History of aromatherapy

Aromatherapy dates back to at least 2000 BC. The first evidence of the wide-ranging use of essential oils comes from the ancient Egyptians who used the aromatic oils in cosmetics. The Greeks and Romans obtained most of their knowledge about aromatherapy from the Egyptians and used the aromatic oils in massage and daily bathing. They discovered that the fragrance of certain flowers was stimulating and invigorating, whilst others were sedative and relaxing. Records in the bible also show the use of plants and their aromatic oils both for the treatment of illnesses and religious purposes. The earliest written record for the use of aromatic oils in England was in the 13th century.

In the 1920’s, a French cosmetic chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of essential oils / plant medicine when he burned himself whilst making fragrances in his laboratory. He found that the essential oil of lavender helped to heal the skin leaving no scarring. It was this discovery that led him to research the medicinal uses of essential oils. From this extensive research he found that essential oils could penetrate the skin and be carried in the blood lymphatic system to the organs. Other French doctors and scientists continued his work and helped to validate the status of essential oils as scientific substances. The medicinal use of essential oils became established when a French surgeon named Jean Valnet used them as antiseptics to treat wounded soldiers in the absence of medical supplies during World War II.

Herbal medicine and aromatic remedies lost credibility with the growth of the modern synthetic drugs industry, and the use of essential oils was limited to perfumes and cosmetics by the mid 20th century. Modern aromatherapy practices are derived from the work of Madame Marguerite Maury, an Austrian biochemist and cosmetologist who was a student of Gattefosse. In the late 1950’s, Madame Maury furthered the work of Gattefosse by combining the application of essential oils on the skin with massage techniques, developing the techniques used today for diluting and blending essential oils for massage.

Aromatherapy has progressed commercially and has also become available on the NHS. Around 40% of GP practices offer their patients access to some form of non-conventional treatment, such as aromatherapy.

lavender and bottles

What are essential oils and where do they do they come from?

Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile substance which are present in minute quantities in special plant cells, and can be extracted from various parts of the plant. There are several methods of producing essential oils due to their differences in distribution. Essential oils can be very powerful, and therefore they are used in small amounts blended with a ‘carrier’ oil. Carrier oils act as a blending or stabilising agent for the essential oils, aid the absorption of essential oils into the blood stream, have their own therapeutic properties and help when using essential oils to cover a large body area. Examples of carrier oils include Grapeseed, Sweet Almond, Jojoba, Macademia, Olive and Wheatgerm oils.

Aromatherapy oils

Benefits of aromatherapy

  • Encourages the body to heal

  • Rebalances the whole system to restore homeostasis.

  • Can help to restore health and prevent future illness.

  • Deep relaxation

  • Stress relief

  • Pain relief by release of endorphins

  • Reduced muscle tension

  • Increased energy levels and promoted energy flow

  • Improved sense of well-being by release of endorphins and serotonin

  • Stimulation of the body systems

  • Lymphatic drainage allowing the body to rid itself of toxins

  • Maintenance of good health

  • Improves physical condition by improving muscle tone, blood and lymph circulation

Methods of applying aromatherapy

As well as essential oils being used as a massage oil, the benefits of essential oils can be accessed in a number of ways such as adding essential oils to your bath, creams, cleansers, moisturisers, face spritzers, steam inhalation, oil burners, added to iron water, hot / cold compresses, shampoos / conditioners, foot spa , inhaling from a handkerchief and room sprays.

candle, lavender, stones, bottles


These are the body’s responses that can occur during or after a treatment. Some may be a reaction to the oils used, some may due to massage however most are temporary symptoms of the body eliminating itself of toxins and healing.

Reddening of the skin where blood capillaries have been dilated, aching / tenderness, allergic reactions to an essential or carrier oil, headache due to detoxification process, dizziness, nausea, flu like symptoms, changed sleep patterns / insomnia, fatigue, thirst, heightened emotions, increased urination / defacation, hallucination (reaction to the oil used or changes to nervous state), hyperactivity, change of appetite, respiratory reactions (more or less congestion, change in breathing), change in mucous.

If you have any concerns after a treatment, please contact your therapist or GP.

After a treatment

After an aromatherapy treatment, your therapist should provide you with an aftercare sheet to take home. General aftercare advice includes: avoid bath / shower / steam rooms / swimming for 8 hours, avoid direct sunlight or other UV light for 24 hours after application of phototoxic oils, wait 10 minutes post treatment before driving, drink plenty of water to enhance the detoxification process and flush out toxins, avoid alcohol / caffeine, avoid heavy meals, rest, relaxation techniques, take gentle exercise, healthy eating and get plenty of fresh air.

Safety precautions

Essential oils can be very powerful and, if used incorrectly, can produce adverse bodily reactions. A therapist should always undertake a detailed consultation to ascertain a client’s physical and psychological condition. This is important to ensure that any oils used are suitable, do not pose a risk and do not interfere with any medication being taken. For clients with sensitive skin or allergies, a patch test may be undertaken to check for any reactions prior to a treatment. Essential oils should always be used in sensible proportions and should not be applied undiluted to the skin. Essential oils should never be taken internally, unless under the direction of a medical professional. Prolonged use of the same essential oil should be avoided. It is recommended that anyone wanting to use essential oils for home use consult a qualified aromatherapy professional or at the very least undertake sufficient research to be aware of the properties and associated precautions of any essential oils used and the recommended dilution rates and carrier mediums.

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