What Is Aromatherapy?

February 03, 2017

What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy, also referred to as essential oil therapy, involves the use of concentrated plant extracts to promote the well-being and balance of mind, body and spirit. Though the word ‘aromatherapie’ was coined in the 1930’s, the practice has been around for millennia with much research to back its ability to unify our psychological, spiritual and physical processes in order to promote healing.

French chemist and perfumer Maurice Gattefosse, literally ‘wrote the book’ on aromatherapy, (Gattefosse’s Aromatherapie), publishing his findings in a book that was released in 1937. It is still referred to by modern practitioners in the present day.

Using natural, aromatic plant essences, aromatherapy is used both as a preventative and an active treatment, and has been found effective during both acute and chronic phases of many disorders, both physiological and psychological. It is a non-invasive modality designed to address the whole body condition, and not just the symptoms of a disease. It is meant to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes and to restore balance.

What can aromatherapy do?

Aromatherapy can be potent medicine, achieving results where conventional treatments fail. When the olfactory system is stimulated, a signal is processed through the limbic system of the brain, the area that controls our emotional response and helps us to recall memories. Once this process is instigated, the brain releases chemicals that can in turn make a person feel calm, relaxed or energized, even euphoric in some cases. By combining aromatherapy with other holistic treatments such as massage, a practitioner can deepen the relaxation, relieving and removing the underlying stress that is the root of many modern ailments.

Even though there is widespread agreement among practitioners that there is a close relationship between aromatherapy and the body’s functions, there is still no absolute proof that this is the case. Clinical experimentation has, however, yielded positive results for many, though the conventional medical community is still on the fence for many reasons.

Ways to use aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can be safely administered in three different ways:

  1. Diffused into the air (aerial diffusion): essential oils are evaporated into the air. This can be safely accomplished in the home, treatment room, office or any enclosed space. Many different types of diffusers can be purchased, including room diffusers, heat diffusers (where the oil is heated to release its scent) and even personal diffusers that are worn as jewelry.
  2. Directly inhaled: the person under treatment inhales the scent of the undiluted essential oil directly. This is most common when treating lung, sinus or nasal congestion, or to reap the psychological benefits of any given essential oil.
  3. Topical application: if well-diluted, many essential oils can be applied directly to the skin for massage, bathing, or for therapeutic skin care. Since essential oils are powerful compounds and often quite caustic, dilution is a must. Carrier oils such as almond oil, avocado oil and fractionated coconut oil are often used as a vehicle, as are various lotions.

While essential oils are widely available to anybody, it is always important to highlight safety concerns, as improper use can potentially cause great harm to the skin and mucous membranes.

What are the risks of aromatherapy?


Aromatic sense of smell - woman sniffing lavender essential oil from an essential oil bottleAs with any potent medicine, it is important to understand the risks as well as the benefits. Even though there are volumes of information on the internet about aromatherapy and essential oils, it is (as of 2017) still an unregulated industry, so conflicting philosophies and information abounds. It is always advisable to consult a certified aromatherapy professional. Though unregulated, there are several certifying bodies and many accredited practitioners in the field who can help determine the best possible course of treatment and advise on safety as well as best practices. It is always better to have your questions answered than to leave it to chance!

Probably the greatest risk of aromatherapy is in the realm of allergies. Some carrier oils commonly used for dilution are made from nuts, so those with nut allergies should be especially cautious. Pregnant women, those who suffer from asthma, epilepsy or high blood pressure, or anybody with skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema or generalized skin sensitivity should take great care. While side effects are not normally life-threatening, they can include nausea, headaches and rash. Essential oils made from citrus can be especially dangerous as they create intense photosensitivity, burning contacted skin when exposed to direct sunlight.

British vs. French vs. German Aromatherapy Schools of Thought

If you have been researching aromatherapy, you may have come across some discussion about the “French” methods as opposed to “British” methods. The basic difference between the two is that practitioners of the French methodology rely more on undiluted topical and internal use of essential oils, which can be exceedingly dangerous in the hands of the uneducated. The British method advocates diluted topical use, while the German method is based strictly on inhalation. When considering the French method, it is important to note that within France, it is illegal for anybody but a licensed practitioner or pharmacist to administer or prescribe an essential oil treatment. This puts aromatherapy in the realm of any conventional medicine, having the potential to do great harm if used incorrectly even as much as it can produce a good and positive result if used properly.

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