What is Aromatherapy?


Aromatherapy uses essential oils to stimulate the olfactory nerves, which send messages from the nose to the limbic system, part of the brain that controls emotions. Aromatherapy can help you achieve a relaxation response that decreases pain, nausea and fatigue.

Studies of the effects of aromatherapy on laboring women have used different massage protocols, making it difficult to compare results.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from plants and used for therapeutic or aromatic purposes. It is based on the theory that these plant odors can be inhaled or applied to the skin to promote emotional and physical well-being. It is not a replacement for medical treatment, but rather should be used to complement it.

The use of aromatic herbs and plants goes back thousands of years. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese are among the first cultures to distill plant oils.

The French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse coined the term “aromatherapy” in 1928. He discovered that lavender oil relieves pain and assists minor burn wounds to heal faster. This discovery led to the development of the modern aromatherapy methods. His book “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones vegetales” is considered as the bible of modern aromatherapy. Other authors such as Valnet, Maury and Arcier have contributed greatly to the development of modern aromatherapy. Their books are still in print today.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of plants to enhance psychological and physical well-being. The scent from these oils enters the nose and olfactory nerves, which send messages to the brain, where they affect emotions. The oil molecules may also be absorbed through the skin. The aromatherapy method used in hospitals is based on this concept and involves the use of diluted essential oils for inhalation or topical application.

Occupational Therapists, nurses and physicians have used aromatherapy for patients with specific clinical symptoms. Gattefosse and Belaiche wrote books on clinical aromatherapy from a pharmacist’s and physician’s perspective, respectively.

Inhalation is the most commonly used aromatherapy method. Studies have shown that the inhalation of certain scents can increase alertness and competency on tests (in this case, math problems). In one study, participants completing math calculations after breathing lavender or rosemary aromatherapy showed improved mood. Other studies have shown that aromatherapy combined with massage can reduce pain and anxiety for children undergoing tonsillectomy.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils in different ways. They can be inhaled through a diffuser or added to a bath. They can also be massaged into the skin. Generally, only a few drops of an oil are used.

The oils in aromatherapy have many benefits. They can reduce anxiety, help sleep, soothe headaches and promote relaxation. They can also help relieve pain from some conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, muscle spasms and shingles.

Citrus oils can improve immune function by stimulating the olfactory nerves that send information to the brain. They can also ease depression by boosting levels of neurotransmitters that control mood.

Talk to your health care provider before trying aromatherapy. Some oils may trigger allergies or interact with certain medications. Pregnant women and those who have epilepsy should avoid hyssop oil and rosemary oil. People with high blood pressure should avoid stimulating oils, such as spike lavender. People taking estrogen-like drugs should avoid herbs with estrogen-like properties, such as fennel and clary sage.


It is important to remember that essential oils are a highly concentrated gift of nature and must be handled with respect. They are toxic if ingested and should never be applied to the skin undiluted.

Always use pure, high quality essential oils. Look for bottles that list the Latin name of the plant and information on purity. Avoid “fragrance oils” that contain cheap chemicals or synthetic fragrances. Choose dark-colored bottles that will protect the oils from light and oxidation.

Some people should avoid certain essential oils, such as those derived from citrus, because they can make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light and increase the risk of sunburn. Before using aromatherapy, consult a qualified nurse, doctor, physical therapist or massage therapist to ensure that the chosen oil is safe for your situation. Also, some essential oils have clinical interactions with medications or may trigger a medical condition. If a problem occurs, call the Victorian Poisons Information Centre Tel: 13 11 26 seven days a week for advice.