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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
Civil Engineer & CAD Specialist
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Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and similar aromatic compounds from plants, for the purpose of improving a person's mood, cognitive function or health. An aroma therapist is the person who performs the aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy, as it is practiced today, began with the Egyptians, aromatherapy has been around for 6000 years or more. The Greeks, Romans, and ancient Egyptians all used aromatherapy oils who used the method of infusion to extract the oils from aromatic plants which were used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.

The Romans learned from the Greeks and became well known for aromatic baths followed by massage with aromatic oils. The popularity of aromatics led to the establishment of trade routes to India and Arabia.

The modern era of aromatherapy is dawned in 1930 when the French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse coined the term aromatherapy for the therapeutic use of essential oils. He was fascinated by the benefits of the use of lavender oil in healing his burned hand without leaving any scars. He started investigating & studying the effects of other essential oils for healing and for their therapeutic benefits.

 French army surgeon Dr. Jean used essential oils as antiseptics. Later, Madame Marguerite Maury elevated aromatherapy as a holistic therapy. She started prescribing essential oils as remedy for her patients. She is also credited with the modern use of essential oils in massage. It is at this point that aromatherapy became an intriguing, semi-medical modality which allowed the lay person to attempt self- therapy for many common ailments.

Aromatherapy works the best when it works on the mind and body.

Because many essential oils are potent antimicrobials, they can be useful in the treatment of infectious disease. They are used as medicines, often in combination with other herbal preparations, by a small group of doctors in France. In nursing, essential oils are increasingly used in pain management, anxiety/depression, and Alzheimer's disease. Aromatherapy may be used in combination with other forms of alternative medicine. Terms such as 'essential oil therapy' 'clinical aromatherapy' and 'medical aromatherapy' have been used by some journals, educational institutions and practitioners, in order to distance themselves from association with the commercial aspects.

What exactly are aromatherapy essential oils?

Aromatherapy oils are essential oils which are extracted from a variety of plants, and can be taken from the seed, the flower, the bark, the fruit, the leaf or the root of the plant.

What are aromatherapy  essential oils used for?

They can be used to treat a variety of illnesses, conditions and complaints. Some oils have a balancing effect on the body, such as frankincense, some help the user to relax, for example lavender; whilst others like rosemary and ylang ylang have an uplifting and stimulating effect.

Why do aromatherapy essential oils always have such long, complicated names?

All essential oils will be labeled with a common name and a Latin name. So, for example, tea tree oil is also known as Melaleuca alternifolia. The Latin name is made up of the plant’s family or genus – in this case Melaleuca – and its species (alternifolia). Remember that not all plants within the same family will give you the same results. Lavender, for instance, can have very different results depending on whether true lavender or sweet lavender is used.

Are aromatherapy oils safe to use?

As the oils are extremely concentrated, they should be diluted before it is applied to the skin. If the oil is going to be used for a massage, make sure to use a good carrier oil such as jojoba, almond. You should be looking to have just two or three percent concentration of essential oils. Aromatic oils should never be ingested, and should never come into contact with the eyes. If this does occur, blot the eyes with olive oil and then rinse well with water. There are certain oils that should not be used by anyone unless they have been specifically advised to do so by a qualified aroma-therapist. There are also many oils that should be used with care especially where babies, children and pregnant women are concerned.

How do I know I've bought a good quality aromatherapy essential oil ?

Is it thick, cloudy and with a smell like rancid fat? Does it have no smell but pours like water? Answer 'yes' to either of the first two questions-oils are improper.

Buy essential oils from a reputed supplier. Oils should be in dark blue, green or brown bottles - often 10ml by volume. They should have a label stating 'essential oil' rather than 'fragrance oil', 'perfume oil', 'room scent' etc. Ideally they should show the Latin / botanical name of the oil  to avoid any ambiguity or mis-selling of the product.

What are the different ways to use aromatherapy essential oils ?

The different ways to use essential oils are:

  • In a oil burner / candle burner / electric vapouriser - either a few drops on a ceramic dish or in a little water
  • On a ceramic electric light bulb ring
  • A few drops on a tissue near where you sleep. Avoid the pillow as it may end up in your eyes.
  • In a massage oil - there's nothing quite like a relaxing back massage
  • In the bath
  • In a foot bath
  • In cosmetic and cleaning products
  • In candle wax
  • In a compress
  • Steam inhalation - when you have a bad head cold
  • Mouth gargles / washes
  • Neat on the skin

I grow smelly plants in the garden. Can I make my own aromatherapy essential oils?

Making your own essential oils is not a trivial exercise. Most essential oils are obtained by a process called 'steam distillation' which means boiling vast quantities of the plant material and condensing out the aromatic vapours that emerge. Boiling requires a large copper or stainless steel kettle and a decent fire. Condensing requires access to lots of cold water and plenty of metal or glass tubing.

Some oils are easier to make. Cold expression is often used to extract citrus oils. Basically the skin or peel is squeezed until the oil bursts out.

Solvent extraction is done for using solvents, later the oils and solvents are separated.

How can I learn more about aromatherapy essential oils ?

Read all my pages for a start. Then have a look at other Internet sites on aromatherapy. Then buy a good book on it. If you still want to know more, then get yourself on an aromatherapy course - especially one with a strong practical element which teaches massage therapy. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

What careers are there in aromatherapy ?

Well amongst the more respectable ones, you could get a job as an aromatherapist in the beauty or alternative therapy fields. You could set up your own business working at home, or you could be employed by a hospital, fitness centre, health club etc. You may wish to specialise in the treatment of sports injuries or perhaps you would enjoy treating the elderly or sick.

 Can essential oils treat serious illness?

There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that essential oils can help serious illness. If you have a serious illness, and have tried conventional treatments with no success, then what is there to lose? However, ALWAYS seek medical advice from a doctor first. Aromatherapy is no substitute for modern medicine, no matter how much you would like to believe in the healing powers of flowers and plants. In the past, aromatherapy was used because the scientific understanding and vast array of man-made drugs were just not available. The treatments proved moderately effective in treating everyday ailments and infections,. Use aromatherapy but understand its limitations.

What evidence is there that aromatherapy does any good at all ?

 As most doctors would say - circumstantial, anecdotal, historical but not scientific. In fact, research has been done into the effectiveness of some essential oils - especially the popular ones such as lavender, tea tree and peppermint. The aniti-bacterial properties, and to some extent anti-viral properties, of these oils are now well regarded. Have you noticed how the essential oils are finding there way into a wide range of cosmetic and cleaning products? How may times have you seen 'lemon' or 'pine' fresh cleaners? Or tea tree shower gel and shampoo? Or rosemary bath oil? Is this just cashing in on a trendy phenomenon (no doubt) or is there some real scientific evidence behind it? Even if you dismiss aromatherapy out of hand, have some respect for times past when essential oils brought healing, freshness and luxury to a squalid world. We all appreciate gold, but remember it was on an equal with frankincense and myrrh! Buy a bottle of each and find out why this could possibly be.

Where should I store my essential oils ?

They should be in dark (blue/ amber/green) glass bottles, in the shade, away from heat, and sunlight. 

 How long do essential oils last ?

 As long as you keep them. Mother nature didn't make 'volatile' chemicals for nothing. They degrade over time, losing their scent, perhaps becoming cloudy and thicker, and even going a bit 'rancid'. Essential oils should smell divine. The hotter it is and the more sunlight about (UV rays), the quicker they go off. Base notes last longer than top notes.  The answer to the question is anything from months to a few years

 Can I make shampoo, conditioners, shower gels, body lotions etc. with my essential oils ?

 The best idea is to buy a neutral, odourless base cream / gel / lotion and add a few drops of essential oil.  The most popular oils for cleansers seem to be rosemary, juniper, tea tree, lime, grapefruit, lemongrass, orange, cinnamon, peppermint and ylang ylang.

( courtesy: )


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