March 20, 2013
Aromatherapy is a branch of herbal medicine that centers on using fragrant substances, particularly oily plant extracts, to alter mood or improve an individual’s health or appearance. The benefits of aromatherapy range from stress relief to enhancement of immunity and the unlocking of emotions from past experiences. Skeptics cite a lack of credible supportive studies published in reputable scientific or medical journals, but this largely because there is not funding for research studies, as is true of many alternative methods.
Aromatherapy is a buzzword used by the cosmetics, fragrance, and alternative-medicine industries. Although the method has ancient roots, proponents did not call it aromatherapy before the 1930s. This expression derives from the French word aromatherapie, coined by Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a chemist whose book of the same name was published in 1928. After a lab explosion Gattefosse conveniently plunged his badly burned hand into a vat of lavender oil. He noticed how well it healed, and thus began the development of modern aromatherapy. However, aromatherapy and its essential oils have been used for therapeutic purposes for nearly 6,000 years. The ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used them in cosmetics, perfumes, and drugs. Essential oils were also commonly used for spiritual, therapeutic, hygienic, and ritualistic purposes. One of the reasons that aromatherapy has been so hugely successful is because it uses a holistic approach, whereby the aromatherapist takes into account a person’s medical history, emotional condition, general health and lifestyle before planning a course of treatment. The whole person is treated - not just the symptoms of an illness - and this is in direct opposition to the modern trend of just treating the presented condition.
The wood-resin distillates and flower, leaf, stalk, root, grass, and fruit extracts of aromatherapy contain antibiotics, antiseptics, hormones, and vitamins. Some proponents have characterized essential oils--i.e., oils that are volatile, aromatic, and flammable--as the soul or spirit of plants. Indeed, one of the aromatherapy’s premises is that essential oils have a spiritual dimension and can restore balance and harmony to one’s body and to one’s life. One of its principles, the doctrine of signatures, holds that a plant’s visible and olfactory characteristics reveal its secret qualities. For example, because the configuration of the violet suggests shyness, proponents hold that the scent of violets engenders calmness and modesty. This same principle holds true for the creation of flower essences.
Aromatherapy encompasses topical applications of essential oils, bathing in water to which essential oils have been added, sniffing essential oils, and even ingesting them. Products marketed under the aromatherapy umbrella include shaving gels, aftershaves, facial cleansers, bath salts, bath soaps, shower gels, shampoos, hair conditioners, body masks, moisturizers, sunscreen preparations, lipsticks, deodorants, candles, diffusers, massage oils, and more. Just look at the popularity and success of stores like “The Body Shop” and “Bath and Body Works” which both have aromatherapy inspired product lines. Unfortunately, many products marketed with the term “Aromatherapy” use synthetic fragrance which contains none of the beneficial components of true essential oils.
“The most common aromatherapy field is aesthetic, the sense of well-being derived from enjoying perfumes, scented candles, baths, and other fragrances,” stated Jane Buckle, R.N.,M.A., who claims the first master’s degree in clinical aromatherapy, from Middlesex University in London. At the opposite end of the spectrum, says Buckle, is medical aromatherapy, also known as aromatic medicine. Practitioners of medical aromatherapy include massage therapists, naturopaths, nurses, and a smattering of allopathic medical...