Scents & Senses: The Healing Power of Aromatherapy


The past few decades has seen a renewed interest in the use of essential oils as the world attempts to unveil the mystique and power of these oils and the practise of their use on the human body that is popularly known as Aromatherapy. The secret to the effectiveness of these oils, derived from various parts of certain plants, trees, fruits, flowers, herbs and spices with essences that are aromatic, lies in their chemical properties which create formulations, similar to pharmaceutical formulations, that have specific chemical properties to treat the condition.

Do not get confused. As consumers, we associate chemicals with synthetic and usually harmful chemicals, but if you recall what you were taught in school chemistry classes, not all entities that have a chemical composition are synthetic! Thus Aromatherapy is part of a larger field of Aromatology that is an Applied Physiology and is a far cry from the unscientific drivel that it has been propagated to be. There is increasing awareness of essential oils which have documented proven medical benefits in the treatment of complex conditions like severe depression, multiple sclerosis, herpes simplex, varicose veins, seborrhoea, hyperactivity, psoriasis, insomnia, and severe acne among others.

Each essential oil has its own unique scent and healing properties, they are made up of at least 100 different chemical constituents which react with the body chemistry the way medical drugs do but in a slower more sympathetic manner. Some oils have an affinity for certain parts of the body which it may sedate or stimulate as needed. Aromatherapy is concerned with the absorption of these oils into the body to alter body chemistry to rebalance or support body systems and improve moods and emotions. This may take anywhere between 20 minutes to several hours depending on the oil and the individual’s body chemistry, the oils leave the body through exhalation, urine, feces and perspiration.

Research supports that the correct and most effective way to apply essential oils is to massage them into the skin. When applied the oils immediately begin work on body tissues, as oil molecules are so small they can be absorbed through the pores of the skin into the bloodstream from where they are carried to every part of our body. Also psychologically as smells affect our moods and emotions through the brain’s limbic system users benefit from improved mental alertness and concentration as well as from positive feelings.

However, it is important to clarify the misconception that aromatherapy cures with scents because no matter how much you smell an aromatherapy blend, it will never help lower back pain for example. On the other hand, when you mix several oils that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and massage that blend into the back, you get great results. Thus, it is the chemical compositions of the essential oils that we rely on for physical healing.

The effectiveness of these oils depends largely on the quality used. When buying off the shelve aromatherapy products be cautious as over 90% of the products that you see in department stores, pharmacies, and other retail outlets do not contain even one drop of essential oil! In order for any product to be a true aromatherapy product that possesses unique healing properties, it must contain good quality essential oils. Sadly many reputed cosmetic and commercial products that you see on the shelves simply add aroma scents or use cosmetic grade essential oils – both serve no purpose, thus these are not aromatherapy products at all, but rather products that have nice aromas.

True essential oils are very expensive to produce because they require tremendous quantities of the finest fresh plant material like leaves or petals and their production is a very labour intensive process. For example it takes about 3000 to 5000 Kg of rose petals to produce 1 Kg of Rose oil, one of my favourite essential oils! Interestingly the cost of producing these high value oils has not changed much in the past few millenniums! In fact, even in the days of the Roman Empire slaves who worked in this industry were stripped and searched every night before being allowed to return home such was the prized value of these oils.

Aromatherapy is not recommended as a cure for any disease instead it is most effective as a preventive or to control subclinical symptoms from escalating into disease. As such it is completely compatible with conventional medicine and most other holistic treatments but requires consultation if you are pregnant; have medical complications and conditions; are on medication, especially homeopathic medication and treatment as some oils are not compatible.

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