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Aromatherapy is the art and science of using fragrant volatile plant oils and herbs including essential oils, for psychological and physical well-being of man by promoting natural healing and health. It is an emerging art of healing through essential oil, which has got therapeutic effect on body, mind and soul.  Essential oils give calmness, emotional and hormonal balance, stress relief and rejuvenation. Medicinal and spiritual properties of scented herbs were noted by ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. Embalming of body of Egyptian Pharaohs was a practice to purify body for afterlife, whereas Egyptian priests used oils and incense as healers. Books were written in ancient Arabia indicating uses and benefits of certain aromas. Perfumed mortar was used by Babylonians to build temples and mosques for premises cleaning and cleansing aromas. Ancient Greek believed sweet smells were of divine origin and they used to take aromatic bath to drench them in purity. Aromatic bath and scented massage were ways to health for Romans.

            The term 'aromatherapy' is attributed to a French cosmetic chemist named Rene        Maurice Gattefosse. There is a story behind his working on aromatherapy.  As he worked in his laboratory in early 1920, he severely burned himself. Without knowing effect, he plunged his arm into lavender essential oil. To his wonder, burns healed rapidly, with little scarring. After this incident, Gattefosse dedicated remainder of his life for aromatherapy or healing power of scented healing oils. Modern research has then reinstated the therapeutic and healing properties of essential oils. Aromatherapy restores or enhances mental, emotional, physical or spiritual health. Incorporating aromatherapy into life enhances overall health, beauty and psychological well-being. It reduces stress, improves sleep and gives more energy. Essential oils give plants their characteristic odours. Since, aromatic essential oils are used, therapy involving them is named as aromatherapy.

Plants, which are storehouses of cosmic energy are the main source of energy for mankind. In this way, human consciousness can be regarded as a plant living within us that grows in accordance with our perception and consciousness of life. Cosmic energy is to be found in every part of a plant. In aromatic species, this information is concentrated in certain volatile, fragrant substances with an oily consistency known as essential oils. Essential oils are the heart of aromatherapy. Essential oils are formed with help of solar energy acting on aromatic plant’s secretory cells. Plants keep it in tiny glandular pockets which burst open when they are given stresses.

French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé in 1920's described practice of using essential oils taken from plants, flowers, roots and seeds in healing. It is the chemical properties of essential oil that gives therapeutic value. Vapors are used in some cases of aromatherapy, whereas mostly oil is rubbed on to skin or ingested in a tea or other liquid. Some aroma therapists even consider cooking with herbs a type of aromatherapy.

Many essential oils are used for their smell, their antibacterial, anti-fungal or anti-inflammatory properties. Lavender oil is a classic example in this line used for burns and scent of it reduces depression and anxiety. Matthiole, a 16th century botanist, prescribed that lavender is a panacea which can cure epilepsy, apoplexy and mental problems. The major constituents of lavender are alcohols such as borneol, geraniol and linalool. It also contains a high percentage of phenol, a strong antiseptic and antibiotic. According to Matthiole, lavender oil is effective for burns, cystitis, vaginitis, and leucorrhea. As a herbal tea, lavender is also good as a morning tonic for convalescents, as a digestive after meals, for rheumatic conditions and at first appearance of a cold or flu. To prevent varicose veins, Ryman advises to massage legs with oil consisting of 3 drops cypress oil, 2 drops each of lavender and lemon oil, and one ounce of soy oil.

Healing power of tea tree oil is an anecdote.  Daniele Ryman quotes his own experience with tea tree oil as a remedy for swelling and throbbing due to rose thorn injury.  Tea tree oil is a time honored aromatherapy remedy for ringworm, athlete's foot and other fungal infections. It is also effective against many bacteria present in common infections, including some staphylococci and streptococci. Rose oil is prescribed for frigidity due to its aphrodisiac properties. Rose oil is a good tonic for women who are suffering from depression. Rosemary can be used to treat arthritis and muscle pain and is a stimulant, when used in morning bath. A variety of oils like lavender, thyme, chamomile, rosemary, lemon, clove, tea tree, geranium, peppermint, eucalyptus, rose and sandalwood are used in aromatherapy.

There are two main ways to use fragrance in healing. One is through inhalation, which has its significant impact on mood and emotion, but also produces physical reactions such as lower blood pleasure. The other route is physical application of essential oil to body by massage. By using aromatherapy oil, the fragrance is also inhaled. It is known that merely smelling a fragrance can influence us physically and emotionally by altering hormone production, brain chemistry, stress levels and general metabolism

Effect of smell

Smells invoke long-term memory and make the past present as none of the other senses can. Smell bypasses thalamus in brain and penetrates directly to “olfactory brain”, where it produces pleasure or repugnance.  Smell is our most direct means of communication with nature. We smell every breath we take, constantly monitoring world around us although we are not always conscious that we are doing so. An involuntary reaction is created by every scent in human minds. To fully understand aromatherapy, knowledge on two physiological processes viz. how the olfactory apparatus works and how essential oils are absorbed into the body is a must.

Olfactory function

Sense of smell is related to sense of taste. Olfactory sense receptors are in receptor nerve endings in direct contact with outside as well as brain. Certain brain waves called “contingent negative variation,” are very sensitive to emotional changes and are activated by particular fragrances. Different odours stimulate different brain centers and induce neurochemicals that affect us in a number of ways. For example, “euphoric” odors stimulate thalamus to secret enkephalins, the natural painkillers. Aphrodisiac scents jasmine and ylang-ylang stimulate endorphin producing pituitary gland.  Sleep is induced by sedative odors like marjoram which stimulate secretion of neurochemical serotonin.

Essential oil absorption through skin

Absorption of essential oil through skin is quick and easy due to their lipid solubility. Essential oils enter blood stream through small capillaries. Nervous and lymphatic systems are activated by presence of aromatic oils. Studies show that after a full body massage with 2% dilution of lavender essential oil in vegetable oil, detectable amounts of linalool and linalyl acetate are found in blood. Similarly garlic rubbed on feet can later be smelled on breath. It shows that massage with fatty oils is also absorbed by skin.

Individual can be identified by inking of a particular odour as our finger prints, influenced by diet, gender, heredity, health, medication, occupation, emotional state and mood. This linking influences choosing of friends and lovers.

Safety aspects to use essential oils

Compounds in the oil, dosage, frequency used and method of application are to be understood before using essential oils. Because essential oils are concentrated, here are a few guidelines to ensure safe and effective use.

·        Use only pure essential oils

·        Must be diluted in a proper base before internal or external use. If used concentrated, they can cause burning, skin irritation and photosensitivity except in lavender oil or tea tree oil used on burns, insect bites, wounds, eczema, certain types of cramps, headaches, neuralgia and rheumatism. Before application, test sensitivity by putting one drop on inside of wrist and  wait for any  irritation within 24 hours

·        For making essential oils miscible with water, a safe natural emulsifier may be used. A concentration of 70 to 95% alcohol, vegetable oils, honey and yogurt are used as emulsifiers and diluents.

·        Oils such as allspice, cinnamon and clove which cause irritation to mucous membrane and skin should be used carefully. Eye contact should be always avoided.

·        In uncertain cases, patch test with a 2% dilution in crook of arm or on back of neck at hair line can be done. See for Twelve hours for reactions such as redness or itching. In case, reaction develops, try a less potent dilution, or use an appropriate substitute.

·        Photosensitivity is another type of reaction, which causes uneven pigmentation of skin upon exposure to sun light. Citrus oils like bergamot, bitter orange, lime, lemon, grape fruit angelica, cumin and verbena cause such reactions. In case of use of these oils on skin, do so at night, stay indoors, or wait at least four hours before exposing skin to ultraviolet light.

·        Essential oils should be kept out of reach of children. Use only one third to one half the adult dosage for children and select only nontoxic oils like lavender, tangerine, mandarin, neroli or roman chamomile.

·        Avoid using essential oils during first three months of pregnancy, especially to those women who are prone to miscarriage. The safe essential oils for this time are gentle floral oils such as rose, neroli, ylang-ylang, chamomile, jasmine, geranium, sandal wood and spearmint.

·        Use essential oils cautiously with those who are elderly, convalescing, or have serious health problems such as asthma, epilepsy or heart diseases.

·        Continuous use of a particular blend is not advisable since it may affect kidney and liver functions. After using a particular blend for about two weeks, change to another especially when whole body is treated. Facial blends or treating a small part of body with low dosage is not found harmful.

·        Essential oils as such should not be consumed internally for therapeutic purposes.

·        Over exposure to essential oils through inhalation or skin application may result in nausea, headache, skin irritation, and emotional unease. For skin irritation and eye contamination, dilute with straight vegetable oils but not water for relief.

·        Professional aromatherapy massage treatments may give relaxation, but not cure since it is without diagnosing disorders. Do not massage strenuously near varicose veins, bruises or other types of broken veins

Dilution of essential oil for therapy

The most effective way to dilute essential oils is in carrier oil. High quality vegetable oils such as almond, apricot, hazelnut, olive, grape seed, coconut or sesame are good carriers. A safe and effective dilution for most aromatherapy applications is 2% for adults. Vegetable oils, which are fixed oils, contain vitamins A, E and F which give soothing, skin-softening and nourishing effect and are also rich in nutrients that enrich skin.

Use of emulsifiers

Emulsifiers bind water and oil together so that they will not separate. The most common natural emulsifiers are:

a) Beeswax

Beeswax is the most common natural emulsifier for home made cosmetics, the best for holding water and oil in suspension.  Depending on concentration of bees wax, thickening of a lotion or hardening of a lip balm occurs. If beeswax is brittle, it is probably old. If it is dark, it may contain propolis, an antibacterial material used by bees to seal their hives. A bit of propolis in beeswax is good for cosmetics. 

b) Lanolin

This is the oil that is removed from sheep’s wool. In structure, it is much like oil of our own skin glands and hence easily adsorbed. Thick anhydrous lanolin is the least desirable, because it does not mix well with water. Hydrous lanolin containing a little water is used in making lotions.  Liquid lanolin is a lotion on its own and it can also be used as an ingredient for lotions and creams.  

c) Glycerin

Glycerin is a clear sweet sticky product derived from plants or animals or as a byproduct of soap making. 

d) Lecithin

This is derived from soybeans and also found in egg yolk, once commonly used to emulsify bath and hair products. It increases spreading property of a product and leaves skin feeling very smooth.

Storage and shelf life

Store essential oils and carrier oils away from heat and light to preserve their freshness and potency. When stored properly they have a shelf life of several years. Refrigeration of all vegetable oils is highly recommended. Citrus oils have the shortest shelf life of one year. Oils of frankincense, myrrh, sandal, vetiver and patchouli last long and improve on aging.

Treatments with essential oils

Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Most of them are at least 50 times more potent than herbs from which they are extracted. One drop of essential oil often represents potency of one ounce of plant material. This indicates its healing potential and potential hazards if used improperly.



a. Heart and circulation

Lymph nodes located in throat, groin, breasts and under arms act as centers for filtering blood. For lymphatic massage, true bay (Laurus nobilis) and lemon oil are good with calendula as carrier oil. Basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and clove improve general circulation.

b. Digestive system

Brain stimulates whole digestive system on receiving impulse of a food aroma. As an immediate reaction digestive fluids are released in mouth, stomach and small intestine. Essential oils such as rosemary, basil, cumin, anise, coriander, ginger and cinnamon are used in culinary and they also help digestion.

c. Bowel problems

Bowels can become irritated and infected by various foods.  Even excitement or stress can agitate bowels. Ginger, peppermint, fennel, coriander and dill help counter gas. Peppermint is specific for irritable- bowel syndrome. For constipation, use rosemary or black pepper. For diarrhea use cypress, cinnamon and myrrh. Garlic is one of the best ways to eliminate worms for whole family including pets. Rosemary, thyme, tea tree and chamomile kill many types of worms; chamomile also decreases resulting intestinal inflammation.

d. Respiratory system

Ninety per cent of respiratory ailments are caused by viruses. Oils of thyme, rosemary, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, bergamot, black pepper, Melissa and hyssop inhibit most flu viruses. Lemon and eucalyptus oils are effective against bacteria that cause staph, strep and pneumonia infections. A 2% dilution makes an effective antiseptic gargle or vapor steam. Steam treatment carries essential oils directly to sinuses and lungs, and provides warm, moist air to help open nasal and bronchial passages.

e. Musculo-skeletal system

Bones and muscles give form to body and permit physical movement. With degenerative conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism, entire body must be treated especially digestive and eliminative systems. Use anti-inflammatory essential oils such as grapefruit, juniper and helichrysum to stimulate circulation and eliminate toxins.

f. Nervous system

Nervous system provides intricate connection between mind and body. As a result of mental or emotional responses, a problem in one area of body may affect another. For stress in general, bergamot, chamomile, lavender, melissa, clarysage, neroli, rose or jasmine are good. For insomnia due to mental agitation or overwork, clarysage, marjoram, ylang-ylang and neroli can work well.

g. Urinary tract

Urinary system, consisting of kidneys and bladder, regulates body’s water content and salt balance and eliminates waste. Antiseptic diuretics to treat bladder infections include cedar wood, tea tree, bergamot and fennel.

Aromatherapy massage

In an aromatic oil massage, blood takes oil to where it is needed. For any type of massage, oils are only lightly fragranced since a strong smell will overwhelm giver and taker. Massage parlor should be a well-ventilated room. Air out the room between clients by opening windows or using a fan or other wise,  use an air filter to remove scent from air.

Lightly misting a floral water or hydrosol over person before receiving massage gives a special touch. To relax the person, place a warm herbal compress over tight muscles. Simply add a few drops of any of essential oils to very warm water, submerge a soft cloth, swish it around, wring it out and place it on skin for two to five minutes or longer and repeat it as time permits. For an extended treatment, place a towel or a heating pad over compress. After removing compress, pat skin dry with a warm towel. A compress over eyes, both before or after a massage, is very relaxing and relieves headache. Use only gentle oils for this.

Special types of massages

For acupressure a small amount of oil can be applied to fingertips. A few drops of essential oil will fill the room with fragrance. Power of penetration, diffusion and volatility make it possible for essential oils to get assimilated by respiratory tract and lungs through skin. The blood carries them to organs, and gets distributed throughout entire body. Many neuropaths consider external use as best method of administering essential oils, whereby a pleasant experience can be combined with useful treatment.

a. Facial massage

More muscles are concentrated in face than anywhere else in body. Facial tension contributes to wrinkles and to poor blood circulation in face. A good facial massage takes much less time than a body massage. Always use very lightly scented oils around face and be sure to keep oil well away from eyes. Often a thick facial cream works the best. A good sequence for a facial massage is to begin at chin and work up, against gravity. If there’s time, give tight shoulders and neck a quick rub. Be sure to use gentle, light strokes on face since kneading face too much only contributes to more wrinkling. A light tapping motion with fingers as if you are typing, gives a stimulating massage. Give massage to the ears and jaws also.




b. Spot massage and liniments

Liniments reduce muscle and joint pain when rubbed into skin, but contain a higher concentration of warming essential oils, which are potentially irritating. Liniments are designed for spot massage on particularly painful areas only.

Different health and body care therapies

Condition of our hair and skin reflect our inner health and beauty. Nature’s gifts of herbs and essential oils offer many benefits for body care.

1.  Inhalation

This is a simple and efficient treatment method for colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, etc.   Put 2-3 drops of each essence from sage, pine and lavender in a bowl of hot, but not boiling water. Completely cover head with a towel and inhale steam for at least 10-15 minutes. Repeat this two or three times a day.

2. Fragrant mixtures for handkerchief or pillow

Putting a few drops of essential oils of eucalyptus, thyme, and lavender on a hand kerchief or on pillow and deeply breathing it give relief from cold, cough and flu.

3.  Aromatic bath

Healing baths are an important aspect of treatment with natural cures, both in the form of complete baths or as hand and foot baths. Nerve endings of entire body are concentrated in skin of hand and feet.  Essential oils can be added to water in undiluted drops. Since, oils are hydrophobic and lipophilic, oily skin easily absorbs undiluted oil much more quickly than those diluted in a vegetable-oil base. Hot water also causes your skin to be especially receptive to absorbing essential oils. Non-irritating oils such as lavender, tea tree and geranium, 15 drops (use about half of this amount for hand and foot baths) are safe and delightful. Fill tub with water and add oils just before bath and agitate water well to distribute oils. If any skin irritation is felt, get out of tub, rinse with cool water and apply straight vegetable oil to skin.

Steam bath encourages sweating, which aids circulation and helps to flush out the system and revitalize skin. This is adopted by different cultures of people for treating of diseases and as part of spiritual practice.

4.  Aromatic body powders

Arrowroot, cornstarch and white clay make good bases for natural aromatic body powders for babies or adults.

5. Aromatic hair care

Beautiful, shiny and vibrant hair reflects self-image. Hormonal fluctuations, diet, lifestyle and stress influence appearance and health of hair. Pollution, harsh detergents, chlorine, blow drying and excessive sun exposure adversely affect  vitality of hair. Acid shampoos and vinegar alter electrical charge of hair, reducing its tendency to become “flyaway”. They also remove soap and detergent residues, leaving hair shiny and soft. Add 1-3 drops of essential oils to normal shampoo or to a mild baby shampoo to make it fragrant. For different types of hairs, different treatments are required. Lavender and rosemary oils are good for normal hair. For dry hair, use mild shampoos containing fatty acids and moisturizers. Hot oil treatments are specific for dry hair, dry scalp and dandruff. Oily hair and skin are caused by excess sebum production. Oils come from scalp, so hair is much oilier near roots than at tips. To remove excess sebum and keep oily hair bright requires frequent washing with a mild shampoo. Herbal oil preparation can be used to treat dandruff, lice and falling hair. A scalp massage with jojoba oil, vitamin E and essential oils such as rosemary and Aloe vera helps to keep hair roots healthy and promote hair growth.

Facial care     

In aromatherapy facial treatment, basic techniques are cleansing, steaming, exfoliation, masking, toning and moisturizing. Use of these methods and choice of essential oils and herbs, should be determined by skin type.

·              For oily skin: Essential oils of lemon and lavender or mint or sage or carrot.

·              For dry, devitalized skin: Essential oils of rosemary and lemon, or Melissa, or verbena.

·              For acne and blackheads: Essential oils of lavender and juniper, or sage or chamomile, or geranium. To cleanse and care of skin and also to prevent wrinkles: Essential oils of lemon and carrot, or chamomile, or orange, or patchouli are to be used.


Healthy skin produces lactic acid and eventually regains its acid mantle. Sodium lauryl sulphate is the basis of most liquid facial and body soaps, as well as shampoos. Ground oat meal is good for washing face.


Steaming helps soften sebum and unclog pores. Steam carries volatile oils directly to face, so essential oils or fragrant herbs can be added to steam water.


Exfoliation is removal of dead skin cells from epidermis. Done properly, this brings young, fresh skin to surface and stimulates cell growth in lower layers. Exfoliation also gives impression of erasing wrinkles. Alpha hydroxyl acids encourage exfoliation by loosening tight bond that holds surface skin together.


Masks can absorb moisture, feed or remineralize the skin. Several clays may be used as a base: white and green clays are for any skin type; red or yellow clays are very absorptive for oily skin; and gentle blue clay is for sensitive skin. Colours are natural and reflect minerals found in clay. Eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, oats, cream of wheat, yogurt and nutritional yeast are just a few of other possibilities for mask ingredients. Fruits and herbs containing skin-softening enzymes act as exfoliants. Essential oils or ground herbs can be added to increase the skin-healing properties of mask. To make a mask, mash ingredients into a thick paste, adding hydrosols, herb tea or aloe to moisten dry ingredients. Avoid sensitive areas around eyes and edges of mouth. Facial masks can be left on from 5-20 minutes, don’t allow mask to dry or pull so much that it becomes irritating. Wash mask off with warm water, apply massage oil, if desired and gently pat skin dry. 


They increase circulation, improve skin tone, and reduce wrinkles and enlarged pores. Toners can also serve as moisturizers and offer a good alternative to oil-based moisturizers for those with very oily or problem skin. Facial toners can be made with plain apple cider, wine or other vinegars.

Aromatic hydrosols

An aromatic hydrosol produced during essential oil distillation can be a valuable addition to beauty regimen. They can be used alone as toners, or added to other toners ingredients, such as Aloe vera.

Fragrant waters

Fragrant waters are made by adding essential oils to distilled water. We call them “fragrant waters” to distinguish them from true aromatic hydrosols. Adding Aloe vera juice to fragrant water after daily shower cools down on a hot day.


Facial oils are made of essential oil diluted to 2-3 % in carrier oil. They do not contain the water that creams and lotions provide, but when applied directly after a toner is effective skin treatments. Liposomes can also be added to facial oils, but because the watery liposomes separate from oil, the mixture should be shaken before use. Apply moisturizers in a thin layer over entire face and neck while skin is still damp with toner to help seal in precious moisture.

Skin care properties of herbs and essential oils

Here are just a few effects of essential oils upon the skin:

·        Penetrate dermal layer of skin where new cells are developing;

·        Stimulate and regenerate; produce healthy skin cells quickly following sun damage, burns, and wrinkles or healing of wounds.

·        Reduce bacterial and fungal infections, and other related skin problems.

·        Soothe delicate, sensitive, inflamed skin;

·        Regulate sebaceous secretions, balancing over-or under active skin;

·        Promote release and removal of metabolic waste products.

·        Contain plant “hormones” that help balance and alleviate hormonally related skin problems;

·        Affect mental and emotional state positively, thus alleviating stress-related skin problems.

Aromatic miscellany

Gentle shaping and moisturizing encourage healthy growth and strengthen nails. Herbal-tea soaks or herb-infused oil treatments of comfrey, oat straw and horsetail can strengthen nails and cuticles. Lip balms protect lips from drying wind and cold conditions.

A good rub with a few drops of essential oils of rosemary, pine or lemon on one area of body or whole body stimulates refreshes or calms very effectively. Fragrances of citronella, lemon grass, eucalyptus, geranium, and mint are used to keep away mosquitoes and flies. Natural aerosols with ionized oxygen in countryside and mountain areas with electrically charged air and enriched with volatile aromas has a bacterial and stimulating effect on respiration and entire organism.

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