance and only two or three per cent essential oil; others may be diluted. A trained practitioner will only use high-quality oils, free from synthetic additives – and so should you. Contact the Aromatherapy Organisations Council for information and advice.
How to find a practitioner
The Aromatherapy Organisations Council represents 12 Aromatherapy associations and over 115 colleges, about 90 per cent of clinical aromatherapists in the UK. The Council also sets the minimum training standards. Aromatherapy training currently involves part time study over a minimum period of 9 to 12 months.
Most pure essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin (except for lavender oil on burns and tea tree oil on insect stings and then only if the skin is unbroken) or taken internally without the supervision of a trained practitioner.
Aromatherapy is suitable for babies and children but only small quantities of certain oils should be used. Pregnant women should consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor before using essential oils as some oils must not be used during pregnancy.
Tell your practitioner if you are taking homœopathic medication, if you suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy or cancer or if you have sensitive skin.
Massage should be avoided if you suffer from thrombosis or phlebitis. In these cases, essential oils can be used in the form of compresses or in the bath. Massage should not be applied directly to varicose veins.
Inhalations should be used with care if you have asthma or are prone to nosebleeds.