Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy where essential oils derived from plants, are used to promote psychological and physical well-being.
The oldest records showing the use of plants and herbs in medicine date back to 3,500BC in Egypt, where essential oils were used by royalty for anointment, mummification, to treat health conditions and also as perfume.
Records also show the use of herbal oils as remedies in Ancient Persia, Greece and the Roman Empire.
There are even various references to essential oil use in the Bible. One such passage is where the Three Wise Men delivered gifts to baby Jesus consisting of gold, incense and myrrh.
This shows that since the Biblical times, oils were already being considered as special and precious as gold.
Aromatherapy is Science not Magic.
Essential oils are produced by the plant as a bi-product of photosynthesis. These oils are then extracted from different parts of the plant, such as the petals in lavender, the bark in frankincense, the root in ginger, and the peel of the fruit in orange. Extraction can be done by steam extraction, mechanical expression or CO2 extraction.
Each oil has different chemical constituents and thus its own therapeutic benefits. The end product of the same oil varies from one season to the next, from one country of origin to the other and also depends upon soil quality, weather and other environmental conditions. What is great about these gifts from nature is that unlike conventional medicine the body will not get used to a particular oil since the chemical constituency of essential oils differs slightly from one bottle to the other.
Prices of oils also vary depending on how rare the plant is and how lengthy the process is to extract the oil. It takes 60,000 rose petals to produce 30ml of Rose oil whilst it takes 100kgs of lavender flowers to produce 3kgs of essential oil. Hence the difference in price.
There are two main pathways by which essential oils can enter into the body. They can be absorbed via the skin or by inhalation.
Essential oils are volatile substances.
When essential oils are inhaled, the molecules rise to the top of the nose and come into contact with the olfactory mucous membrane.
The olfactory mucous membrane has thousands of receptors that identify the smell and thus, the sensory stimulation is sent through the olfactory bulb, which acts as an amplifier, through the olfactory nerve into the limbic system of the brain. This is a primitive area of the brain. It deals with emotional and psychological responses. The limbic system is triggered by nerve impulses. The scent is compared to a known scent, compared and labelled, thus we can have memories associated with the scent information and react emotionally and physically through our autonomic nervous system. These responses are determined by the specific qualities of the essential oil being used, and can range from relaxing to stimulating.
Essential oils are volatile substances so when inhaled they automatically affect the primitive area of the brain which deals with emotional and psychological responses.
When the oils are absorbed via the skin they enter directly into our bloodstream.
The skin is relatively permeable to fat soluble substances and relatively impermeable to water soluble substances. Essential oils are lipophilic, i.e. they are attracted to and soluble in fatty substances.
Essential oil molecules are so minute that when they are applied to the skin; they are able to pass through the outer layer of the epidermis. Sebum present on the surface of the skin aids absorption. From here the oil molecules pass through the dermis, into the capillaries and into the bloodstream. Absorption also occurs through the hair follicles and sweat ducts
What is the Aromatherapist’s Role
An Aromatherapist is not necessarily a massage therapist or a beauty therapist. Aromatherapy is a complete and holistic therapy in its own merit. The Aromatherapist can use other complemenatry therapies in conjunction to her most powerful tools – ‘Her/His Oils’ to enhance the treatment.
An aromatherapist is also not a sales rep. And most aromatherapists shy away from multilevel marketing companies selling ‘therapeutic grade essential oils’, at the expense of promotion unsafe practises of use of the said oils. Selling essential oils is not a priority. Apart from the fact that. “such terms as pharmaceutical grade, therapeutic grade or food grade have no meaning in relation to the quality of essential oils for aromatherapy – Robert Tisserand. Will explain further is another blog post.
What is on top of our priority list is education and research. We love sharing our knowledge on these precious gems and we love to teach people how to incorporate essential oils use in their daily lifestyle.
What to expect from a session with an Aromatherapist
The main part of the treatment is a thorough consultation which usually takes between half an hour to an hour. The aromatherapist will want to see the person in front of her in his/her entirety. That means she will ask questions about your lifestyle, your diet, your stress levels, your fears, your joys, your routines. This will help her delve into the cause of your particular problem/condition/state of mind, rather than treating only the symptoms, i.e. the effect.
During the next part of the treatment the aromatherapist will work out the best treatment plan for you which will include blend or blends of essential oils and will explain to you how to use them. A very important part of the treatment is the follow up. I dedicate about two hours a day to follow up my clients. It is not that I am not confident on the treatment plan I devised or that I am pushy. The client will play a very important role in their treatment and it is important for me to stay in touch and answer any questions, offer reassurance, and monitor progress. The day my clients become just another face or number, I will quit the practice.