"Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process."
Aromatherapy is thought to work in two different ways - through skin absorption and through your sense of smell.
Some essential oils contain anti-inflammatory properties. These oils may help to relieve pain or fight infection when applied to the skin.
If you are in pain or have an infection, it is important to visit your GP to find out the cause. If your GP diagnoses you with an illness or prescribes medication, be sure to speak to them before you try aromatherapy.
Inhaling or smelling essential oils is another way aromatherapy can be used. The nerves that help us smell are linked directly to the brain. When the brain receives a smell, it sets off a reaction in the body - this could make you feel hungry, relaxed or energised. Our sense of smell is also linked to our memory centres, so a smell may trigger a happy (or sad) memory.
So, does it really work?
Aromatherapy has started to receive recognition in the science world and is listed on The NHS Directory Of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners. It has also gained steam in palliative care, and is increasingly used alongside conventional palliative care treatment. Research into its effectiveness in other areas is encouraging, but ongoing.
The best way to find out if aromatherapy will work for you is by trying it yourself. Speaking to an aromatherapist will ensure you are getting the best out of the therapy.
There are hundreds of different aromatherapy oils, all of which have different benefits. An aromatherapist may use just one oil in their treatment, but it is more likely that they will use a combination of oils.
Some of the most common essential oils and their uses are:
•Eucalyptus - This oil is known for relieving respiratory congestion, so can be helpful if you are suffering from a cold.
•Ginger - The herb ginger can help ease digestive problems and the scent is known for revitalising the body.
•Lavender - The ultimate relaxer, lavender is recommended for those who find it difficult to sleep.
•Lemon - An uplifting and detoxing scent, lemon can help energise you and lift your mood.
•Neroli - Thought to help those with anxiety, neroli oil is nourishing and comforting.
•Peppermint - Mint is an energising oil which is thought to help ease migraines and relieve nausea.
This is just a brief breakdown of some of the most popular oils used within aromatherapy. You can speak to an aromatherapist to find out which essential oils are best suited to you.
Different Ways to Use Aromatherapy
As we mentioned earlier, aromatherapy oils are either applied to the skin (via aromatherapy massage) or inhaled. Commonly the oils are used in one of the following ways:
Burned - Many people choose to burn essential oils using an oil burner. This is where oil is placed on a shallow surface, positioned above a candle. The heat of the candle burns the oil, encouraging it to release it's scent.
Added to a bath - Some people like to add aromatherapy oils to their bath for a relaxing soak. If you want to do this, be sure to speak to an aromatherapist first. A professional can tell you which oils are safe to use and whether you need to dilute them first.
Sprayed onto fabric - An easy way to bring aromatherapy into your home is to add some essential oils to a room spray. You can spray this on your furniture, bed linens or pillows. To ensure the mixture won't stain or damage your fabrics, be sure to consult an aromatherapist first.
Steamed - This can be helpful if you are congested. Add a few drops of your chosen essential oil to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam.
Directly inhaled - To get a quick boost from your chosen essential oil, you could carry a small vile of it with you and directly inhale. If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, check with your doctor that this is OK first.
One of the most popular (and relaxing) ways to use aromatherapy is through an aromatherapy massage. This is when essential oils are added to a carrier oil and then massaged into the skin. It is important that the essential oils are diluted with a carrier oil, as neat essential oils can irritate the skin.
Massages usually last between 60 and 90 minutes and will be tailored to suit your specific requirements.
Having an aromatherapy massage will give you the best of both worlds as you reap the benefits of both aromatherapy and massage.
•Encourages lymphatic drainage (helping to reduce fluid and toxin build-up).
•Stimulates the body's immune system (helping your body protect itself from illness).
•Boosts circulation (helping blood and oxygen pump around your body to promote healing).
•Eases tense muscles (making you feel more relaxed and soothing aching muscles).
•Helps you feel relaxed (this can reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being).
•Reduces nervous tension (a lot of psychological tension can be held in our bodies, so it can be helpful to release this).
•Can help to lift mood (physical touch boosts our happy hormones, so massage can help you feel uplifted).
What Can Aromatherapy Help With?
Aromatherapy can be used for various symptoms and conditions. The evidence for its effectiveness is varied and in some instances further research is required. The following issues are thought to benefit from aromatherapy:
Research has suggested that aromatherapy can have a positive effect on those with anxiety. Remember, aromatherapy is a complementary therapy. This means it works best when used in conjunction with other therapies (i.e. talking therapy or medication).
Aromatherapy may help to reduce pain and anxiety for those with cancer in the short-term. Do check with your doctor before undertaking any new form of complementary therapy.
Aromatherapy can be especially useful for easing any anxiety associated with chronic pain. Aromatherapy massage can be useful if the pain is muscular. As with any new therapy, be sure to get the OK from your doctor first.
There has been growing interest into the effect of aromatherapy on conditions such as dementia. Research has revealed some benefits and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggest it can help agitation in those with dementia.
Many people find aromatherapy a helpful aid for sleep. Burning a relaxing scent in your bedroom or taking a warm bath with aromatherapy oils can help prepare your body for sleep.
Aromatherapy massage especially is becoming increasingly popular in palliative care. The combination of scent and massage can help patients feel less affected by the side effects of their illness.
Certain scents can trigger a relaxation response in the body. When this is combined with massage it can help to reduce feelings of stress. Discovering the underlying cause of your stress is key however to help you reduce it in the long-term.
What to Expect
If you would like to try aromatherapy, it is recommended that you get in touch with an aromatherapist. During an initial consultation your aromatherapist will likely ask you about the following:
•your general health
•any health problems
•your desired outcome.
They can then suggest a treatment plan, which will likely include aromatherapy massage and at-home treatments. A full series of treatments may include 10 or so sessions, but you may only need one. This will all depend on what brought you to aromatherapy in the first place.
If you are suffering from an illness, your aromatherapist may ask to consult your GP. This is because aromatherapy is a complementary therapy and is designed to work in harmony with any other treatments you are receiving.
Essential oils are safe to use, provided they are used correctly. The oils should never be swallowed or applied to open orifices/broken skin. Some people may suffer an allergic reaction. If you are prone to such reactions, be sure to tell your aromatherapist so they can take necessary precautions.
Pregnant women, elderly people and children should seek medical advice before trying aromatherapy. There are also some instances where the oils can interfere with prescribed medication. To be safe, inform your aromatherapist of any medications you are taking.