What is aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant extracts – essential oils.

In the UK the benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils can be enjoyed by receiving aromatherapy treatments/massage. Essential oils are blended with plant oils and specific massage techniques are performed by the therapist.

Aromatherapy home treatments i.e bath oils, body oils, facial oils, can also be a highly effective way and an easily accessible method of getting the benefits of aromatherapy in the comfort of your own home.

Aromatherapy is widely recognised:
to aid relaxation, reduce stress , restore vitality , enhance general well being.

Essential oils are the building blocks/the essential ingredients that make a product or formula ‘aromatherapy’ based. Essential oils display many physical properties – these are proven scientific characteristics.

How Essential Oils Enter the Body / How Aromatherapy Works

When aromatherapy products are applied (bathing or body oils) they enter into our system by three ways:

Absorption via the lungs – the Respiratory pathway
Stimulation of the Limbic System – the Olfactory Pathway / Sense of Smell
Absorption via the skin – the Cutaneous pathway.

1. The Lungs
the Respiratory pathway

Because essential oils are volatile they are absorbed via the lungs, as the lungs are naturally receptive to the airborne aromatic molecules of essential oils. Absorption via inhalation is a very quick and direct entry route for essential oils to enter into the system.

Essential oil molecules penetrate the mucous membrane of the lungs and affect the local tissues.

They enter into the local lymph and blood circulation and then circulate throughout the whole system.

The venous circulation takes them back to the lungs, kidneys and sudoriferous glands for the elimination by breath, urine and sweat.

2. Skin
the Cutaneous pathway

The skin is the largest organ in the body. The skin is not an impenetrable barrier, it is permeable to water and lipid-based substances. The skin is our protective organ of the immune system; its surface is slightly acidic pH 5.5.This deters the growth of infectious microbes and is home to beneficial bacteria.

Essential oils are slightly acidic, and work with our natural immunity and skin metabolism to inhibit infection.

Because of their lipid solubility essential oils are absorbed by the sebum and enter the local micro- circulation via the hair shaft.

The small size of the essential oil molecules allows them to penetrate the epidermis.They travel through the lipids of the cells and the fatty substance between other cells and enter into the lymphatic and blood circulation.HRT and Nicotine patches enter our system in a similar way to essential oils.

Skin Cross Section
Entry route of essential oils

3. The Olfactory Pathway

The sense of smell is faster acting than any of the other senses. For a substance to affect our olfactory nerves it must be volatile (of gaseous state) and capable of dissolving in mucous – essential oils tick both these requirements.

The nose contains olfactory nerve receptors (cilia) and about 20 million nerve cells. As the essential oils pass through the mucous membranes of the nostrils, they stimulate the nerve cilia, which then generates a nerve impulse to the two olfactory bulbs at the top of each nostril – one each side of the brain.

From here the nerves conduct the stimuli of the odorant along the olfactory tract, which branches to several sites of the brain, primarily the olfactory cortex of the temporal lobes and the amygdala in the limbic system (the emotional centre) of the brain.

The olfactory process, stimulates the hypothalamus (the control centre) in the brain. This explains the fact that if you smell something that you associate with nausea, when you smell the aroma either 5 days or 5 years later your body can actually ‘remember’ this bad experience and you can feel or actually be nauseous again.

Similarly if you have a wonderful experience (like an aromatherapy treatment) – your body will remember the feeling of relaxation and well-being.

Essential Oils are volatile substances. They evaporate easily when exposed to air.Always put the top back on properly with your aromatherapy products.

• The consistency of essential oils varies from very fluid (Lavender) to fluid (Roman Chamomile) to viscous – thick consistency resistant to flow (Sandalwood).This is known as viscosity.

• Essential Oil molecules are lipophilic and they are lipid soluble.This means they are soluble/disperse in oils.

• Essential oils are highly concentrated, only a small amount is needed to stimulate healing.

• Essential oils are odoriferous: they are highly complex scents.

• Essential Oils vary in colour. Some can be pale green, pale yellow, or colourless. Some can be very distinctive in colour i.e. Rose absolute is a deep red/brownish colour. True aromatherapy products will always vary in colour if different essential oils are used.

Therapeutic Properties

It is widely recognised that Essential Oils have a range of these properties, they vary in each oil. Some of the most popular and widely recognized therapeutic properties are:

Antiseptic – inhibits growth of local bacterial infection

Analgesic – relievespain

Anti-Depressant – lifts mood

Anti-Inflammatory – reduces inflammation

Anti-viral – inhibits development of virus

Detoxifying & Cleansing – helpful to eliminate toxins

Diuretic – increased production of urine

Euphoric – promotes state of well-being, elation

Sedative – relaxing to the nervous system

Vasodilator – improves blood flow

Essential Oils are extracted from a variety of plants.

Sources of essential oils can include:

Petals • Stalks • Leaves • Roots • Bark • Fruit peel • Berries • Seeds • Buds • Cones • Shoots

The main method of extraction is by steam distillation.
Other methods include enfleuage, solvent extraction for flowers / petals.
Citrus oils can be extracted from the peel using a method called expression.