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Aromatherapy – A form of alternative and complementary medicine to promote physical and emotional wellbeing, based on the use of fragrant “essential” oils from the flowers, leaves, bark, branches, rind or roots of plants with purported healing properties. The oils are mixed with another substance (such as oil, alcohol, or lotion) and then put on the skin, sprayed in the air, or inhaled.

An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid (repels water) containing volatile (easily evaporated at normal temperatures) chemical compounds from plants. Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetheroleum, or simply as the oil of the plant from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An essential oil is essential in the sense that it contains the essence of the plant’s fragrance — the characteristic fragrance of the plant from which it is derived. The term “essential” in this sense does not mean indispensable.

Humans have used aromatherapy for thousands of years. Essential oils were used for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes going back to ancient civilizations including the Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who used them in cosmetics, perfumes and drugs. Oils were used for aesthetic pleasure and in the beauty industry. They were a luxury item and a means of payment. It was believed the essential oils increased the shelf life of wine and improved the taste of food. They were known to have both physical and psychological benefits.

Essential oils distillation is attributed to the Persians in the 10th century, though the practice may have been in use for a long time prior to this. Information about essential oil distillation was published in the 16th century in Germany. French physicians in the 19th century recognized the potential of essential oils in treating disease.

Medical doctors became more established in the 19th century and focused on using chemical drugs. However, the French and German doctors still recognized the role of natural botanicals in treating illness.

The term “aromatherapy” was coined by a French perfumer and chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé in a book he wrote on the topic that was published in 1937. He had previously discovered the healing potential of lavender in treating burns. The book discusses the use of essential oils in treating medical conditions.

A French surgeon, Jean Valnet, pioneered the medicinal uses of essential oils, which he used as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II.

Aromatherapy works through the sense of smell and skin absorption using products such as diffusers, inhalers, body oils, creams, masks, bath salts and oils, facial steamers, hot and cold compresses.

There are nearly one hundred types of essential oils available. Generally, people use the most popular oils.

Each essential oil has an array of unique healing properties, uses, and effects. Combining essential oils to create a synergistic blend can create even more benefits.

Most essential oils are safe to use. But there are some precautions you should take when using them, as well as side effects you should be aware of, especially if you take any prescription medications, are pregnant or breastfeeding or using around babies and small children.

Don’t apply essential oils directly to your skin. Always use a carrier oil to dilute the oils. Remember to do a skin patch test before using essential oils. Most citrus essential oils may make your skin more sensitive to the sun, these oils should be avoided if you are going to be exposed to sunlight.

Aromatherapy is meant to be a complementary therapy. It’s not meant to replace any doctor-approved treatment plan.


Cronkleton, E. (2018). Aromatherapy Uses and Benefits. [online] Healthline. Available at: [Accessed 15 Aug. 2022].

Camille Noe Pagán (2018). What Is Aromatherapy? [online] WebMD. Available at: [Accessed 15 Aug. 2022]. (n.d.). Aromatherapy – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Aug. 2022].

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