Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote mental and physical wellness. It is often used as a complementary therapy to help manage symptoms of cancer and its treatment.
Before starting aromatherapy, you should discuss your treatment plan with your doctor. Some oils can interact with certain medicines.
The history of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine which uses essential oils extracted from plants. These oils have a variety of healing properties and can be used in various ways, including inhalation, diluted in the bath, spritzing and massage. It is not scientifically proven, but has a number of benefits including reducing stress and improving sleep quality.
The use of fragrance essences for therapeutic purposes dates back to ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese all used aromatic oils. It wasn’t until the 16th century that printing became widely available, and books on distillation were published, that the art of extracting essential oils really began to blossom.
The term “aromatherapy” was coined by a French perfumer and chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. His fascination with essential oils was sparked when he burnt his hand in the laboratory and instinctively thrust it into the nearest liquid, which was lavender oil. His burned hand healed quickly and he started to experiment with the medicinal properties of other essential oils.
The use of essential oils
Aromatherapy uses essential oils – highly concentrated, volatile substances extracted from the seeds, bark, roots, leaves, needles or flowers of the plant and distilled with steam or heat. These oils are absorbed through the skin or nose and enter the bloodstream, where they work in the brain to stimulate certain responses.
Each oil has unique properties and healing benefits. A trained professional can mix and match oils for specific ailments.
For example, lavender is well-known for its relaxing and sleep-inducing qualities and can be used to help those with insomnia or anxiety. It can also be combined with chamomile to help people suffering from hot flashes or restless leg syndrome.
However, it is important to know that these oils are chemicals and can be toxic if used incorrectly or if the wrong oils are mixed together. It is also advisable to consult your doctor or pharmacist before using aromatherapy for serious conditions. This is especially true for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
How to use essential oils
You can use essential oils in a variety of ways. “The aroma can be inhaled via a diffuser, used on the skin for topical application and used to make room sprays or body spritzers,” says Dechen.
However, before using them, make sure the oil is pure, she cautions. It’s also important to avoid the use of “fragrance oils,” which are mixtures of essential oils and chemicals and should be avoided in aromatherapy, she adds. Look for an organic, high-quality oil that is stored in dark glass bottles to protect against sunlight and oxidation.
It’s best to apply essential oils diluted in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or jojoba. You can also put a few drops in a bath or use them to perfume yourself, though some of the more potent oils should be used sparingly because of their strong scent and potential for irritation. For example, cedarwood oil can act as a sedative and can be applied to the temples, behind the ears or feet for relaxation.
How to find an aromatherapist
You should work with an aromatherapist who understands your specific health issues and is trained in applying the essential oils to promote well-being. Ideally, your aromatherapist will be a member of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and has completed a program that meets NAHA’s educational guidelines.
At your first meeting, your aromatherapist should ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms. This will help her or him select the most appropriate oils for you. If you have cancer treatment, your therapist will also check with your doctor before starting the treatment to make sure that it is safe for you.
Your therapist will apply diluted essential oil to your skin using a massage technique. This usually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. You may also be directed to inhale the scent of the oils via diffusers, dry vaporizers, or aroma sticks. You can also use the oils at home, such as adding them to body lotion or rubbing them into your skin during a bath.