Aromatherapy literally means, "healing through the senses"

Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils to enhance physical or mental well being. Essential oils are distilled plant essences that may be used to make ourselves feel better. Aromatherapy is the process of diffusing pure essential oils, and thus plant essences, which then is absorbed through inhalation and our sense of smell.

Smell affects our perceptions and how we react physically, emotionally, and mentally to our surroundings. Various every day scents remind us of the seasons of the year, our location or situation, potential dangers or happy occasions. Essential oils may effect the physical, mental and emotional aspect of our lives. Inhalation of essential oils may also effect the release of brain chemicals such as seratonin. Other essential oils have healing qualities when applied topically.

The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing, and blood circulation, as well as the endocrine glands which regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil, the fragrance and its effects, determine stimulation of these systems. When used in massage, essential oils are not only inhaled, but absorbed through the skin as well. They penetrate the tissues and find their way into the bloodstream where they are transported to the organs and systems of the body.

Diffusing essential oils into the air allow us to inhale the oils through the nose. For inhalation special devices may be used such as electric diffusers, simmer pots, aromatherapy lamps or light bulb rings. Or they may be inhaled directly from the bottle.

Essential oils enter the body in three ways. They can be:

Applied to the skin
How does skin application work?
Essential oils can be applied topically to the skin. Common examples include applying a blend that contains black pepper (Piper nigrum) or ginger (Zinziber officinalis) essential oil to reduce arthritis pain and improve flexibility, or applying German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) essential oil to treat eczema.

How does this work? Our skin is somewhat permeable. The active chemicals in essential oils are absorbed just like the ingredients in common pharmaceuticals such as hormone replacement therapy cream and nicotine patches.

Factors that Increase Skin Absorption
Some authors report that essential oils may be more readily absorbed from skin locations with greater concentrations of sweat glands and hair follicles, such as the genitals, head, soles, palms, and armpits (Battaglia, 1995). Different factors can affect absorption of essential oils through the skin. If you massage the area first, it will increase circulation to that area, thereby causing an increase in absorption of essential oils. Heat will likewise increase circulation and thus enhance absorption.

How do I inhale essential oils?

Another way that essential oils enter the body is by inhalation either through the nose or mouth. Common examples include inhaling eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globules, E. radiate, or E. smithii) essential oil when you have a cough or inhaling peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil to reduce fatigue or nausea.

Aromatherapy Applications in Massage and Wellness

Cosmetologist Marguerite Maury introduced the idea of combining essential oils with massage in Austria during the 1950's. Inspired by methods of traditional Tibetan medicine, she developed a unique approach by applying essential oils along the nerve centers of the spine.

Individual prescription and essences were selected by Maury according to each of her patients physical and emotional needs.

Marguerite opened an aromatherapy clinic in London in early 1961. She had discovered an important key to the art of true healing and was completely dedicated to her work. In 1962 and again in 1967 she was rewarded with international awards for her research.

British aromatherapist Robert Tisserand published The Art of Aromatherapy in 1977 and is credited with bringing aromatherapy into the mainstream. He had been inspired by Marguerite Maury and her publications.

Aromatherapy and essential oils have many benefits for the mind, body and spirit. When used with massage or in wellness programs, they have a profound effect on healing, releasing tension and restoring homeostasis within the body. This is an effective method to help us alleviate the symptoms of stress in our lives. The scent of the rose and taking the time to enjoy it is truly the place to begin.

Battaglia, S. (1995). The complete guide to aromatherapy. Virginia, Queensland, Australia: The Perfect Potion (Aust) Pty Ltd.

Higley, C., Leatham, P. & Higley, A. (1998). Aromatherapy A-Z. Hay House.

Schnaubelt, K. (1999). Medical aromatherapy: Healing with essential oils. Berkeley, CA: Frog, Ltd.

Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential oil safety: A guide for health professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Author's Bio: 

Dolores is a Nationally Certified Licensed Massage Therapist (#MA37360), Certified Aromatherapist and Certified Lymphatic Therapist residing in Fort Myers, Florida where she owns and operates Healing Thru Bodywork( a Holistic Massage Practice; and Scented Aromatics( an Aromatherapy Education Practice to help educate the public and professionals on the therepeutic value of Aromatherapy and Essential Oils.