Aaah... aromatherapy

Like most women, I love perfume. And nice smelly things in general – like scented candles, oils, bath salts and so on. And while I know the whole world knows about aromatherapy, I have to admit, I always thought that it was just a bit ‘fluffy’ and there was no therapeutic benefit to it.

But I was delighted to discover recently that I was utterly wrong. Aromatherapy is in fact a great complementary treatment and has many proven health benefits in treating various conditions and symptoms. As a bonus, you get to enjoy nice smelly things too!

Clever creation

Nature is truly amazing – the fact that plants have the power to heal is extraordinary. Though as a herbal medicine specialist told me some time ago, all pharmaceutical drugs actually take their root in herbal medicine as once upon a time that’s all there was – and over the centuries man has simply refined the way we are able to use them, and now of course has created synthetic medicines to do the job of natural ones.

The fascinating thing about aromatherapy is that all you need to make it work is your nose! This alternative form of therapy uses essential oils which are extracted from the flowers, leaves, stems, roots, buds, gums and peels of fruit and plants, usually via a process of steam distillation.

These fragrant little wonder oils do more than just smell good though – they can actually heal many ailments, emotional upsets and distress, give vitality and energy, and even strengthen and regulate the immune system.

Packs a punch

The experts in the game are usually called Essential Oil Therapists (EOTs), and after doing a consult will create a personal blend tailored to your health needs. We’re talking everything from soothing and healing skin problems, treating flatulence and bad breath and relieving the pain of rheumatism and arthritis. Essential oils can also help with emotional /mental issues such as anxiety, moodiness and depression.

But don’t be fooled – natural doesn’t mean non-toxic, and just because they are plant based doesn’t mean they aren’t potent chemicals.

They are highly effective and potentially dangerous if not used correctly, so it is essential (excuse the pun) to consult a qualified therapist before using them, particularly when it comes to understanding dosage.

Furthermore, certain oils can be extremely harmful during pregnancy and have even been linked to bleeding and miscarriage.

The nitty gritty

So how does aromatherapy work? Well as the name implies, aromatherapy works on our sense of smell. We have 50 million scent receptors in our noses!

Oils can be inhaled or applied topically. Essential oil molecules are very small so they pass easily through the skin and into the bloodstream.

When applied to the neck and chest, the oils evaporate and are inhaled. The tiny molecules are then absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal cavity, lungs, throat and sinuses – which means they act quickly. And although topical application through massage is the most common form of delivery for humans, inhalation is the most effective method..

The benefits of aromatherapy are immediate and long-lasting. But as is the case with many prescription medications, everyone is different so what works for one may not work for another. Furthermore, aromatherapy is often subtle, so your reaction may change from session to session or over a period of days or weeks.

The real deal

It is important to use high quality, pure essential oils and they usually need to be diluted in a base oil. Like modern medicine, using more is not better! In addition to seeing an aromatherapist, there are many pre-made formulations available in pharmacy which are highly effective.

The key is to always ensure they are 100% pure essential oil. There’s a big difference between scented oils (which smell good but do nothing) and essential oils (which have therapeutic benefits). It is important to note that ‘fragrant oils’ and ‘perfume oils’, are not essential oils and are usually synthetic and offer no therapeutic value.

Their purity should be stated on the bottle, along with the name of the oil, the botanical name and the extraction method.

Oils should also come in dark bottles – either amber or cobalt blue. And don’t be fooled by price either – cheap usually means they are not pure essential oils and are of poor quality. Remember that although they may appear pricey, you only need to use one to two drops at a time so the bottle will last for a long time.

Treat yourself to a consult with an aromatherapist – at worst you’ll come out smelling good! And if you or one of your customers has had success in treating symptoms or a health condition with aromatherapy I’d love to hear about it below!

by Sunny de Bruyn