What is Aromatherapy

What is Aromatherapy


A complementary therapy that is based on the use of essential oils extracted from plants and flowers, Aromatherapy uses these essential oils to induce a positive effect on the body. Aromatherapy aims at improving well-being and reducing stress.

Rather than targeting the symptom or the disease, Aromatherapy is designed so as to treat the entire body. It helps the human body to repair, recover and maintain balance by assisting the body’s natural abilities.

We will, in this article the benefits to be reaped from Aromatherapy and how it works. We will take a look at the common essential oils used in aromatherapy and some of its benefits and uses. We will also discuss about the experience required of a qualified aroma therapist and what is to be expected from an aromatherapy session.

What is Aromatherapy?

Considered to be one of the most popular forms of complementary therapy, one of the reasons for the success of Aromatherapy is the holistic approach it adopts. When making a plan for treatment of a patient, the aroma therapist will take into consideration the individual’s medical history. Also taken into consideration before the treatment begins are the general mental health, well-being and emotional condition of the individual.

Essential oils are used in treatment hoping that it would treat and prevent disease or illness along with enhancing the body and mind. For e.g.: stress is something that can become worse if it is ignored for a long time. This would increase the risk of headaches and anxiety attacks happening at a later date. The cause of the stress is targeted by the aroma therapist. Instead of generalising, based on the individual they will create a customised plan that would consist of using a blend of essential oils. The oils would work on improving the individual’s ability to cope with the stress rather than treat the headache.

For thousands of years, oils extracted from plants and herbs have been used for medicinal purposes, but the word ‘Aromatherapy’ seems to have originated only in 1928.

René-Maurice Gattefossé – a French chemist burnt his hand accidentally, and on a reflex, plunged his hand into a vat of lavender oil that was standing nearby. He noticed that this reflex helped the burn to heal quickly and left no scar on his hand as well. This prompted him to analyse the oil further to learn more about its properties.

How does it Work?

There are two different ways in which Aromatherapy works, through the sense of smell and through absorption by skin.

Anti-inflammatory properties are present in many essential oils. They are very often applied on the skin to either fight infection or to relieve pain. Nevertheless, if you feel pain or suspect an infection, it is always advised to consult your General Practitioner before consulting an aroma therapist.

One way of using aromatherapy is the inhalation method or the smelling of essential oils. Our sense of smell has a direct link to the brain and this is the reason why each person reacts in different ways to different scents. A reaction is set off in the body when the brain receives a smell. It may make you feel hungry, energised, relaxed or even at times angry. The nerve endings present in our nose has the ability to recognize certain smells and link them to particular memories which is why we feel happy or sad when we smell certain scents.

Aromatherapy has nowadays received the recognition it merits in the world of science and is listed in the NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners. It has attained popularity in palliative care and is increasingly used along with the conventional treatment methods. Research done on the effectiveness of the treatment plan shows encouraging signs and hence the growth of the field continues.

To find out if you are benefiting from the use of aromatherapy, consult an aroma therapist who is a qualified practitioner about the use of essential oils and how to get the best out of them.

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Various symptoms and conditions can be treated with the help of aromatherapy. Its effectiveness varies from individual to individual and often requires intense research. The therapeutic qualities possessed by the oils are supposed to soothe, uplift, restore and boost the immune system as well as encourage positivity.

The various symptoms and conditions that aromatherapy is supposed to help include:


A relaxation response in the brain can be triggered with the help of certain scents. When the scents are combined with a massage, it helps to reduce the feelings of stress. To ensure long-term management, it is necessary to find out what are the reasons that cause stress in the individual.


It has proved by various studies that a positive effect can be induced on those suffering from anxiety with the help of aromatherapy. As a complementary therapy, its best effect is brought forth when used combined with other therapies like talking therapy.


Many people find that aromatherapy helps them to sleep better. Your body and mind can be helped to prepare for sleep in a better way by either burning a relaxing scent in your home or by adding certain essential oils to your evening bath.


There is a continuing growth of interest in the effects that aromatherapy can have on conditions like dementia. Many benefits have been revealed by research conducted on the therapy and it has been suggested by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that it may help in treating feelings of agitation that are present in those suffering from dementia.

Chronic Pain

It is thought that aromatherapy is particularly helpful in easing chronic pain related anxiety. A massage using essential oils may be effective in treating pain that is muscular in nature. However, exactly like any new treatment, it is very important that you consult your GP before beginning aromatherapy too.


For those patients suffering from cancer, aromatherapy may help in reducing pain and anxiety in the short-term. According to Cancer Research UK, it has been noted that many patient suffering from cancer turn to aromatherapy for relief. The therapy seems to help the patients to maintain a positive mind frame and enables them to adjust to the changes happening due to the disease.

Palliative Care

There is an increasing popularity of aromatherapy massage in palliative care. The combined effect of the massage with the scent of certain essential oils is believed to help lessen the effect the symptoms and side effects of the illness can have on patients.

Different ways to use Aromatherapy

There are different ways to use the essential oils in aromatherapy. These include the massage of oils into the body, inhaling using personal inhalers, room diffusers and the use of bath oils.

Added into bath water – To enjoy a more relaxing soak, many people prefer to add essential oils to a warm bath. If you enjoy adding essential oils to your bath, it is advised to consult a qualified aroma therapist first. He/she would be better able to advise you on which oils are safe for you to use.

Steamed – Inhaling steam is a common method to bring ease to feelings of congestion. All that is needed is to add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice to a bowl of hot water and then the steam arising from it to be inhaled.

Burned – The method of burning essential oils using an oil burner is gaining popularity. The oil is placed on a shallow surface that has a candle burning beneath it. The heat emitted by the candle will slowly burn the oil thereby allowing the scent arising from it to fill the room.

Inhaled – An excellent way of getting a quick boost from the essential oil of your choice is to keep a small of vial of it on your desk or in your purse. This way, even when on the move, you can directly inhale the oils and get the benefits.

If you are a person suffering from asthma or from any other respiratory conditions, it is preferable to consult your GP first.

Sprayed onto fabric – A method of bringing aromatherapy into your home that is both easy and fun is by adding some essential oils to a room spray. To add a relaxing comforting scent, spray them on to the furniture, bed linen or pillows. Consult an aroma therapist to ensure that the mixture you use does not stain or damage the fabrics or furniture.

Most commonly used Essential Oils

Hundreds of various aromatherapy oils each having its own benefits is available. An aroma therapist may suggest using either a single oil or a combination of few essential oils to do the treatment.

Some of the most essential oils available include:

Ginger – Helping to ease digestive problems, the scent of ginger is also known for its revitalising properties.

Lavender – Lavender is popular as an ideal relaxer and is recommended to those people who have difficulty in sleeping.

Clary Sage – It is believed that this oil has properties to manage labour pains and to relieve menstrual cramps. Clary sage is also known to possess stress relieving properties.

Eucalyptus – Well known for delivering relief from respiratory congestion, Eucalyptus oil can be very helpful when a person needs relief from a cold.

Peppermint – An energising oil, Peppermint helps to bring relief from migraines and nausea.

Lemon – Known for its uplifting and detoxification properties, oils extracted from lemons can help to energise you as well as keep you in good spirits.

Fennel – Oil from Fennel is considered to have digestive properties as well as properties that encourage menstrual regulation.

Mandarin – A oil that possesses calming properties as well as a warm citrus scent, Mandarin is often used in combination with Lavender oil to help children to relax.

Aromatherapy Massage

Massage is one of the most popular methods used in aromatherapy. The essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil to dilute them and are then massaged into the skin. An aromatherapy session can last anywhere between one hour to ninety minutes. The time is tailored according to the specific requirements of the individual. Aromatherapy massages are considered to be extremely relaxing. They give the patient the opportunity of benefitting from both aromatherapy and a massage.

Psychological Benefits

  • Helps to lift the mood (Physical touch is associated with boosting our happy hormones, which should make a person feel better)
  • Helps to relax, reduce stress levels as well as increase your sense of well-being
  • Helps to reduce nervous tension (A lot of psychological tension is held within human bodies which can be relieved with the massage)
  • Physical Benefits
  • Helps stimulate the immune system, thereby helping the body protect itself from illness
  • Helps ease muscle tension by soothing the aching muscles and leaving the person more relaxed
  • Helps to reduce fluid and toxin build-up and also encourages lymphatic drainage
  • Helps to boost circulation thereby allowing blood and oxygen to circulate more and promote healing

What to Expect

If you are interested in giving aromatherapy a try, it is recommended that you get in touch with an aroma therapist qualified in the field first.

During the first consultation, the aroma therapist will try to know you better by asking questions about your lifestyle. They will enquire about your general health and well-being, your medical history and the reason why you are considering aromatherapy as a method of treatment. After discussing the reasons for your deciding on aromatherapy and what you intend to gain from the treatment, the aroma therapist will outline a plan of treatment.

It is most likely that the individualised treatment plan would include at-home treatments as well as aromatherapy massage sessions. On an average, around 10 sessions are included in a complete treatment plan, though it may differ from person to person. Each patient is different and the duration of the treatment would depend on the patient’s symptoms, health and circumstances.

If you are a person who is already suffering from some illness, the aroma therapist would most likely ask you to consult your GP before beginning any sessions. The reason for this is aromatherapy is a complementary medicine and is designed so as to be used in combination with any other treatments you may be undergoing.

The aroma therapist will discuss with you the oils that are available and the properties of each. You will then with help from the aroma therapist choose the essential oils that would be most effective in managing your symptoms or relieving your pain.

Is it Safe?

The essential oils are safe to use if they are used in the manner prescribed. The oils are never to be taken orally or to be massaged into areas where skin is broken. Immediately contact your General Practitioner if you suffer any irritation. If you are a person who is allergic or prone to skin sensitivity, make sure that you inform the aroma therapist before treatment begins so that they can take the necessary precautions.

It is advisable that children, pregnant women and elderly people take the advice of their GP before trying aromatherapy. There may also be situations where the oils may not gel with a person’s prescribed medication. It is recommended that you inform the aroma therapist of any medications that you are using during the initial consultation itself.

What are the Qualifications and Experience an Aroma Therapist should possess?

Currently, no legal requirements that stipulate the level of training an aroma therapist must possess in order to practice are present. The industry is compliant with the standards of practice, but it is generally preferred that aroma therapists possess high level of training in anatomy and physiology as well as in the use of essential oils. There are many who also take training in aromatherapy massage.

Several professional institutions that voluntarily regulate the industry are present and a professional seeking to join any such would require specific training. Members of many such bodies are also encouraged to develop their skills by continuing with a professional development course.