Scent from the ancients, our guide to aromatherapy
A true indulgence of the senses, aromatherapy oils not only smell good but can also help soothe both mind and body.
The term ‘aromatherapy’ was first coined in the 1930s by French chemist Gattefossé, and refers to a holistic therapy using natural oils. Its aim is to stimulate the limbic system – a part of our brain that deals with emotions – via our sense of smell, allowing us to soothe or energise our minds and bodies.
While the terminology may be relatively modern, the concept is not. In fact, the use of natural oils to promote physical and psychological wellbeing can be traced back to ancient civilisations in India, China and Egypt.
Thousands of years ago, oils such as cedar wood, frankincense and myrrh were so highly prized that pots of them were buried with the Egyptian pharaohs, while in China fragrant oils were burned in homes and temples to promote harmony.
Many civilisations also used highly scented plant oils in perfumes and cosmetics, or burned aromatic oils to keep away ‘bad air’, believed to be the root cause of many diseases. The use of these oils became an art form in the 16th and 17th centuries and by the 20th century the constituent parts of essential oils were being used to create chemicals and drugs for modern medicine.
More recently, therapists have been returning to essential oils in their original form to take advantage of their many natural benefits.
To bear in mind
Before you try harnessing the powers of essential oils for yourself, there are a few things to be aware of. Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should be cautious and consult a doctor before beginning aromatherapy. Essential oils should never be ingested, and if you’re giving yourself a massage, stay away from bony areas and any injuries, including previous fracture sites. It’s also wise to do a patch test on your skin with your essential oil and carrier oil combination to make sure your skin won’t react to them. Once you’re ready to go, you’ll soon be enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy.
An essential therapy
The essential oils that form the backbone of aromatherapy are potent natural oils distilled from botanicals. They can be used in a whole host of ways, including in bath salts, facial steamers and diffusers.
Massage is also a cornerstone of aromatherapy, and a popular way to administer essential oils. These oils can be used to invigorate, relax, reduce stress, improve circulation and reduce swelling and pain. Popular oils used to calm the mind include chamomile and lavender, whereas oils such as rosemary are considered to be energising. Other popular oils you may encounter in aromatherapy practice include clary sage, neroli, ylang ylang, eucalyptus and lemon.
Because of the distillation process, the resulting essential oils are powerful and must be used in small amounts, in conjunction with a carrier oil. This helps to prevent irritation, particularly of the skin during massage. Unrefined coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil, argan oil, rosehip oil, grapeseed oil and sunflower oil are all excellent carrier oils that can also nourish the skin when used in massage.
Getting the most from aromatherapy
If you’re looking to try a professional aromatherapy treatment, your therapist can work with you to create the perfect blend of essential oils to suit your needs and skin. A massage will allow you to soak up some of the oils, as well as inhaling their fragrance. Many of the massage treatments available at Aqua Sana use aromatherapy products from Decléor, a skincare brand which is devoted to harnessing the transformative and restorative powers of essential oils.
Aromatherapy can also be beneficial and easy to try at home. For example, self-massage of the hands, wrists and feet can be very rewarding. Before you begin, dilute your chosen essential oil with a carrier oil. Your oils may come with their own dilution instructions, but a good rule of thumb is to have 10 to 12 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil. You will not need to use more than a teaspoon of the mixed oils. To massage your skin, use your thumb to rub gentle circles around your hands, wrists and feet.
You can also make your own reed diffusers. Just make sure you diffuse them in a well-ventilated area, and use them intermittently for around 30 to 60 minutes at a time.
Choose your essence
Fiona Brackenbury, Decléor’s Global Director of Education, gives her top essential oil recommendations to soothe any complaint.
- Lavender essential oil – whether you’re struggling to sleep or just need to unwind and relax, a few drops of lavender essential oil in the bath or on your pillow will be the perfect rescue. High-altitude lavender grown the south of France is simply the best.
- Peppermint essential oil – perfect if you ever feel nauseous. Massage with a carrier oil onto the stomach to help with tenderness.
- Eucalyptus essential oil – the winter saviour. Blend with a carrier oil and massage onto the chest or around the nose, particularly when the sinuses are blocked. Thanks to its antibacterial properties, you can also dilute with water and use around the home to tackle winter germs.
- Lemon or grapefruit essential oil – if you need to concentrate or find yourself short on energy, these two citrus essentials oils will revitalise you and help you focus. Place a few drops onto a tissue and take deep breaths throughout the day.