The word “Aromatherapy” comes from two words: “Aroma” meaning fragrance and “Therapy” meaning treatment. Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile liquid plant materials known as essential oils or organic oils and other scented compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person’s mood or health. It is a healing art based in nature and it affects the whole person-mind, body and spirit. Complete or holistic healing is ever-increasingly utilized today in every modern society. Aromatherapy is a fast growing therapy in holistic medicine. As far back as 18,000 B.C., flowers, plants, and their essences were used for healing, relaxation and energizing. Aromatherapy was used by the most ancient civilizations: Egypt, China and India, and is reputed to be at least 6000 years old.
Aromatherapy is an art as well as science of using aromatic substances usually essential oils to cure common ailments. It is also popular as a stress reliever.
Pure essential oils have an immediate impact on our sense of smell. When essential oils are inhaled, olfactory receptor cells are stimulated and the impulse is transmitted to the emotional center of the brain, i.e. limbic system. These oils are also-called fragrance oils or perfume oils. The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing and blood circulation as well as the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil, the fragrance and its effects determine stimulation of these systems. When used in massage, essential oils are not only inhaled, but absorbed through the skin as well. They penetrate the tissues and find their way into the bloodstream where they are transported to the organs and systems of the body.
Essential oils have differing rates of absorption, generally between 20 minutes and 2 hours, so it is probably best not to bathe or shower directly following a massage to make sure maximum effectiveness.
People with certain chronic illnesses or conditions should not use aromatherapy without first consulting a doctor. These illnesses and conditions include:
-Lung conditions such as asthma, respiratory allergies or chronic lung disease. Aromatic Oils may cause airway spasms.
-Skin allergies. Some oils may cause skin irritation, especially in the membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.
-Pregnancy. Pregnant women should not use aromatherapy. Some Natural Herbal oils (such as juniper, rosemary and sage) may cause uterine contractions.
An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled (most frequently by steam or water) from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots or other elements of a plant. Essential oils, contrary to the use of the word “oil” are not really oily-feeling at all. Most essential oils are clear but some oils such as patchouli, orange and lemongrass are amber or yellow in color. These extracted oils contain the true essence of the plant it was derived from. Essential oils are highly concentrated in nature.
Like essential oils, absolute oils or Plant Extract Oils are highly aromatic liquids extracted from plants. Absolutes, however, are extracted in a complex manner that needs the use of chemical solvents that are later removed during the final stages of production. Sometimes, the hot steam or water used to distill an essential oil does not extract much natural oil from the plant or harms the precious natural oil. The solvent extraction methods are often used in these cases.
As a rule, absolute oils are more concentrated than their essential oil cousins. A very trace amount of solvent can remain in the final absolute. This indeed is a disadvantage to using absolutes as aromatherapy focuses on the use of pure and herbal plant extract matter. Although the amount of remaining solvent is minimal, absolutes are used in true aromatherapy with care, respect and knowledge. Essential oils should never be taken internally by anyone who is not trained, educated and experienced at doing so. Absolutes should never be taken internally by anyone because of that small amount of trace solvent that may remain.
Carrier oils also referred to as base oils or vegetable oils are used to dilute essential oils, CO2s and absolutes before applying to the skin. They carry the essential oil onto the skin. Different carrier oils offer different properties and the choice of carrier oil can depend on the therapeutic benefit being sought. These are generally cold-pressed vegetable oils derived from the fatty portions of the plant. Unlike essential oils that evaporate and have a concentrated aroma, carrier oils do not evaporate or impart their aroma as strongly as essential oils. Examples of carrier oils are sweet almond, apricot kernel, grape seed, avocado, peanut, olive, pecan, macadamia nut, sesame, evening primrose, walnut and wheat germ.
Essential oils do not go rancid. Carrier oils, however, can go rancid. Carrier oils that you buy should be natural and unadulterated. Exceptions include buying carrier oils that have natural vitamin E added. Vitamin E acts as a natural preservative.
The world over, aromatherapy is becoming big business in beauty and health spas, fragrance and cosmetic industries. Some use pure essential oils; others sneak in the cheaper, synthetic copies but only pure essential oils can produce genuine results.