Aromatherapy is the systematic use of essential oils in holistic treatments to improve physical and emotional wellbeing. Essential oils, extracted from plants, possess distinctive therapeutic properties that can be utilised to improve health and prevent disease.
These natural plant oils are applied in a variety of ways:
Aromatherapy is a popular treatment for people seeking relief from stress-related problems and the symptoms of a variety of chronic conditions.
An aromatherapist is trained to select and use essential oils, which are aromatic, volatile substance extracted from a single botanical source by distillation or expression. Essential oils have been utilised in fragrances, flavours, and medicines for thousands of years. There are some 400 essential oils extracted from plants all over the world and some of the popular oils used in aromatherapy today include chamomile, lavender, rosemary and tea tree.
Is there any evidence that aromatherapy works?
Researchers have shown that when they are applied to the skin or inhaled, essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolised in the body, (Preen C. (2005) Today's Therapist (35) 2-4) substantiated by Aromatherapy Science, Pharmaceutical Press 2006 Chapter 7 p.78.). A recent study reported that fragrance stimulation brought more blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (Hirata K, Tanaka H, Arai M et al. The cecrebral blood flow change by fragrance – An evaluation using near- infrared spectroscopic topography. Jpn J. Pharmaco- EEG. 2002; 4: 43–47 (in Japanese)), which might explain the growing evidence that essential oils can positively affect depression, as shown in the recent review by Yim (Yim VW, Ng AK, Tsang HW, Leung AY. A review on the effects of aromatherapy for patients with depressive symptoms. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Feb;15(2):187-95.) and positive results in relation to relieving anxiety for cancer patients (Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, Gambles MA, Burgess CC, Cargill A, Young T, Maher EJ, Ramirez AJ. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial.J Clin Oncol. 2007 Feb 10;25(5):532-9).
Clinical trials have shown that, when applied topically, some essential oils, including Tea Tree oil, have antibacterial and antimicrobial/antiseptic properties (Hay et al. Arch Dermatol. 1998; 134:1349-1352), but there is very little new research in this field because there is very little to be gained by conducting expensive clinical trials on natural and ubiquitous substances such as essential oils.
What happens in a typical aromatherapy session?
The aromatherapist will ask questions about your medical history, general health and lifestyle. This will help him or her decide which essential oils are most appropriate for you as an individual. The aromatherapist may wish to contact your GP, with your permission, to inform him or her that you are receiving aromatherapy treatments. After selecting and blending appropriate essential oils, the aromatherapist will usually apply the oils in combination with massage. A session normally lasts for 60 to 90 minutes, and usually costs between £30 and £80.
FFI: The Aromatherapy Council http://www.aromatherapycouncil.co.uk