“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of powerful plant extracts to restore balance to mind and body.
Plant extracts have been used for thousands of years: by Cleopatra in her beauty regime; by the Egyptians in their burial ceremonies; the Romans as part of their hygiene and bathing and finally by the Greeks as medicine.
Even though essential oils have been around for thousands of years; right now they are making a resurgence.
Today aromatherapy is considered both an art and a science. As a science it is researched extensively all over the world. The effects of essential oils are wide and varied, having a broad range of therapeutic properties. The calming and sedating effects of oils are often compared to the action of traditional drugs such as Valium and other nervous system sedatives. A recent hospital study in Manchester, England identified both geranium and lemongrass essential oil as having been successfully used to completely “eradicate M.R.S.A, an antibiotic resistant virus”, currently identified as a severe problem in the hospital system.
In the spa and clinic world, we are surrounded by aromatherapy products. Essential oils are used in skin care products, massage balms or oils, body products and bath blends, either to add fragrance or for their amazing therapeutic actions.
It’s easy to underestimate the incredible power of essential oils. One could easily assume that “aromatherapy oils” have a therapeutic action based on ‘aroma’ or smell alone. However, we do need to be clear about what we actually mean when we use the term. It has been the failure to make a clear definition that has led to a misunderstanding and the abuse of the term aromatherapy.
A broad definition of aromatherapy is defined by Jan Kusmirek is:
“The use of pure essential oils to seek to influence, to change, to modify, mind, body and spirit, physiology or mood.”
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils can impact the body in two ways:
- Via the olfactory nerve to the brain.
- Via the skin through the follicles (transdermal penetration.)
As explained, Aromatherapy effects us through the use of our sense of smell. Of all of our five senses, the sense of smell is the most profound. Quoting Dr. Alan R Hirsch: “The quickest way to change a mood state – quicker than with any other sensual modality – is with smell”.
We can remember something we have smelled long after something we have tasted, touched, heard or seen it. Interestingly, we are naturally drawn towards the oils that our body needs to assist us with balance and healing. When we smell an essential oil, within seconds it reaches the limbic centre of the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary, sending the appropriate message to the nervous system, to usually either calm, sedate or stimulate the mind and body. It is therefore vital that we make an accurate selection when choosing oils for clients. The oil selected will have a profound effect on their mind and body!
Essential oils are liposolvent, which means they are easily absorbed by the skin. They can easily enter our skin follicles by dissolving into the sebum and other secretions in the dermis of the skin.
We know from scientific research that essential oils can be found in the blood stream within 20 minutes and found in the blood up to two hours later.
Aromatherapy oils can be used in so many different ways in your clinic or spa. To make the space inviting and welcoming, use the power of oils to create a sense of calm and relaxation as clients enter. This will assist them in leaving behind their busy and stressful lives as they enter into your cocoon of harmony and tranquillity.
Aromatherapy is generally used in a spa or clinic in holistic treatments; meaning we focus on treating a client as a whole person. You may wonder why this is important. If we consider who our clients are today, many of our clients are worried about job security and finances, relationship issues and in some cases, simply the aging process. All these things affect our health and wellbeing, each in our own way, from emotions causing worrying thoughts, sleepless nights, elevated stress levels to increased muscular aches and pains.
Aromatherapy can help on all levels. Whether it is the application of essential oils in a facial, a massage, or simply diffusing a suitable blend of oils in the treatment room to uplift or sedate your clients’ mood, all these things help us to connect to our client on a deeper level and increase their well-being.
Not all Oils are Considered Equal
Understanding that essential oils have the ability to penetrate into our blood stream, makes choosing good quality oils very important. Not all essential oils are created equal. For instance, some sold into the beauty and skin care industry were originally harvested and distilled for the perfume industry.
These oils, often sprayed with pesticides, are also not always distilled with the care required to maintain the active chemical components that have a very active effect on our body. They are usually available at a much lower price and used for fragrance in bath, body and skin care lotions.
Quality oils used for therapeutic purposes are often hand harvested and distilled at exact temperatures. Make a point of asking your supplier questions about the country of origin of your oils and their quality control practices. Know your source, and remember that cheap is often not appropriate for skin and body care.
Is Aromatherapy Safe for Mums-to-Be?
Mums-to-be can find aromatherapy helpful in easing some pregnancy niggles such as backache, nausea and swollen ankles. However, extreme care must be taken when using essential oils on pregnant clients.
If you want to use aromatherapy oils on a pregnant client, it is best to take the following precautions:
Essential Oils that are Safe for You to use
- Only use ONE essential oil at a time – do not mix oils.
- Dilute the essential oil by mixing ONE to 5 ml (one teaspoon) of base oil.
- A pregnant client should not be exposed to an essential oil vaporizer for more than 10 minutes at a time. Over exposure to vaporized oil can be overpowering and cause nausea.
- It's best to avoid any essential oils until once you are past the first trimester.
As long as the pregnancy is going well, its fine for you to use:
- citrus oils, such as tangerine and neroli
- German chamomile
- common lavender
- black pepper
- ylang ylang
- tea tree oil (not in labour)
If in doubt, it's best to steer clear of essential oils altogether. Don't use any oils if:
- Your client has a history of miscarriage.
- Your client has had any vaginal bleeding during her pregnancy.
- Your client has epilepsy.
- Your client has heart problems.
- Your client has diabetes, blood clotting problems, or have thyroid, liver or kidney disease.
It's always advisable to consult with your clients’ doctor or midwife prior to using essential oils in a treatment.