Aromatherapy is the holistic practice of using essential oils from plants to enhance physical and psychological well-being. A variety of oils are used based on symptoms and they may be inhaled or applied directly to the skin. The following paragraphs will outline information about aromatherapy, including its history, applications and benefits.
Fundamentally, aromatherapy consists of using essential oils derived from plants to help aid health and well-being. 6,000 years of the use of essential oils eventually led to the development of aromatherapy in the early part of the 20th century. A French chemist began to notice the properties of essential oils as an aid to heal burns, infections and wounds in the late 1920s. By the 1950s, medical practitioners, beauticians, massage therapists and others began to use aromatherapy. Several decades later, aromatherapy began to gain more and more popularity and commercial marketing.
Essential oils are concentrated extracts derived from all manner of plant life, including grasses, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit rinds, roots, needles, and more. The oils are most commonly extracted by means of steam or water distillation, or by cold pressing. Commonly used essential oils include peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary and lemon.
Essential oils can be inhaled or massaged into the skin, and in rare cases ingested. Little scientific research has been done on aromatherapy, so it is unclear how it exactly works. Leading theories posit that olfactory receptors connect the smells to parts of the brain that store emotions and memories. It is believed that the molecules of essential oils stimulate these parts of the brain and influence health. During a typical aromatherapy session, a professional practitioner will interview you about your medical history and symptoms, as well as any smells you have a particular affinity for. Based upon this information, they will select the best essential oils, or mixture of oils, and apply them through inhalation or massage. Inhalation can range from breathing the oils from a piece of cloth, as well as through steam inhalations or vapors. Essential oils are also often applied through massage.
Aromatherapy can be used for a wide variety of ailments, and different oils are used to treat different symptoms. Aromatherapy is used in settings ranging from hospitals to spas to at-home use. Common uses include pain relief, relaxation, relief of anxiety, and treating burns and other skin ailments. Peppermint is commonly used for headaches, muscle aches and indigestion. Lavender is relaxing and useful for skin care and treating burns. Eucalyptus boosts the immune system and is helpful in treating respiratory problems, including colds and asthma. Rosemary is mentally stimulating and supports the immune system. Lemon is relaxing and can help treat wounds. Each of these essential oils and a host of others can be used individually or combined into custom blends.
Although generally safe and beneficial, a few precautions are necessary to be aware of before beginning aromatherapy. Essential oils should not be taken by mouth except under the close guidance of a professional, as some oils are toxic when ingested. Many essential oils are flammable and should be kept away from open flame. Rare side effects include rash, headaches, liver damage, nerve damage and may harm fetuses.
Essential oils have been used for millennia by a variety of cultures for their health benefits. In addition to pleasing aromas, essential oils can be inhaled or massaged into the skin for a variety of mental and physical health benefits. Aromatherapy is commonly used in hospitals, spas and can even be used at home in the bathtub. With a little study and safety awareness, aromatherapy can be a strong alternative to common ailments.