What Is Aromatherapy?

Have you ever heard the term “aromatherapy” and wondered just what is aromatherapy? In this article, I’m going to answer that question for you in a way you will understand. Hopefully, it will inspire you to try aromatherapy for yourself.

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants to promote mental and physical well being and health. The process of inhaling the scents produced by these oils is what gives rise to the term “aroma”. The scents are inhaled for the therapeutic properties of the oils.

You can get an idea of the intended effects of aromatherapy if you have ever used a product like Vicks Vaporub. Although this is not aromatherapy in the strictest sense, this product uses camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol to clear chest and sinus congestion. It’s the same concept as using other essential oils. The different essential oils all affect the body and senses differently, so they can stimulate various results.

The practice of aromatherapy has been around for centuries. Only in the 20th century was the term aromatherapy coined. The first recorded use of scents from plants to promote healing was found in ancient Chinese texts. These texts reference the burning of incense and other plant parts for healing purposes. The Egyptians used the oils from certain plants to treat the bodies that were mummified. They used essential oils from plants as perfumes. Later, in Europe plants were burned and aromas used in attempts to ward off the plague. Later research produced many books dealing with the use of scents and oils for medicinal purposes as well as in perfumes.

Around 1928 a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was working in his lab when he received a burn to his arm. He had some essential oil from the lavender flower nearby and placed his arm into the oil to cool it. In this way, he accidentally stumbled onto the fact that lavender essential oil can be used in the treatment of wounds. He found that the burn healed quickly without leaving a scar. After this discovery, lavender essential oil was used in the treatment of wounds for many years. He wrote about essential oils and their uses, and it was he who began to use the term aromatherapy in his writings.

Today we see the use of essential oils growing due to the green movement. The desire for natural remedies that help protect the environment is growing. Many people wish to avoid medications that can have undesirable and sometimes fatal side effects. Many people find the results of using natural essential oils for medicinal and cosmetic purposed to be less taxing on the environment, as well as having fewer side effects. Some people have found that using essential oils for their mood-enhancing capabilities have prevented them from having to resort to medications for such things as depression or anxiety. This is not to say that you should not seek professional medical advice for any ailment. It is simply for information so that you can be aware that there are alternatives that may work for some people. If you like, you can use aromatherapy in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Once again, you should inform your doctor if you intend to do this.

So now that we have answered the question “what is aromatherapy?”, let’s look at some ways to use essential oils safely.

Safety With Essential Oils

Unfortunately, there is no regulatory body that regulates the quality of essential oils. It is totally up to the consumer to find a reputable dealer to purchase essential oils. It is completely up to you to research the oils and read the ingredients to assure you are getting pure essential oils without fillers or added fragrances. If you want to get the most benefit from aromatherapy, only pure essential oils should be used.

Avoid synthetic oils at all costs. They simply provide the fragrance of the essential oil but do not have the therapeutic benefit of the pure form of the oil. Essential oils can be expensive. However, this is due to the amount of plant parts needed to extract a small amount of oil. It can take several hundred pounds of lavender flowers to produce a few ounces of lavender essential oil.

When purchasing essential oils you should only purchase oils sold in dark amber or blue bottles. Light can break down essential oils and make them less effective. Many people buy wooden boxes to store their bottles of essential oils to prevent light from reaching the delicate oils.

Even though they are called essential “oils” most are not oily at all. A test to find out how pure your essential oil is involves placing one drop on a piece of paper. If the oil dissolves into the air quickly and doesn’t leave an oily spot on the paper, you can be reasonably sure it is a pure essential oil. Most essential oils are volatile and they dissolve into the air quickly. That is why most recipes for use in massage therapy consist of a carrier oil mixed with only one or two drops of essential oil.

Essential oils are very powerful in undiluted form. Follow the recipes carefully when diluting with carrier oils. Essential oils should not be taken internally unless directed by a physician. Some oils are extremely toxic when taken internally.

You should always do what is known as a patch test before using aromatherapy oils on the skin. Place a small amount of the diluted oil mixture on a gauze or cotton ball. Place a small amount on your skin and wait 24 hours to assure that no allergic rash develops. If nothing develops indicating an allergy, you should be safe to use that particular essential oil. You will need to do this with any other essential oils you intend to use one at a time.

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is aromatherapy” you should have an idea of whether you may want to try aromatherapy for yourself. You will want to learn more about each essential oil and its uses to be sure you get the right ones for you. If you would like further information on aromatherapy you can read my previous post “Aromatherapy Definition“.