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Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, extracted from plants and used in treatments that can facilitate well-being and be useful in improving or preventing ill health. They can be used in a variety of ways from inhalation to absorption and many everyday products that we can now buy include aromatherapy oils.

The History of Aromatherapy

This therapy can be dated back to Ancient Egypt when incense made from aromatic woods was burnt in honour and offered to their gods. It was the Egyptians who recognised the physical and spiritual properties of essences from plants. The anti-septic and anti-bacterial properties of oils such as Cedarwood and Frankincense made them perfect for preserving corpses and the discovery of well-preserved mummies around 5000 years later gave proof that these oils were being used.

The use of oils was clearly recorded in hieroglyphics, and Hippocrates – the father of medicine studied the effects of hundreds of scented plants and herbs. It became his belief that these plants could offer a great deal to promote health. The Greeks and Romans used oils within their rituals and they played an important role in the rising popularity of bathing and massage.

The earliest written account in Europe of the use of essential oils was in the twelfth century where records show that aromatics were used as a protection against the plague, and with a lower death rate amongst parfumiers, this may have been the case.

The term “aromatherapy” came about in 1928, by the French chemist, Rene- Maurice Gattefossé who discovered the benefits of lavender after burning his arm. He found that the oil was healing on his skin and left no scarring. His studies were later taken further by Dr Jean Valnet during the Second World War, when he found that essences worked wonders for healing wounds of the soldiers.

Aromatherapy was reintroduced into the health care of Great Britain during the 1950’s by Marguerite Maury, in her book “The Secret of Life and Youth”. As a student of Gattefossé, Maury introduced the use of essential oils into massage, so they could be used on a more practical level.

Methods of Extraction of Aromatherapy Oils

Before a pre-blended mixture is put together, a great deal of work is required on the essential oils. Every single oil has a distinct chemical composition. It is this composition which determines the way the oil affects the body. Depending on the nature of the plant, and whether it is a herb, flower, fruit or a tree, will depend on how the essential oil is extracted.

There are four main methods.

Distillation: using water or steam, the plant being used is heated causing the molecules of steam and the essential oil to become condensed, turning them into liquid. This liquid form is then collected and the essential oils float to the top and are captured.

Enfleurage: more often used with exotic, delicate flowers such as neroli and rose. The flowers are place wooden framed glass trays, in oil and left for some time in the sunlight so the essential oils can be released. By repeating the process and straining the oil, the essential oils can be raised to the correct level. Alcohol is then added to remove the essential oils from the base oil.

Expression: this method is used on citrus oils, found in the zest of the fruit. By squeezing the peel in a variety of methods the essential oil is extracted without causing any damage to it.

Solvent Extraction: this technique is used where normally distillation would destroy the essential oil, especially in delicate plants like jasmine. By adding a solvent to the plant, the essential oil is dissolved, then the solution is filtered, and the essential oil remains. Pure alcohol is then used to extract the oil which remains once the alcohol evaporates.

How Aromatherapy Works

Aromatherapy can be used in many different forms, such as within candles, creams, bathing, compressing and diffusers, but they basically enter the body in two ways:-

· Inhalation – once the molecules have been breathed in through respiration, they are transported around the body from the lungs via our blood and lymph system. This is called Olfaction and is the process of odour perception. Firstly, we receive the molecules of essential oils as they evaporate on contact with warm air as they enter the nose and dissolve into the mucous membranes which line the nasal cavity. We then transmit the aromatic molecules by the cilia in the olfactory receptor cells at the top of the nasal cavity to the olfactory nerves along axons. The olfactory nerves pass through the Ethmoid bone to reach the olfactory bulb where the signal is chemically converted and relayed to the brain for us to perceive it. Within the temporal lobe of the brain is the primary olfactory area, and it is this which is directly linked to the limbic area. When it is stimulated the hypothalamus is activated and stimulates the pituitary gland which releases endorphins. Research has been carried out that demonstrates the effect of essential oils on brain waves and how it can alter behaviour.

· Absorption – the skin is semi permeable and therefore allows the aromatic molecules to dissolve into the skin, also penetrating the hair follicles of the skin. Once the oils penetrate the dermis they bind with lipids in the blood and are then carried by the blood and lymph system all around the body to tissues where they can have an effect on the nerves and other organs. The oils will be eliminated from the body through our urine and faeces, in our sweat and our exhaled breath. This process is sped up if the oils are massaged into the skin. By massaging the body with pre-blended aromatherapy oils, you can select products that are able to meet the clients’ treatment objectives. These could include products that are uplifting, calming, relaxing, invigorating or balancing. There are a huge variety of blends available to buy.

Benefits of Pre-Blended Aromatherapy Oils

Apart from the pampering aspect of the treatment, massage has many physiological and psychological benefits. A massage using pre-blended aromatherapy oils is known to:

· Improve blood flow to the whole body

· Improves lymphatic drainage

· Relieves muscular tensions

· Relieves physical and emotional stress

· Improves joint mobility

· Promotes deep relaxation

· Helps to improve muscle tone

· Relieve stress and anxiety

· Creates a feeling of balance and well being

· Reduces insomnia

· Boosts the immune system

· Improves skin tone

· Encourage essential oils to be absorbed into the bloodstream

By using pre-blended aromatherapy oils that mimic neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, certain effects can be encouraged, in this example, creating the feel-good factor, or helping with an addiction.

Really consider the treatment objectives of the client and their treatment needs:

· If clients are finding it hard to relax, then use a pre-blend that induces relaxation.

· If the client has Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) then using an uplifting blend may be of benefit.

· Invigorating pre-blended oils will have an effect on the muscular system by improving muscle tone.

Always be aware of your limitations and never mix oils yourself. If you feel that you are unable to provide an effective treatment using pre- blended oils, refer the client to a clinical aromatherapist.

Effects of Pre-Blended Aromatherapy Oils on the Body

Oils have different compounds, made up of chemicals with five carbon chains that play different roles within the body. In one oil, there may be hundreds of different constituents that work to contribute to the potential use of an oil. Oils are known to energise or detoxify. The effectiveness of essential oils depends upon the speed at which they are evaporated in open air (volatility) and absorbed through the skin. Oils that are highly volatile and evaporate quickly are considered emotionally uplifting, while slowly-evaporating oils are thought to have a calming effect. Some can reach the bloodstream within 20 minutes. Oils can have antiseptic and anaesthetic properties, and all oils are known for their biological effects, but how they react on the client will be an individual process. ,

Once the oils enter the bloodstream, they have an effect on the cells of the body to trigger different responses, such as lowering the heart rate and blood pressure. When oils are pre-blended, they have been mixed to perform a specific objective, for example to invigorate or to calm.


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