Fragrance is everywhere; it defines our world.
Have you ever felt more alert as soon as the strong aroma of percolating coffee wafts its way to you every morning? Or, more alive after smelling the crisp scent of moist earth during the first rains? Or, the rich, fiery perfume of spices in the kitchen, or jasmine and sandalwood, sweet red roses and mint green grass, or your favourite home-made dish, or your special brand of aftershave?
For generations, researchers have been fascinated with aromatherapy, or healing through fragrance. This led to the study of plants and their extracts, including the creation of essential oils – concentrated essences of various flowers, herbs, fruits and plants packed with all the goodness of natural scent. These, of course, have been used since ancient times for spiritual and medicinal purposes.
Medical research today has only proved what aromatherapists deeply believed in, over the ages – our sense of smell has a direct impact on how we feel and, by extension, on our overall health and wellbeing.
Like other senses, what we smell is transmitted directly to the brain. Each scent, depending on its origin and nature, has a different effect on our physical and nervous systems. For instance, studies have shown that the aroma of lavender increases alpha waves in the back part of the brain, associated with relaxation. On the other hand, jasmine scent increases beta waves in the right lobe of the brain, which is proven to make you more alert.
It was during the early part of the 20th century that Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, discovered the extraordinary repertoire of essential oils and their healing effects. Gattefosse, who devoted his life to researching the healing properties of essential oils, was experimenting one morning in his laboratory, when he accidentally set fire to his arm. In a frenzy, he thrust his burning arm into the nearest liquid he could find – a vat of cold lavender oil. Much to his amazement, the wound healed quickly and without a trace of a burn, or scar. His work was, unfortunately, unregarded, until Jean Valnet, a French physician, came along, and revived the study of medicinal oils. The French were, doubtless, true pioneers of aromatherapy; they continue to impress us today with their amazing medley of mood-uplifting perfumes!
Oil therapy in daily life
We can easily incorporate the tenets of aromatherapy in our daily lives. You can enjoy the benefits of this healing science by placing a few drops of an essential oil in your bath, on a handkerchief that you carry with you the whole day, or by using scented candles, or a diffuser that sprays the aroma of the essential oil evenly throughout your room, or even by mixing the essential oil with another oil such as almond, olive and sesame.
- The best thing to do is mix aromatic oil/s with oils that don’t have their own scent
- Always use essential oils sparingly and carefully to achieve the maximum benefit and never apply the undiluted oil directly on to exposed skin for fear of allergic reactions
- These extracts are highly concentrated and may even burn sensitive skin, if applied directly
- While using essential oils, always remember to inhale their fragrance deeply, so that you can imbibe all their inherent goodness.
The science of smell can be employed in our battle against many common ailments.
Tension and migraine headache. One can use the essence of lavender oil when besieged by frequent headaches. Essential oils such as chamomile, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender can be combined with an almond oil base and used to combat symptoms of headache and eyestrain. Massage the essential oil blend on to your scalp and forehead. For sinus headaches, the scent of marjoram essential oil can be inhaled through a handkerchief.
For cuts, scrapes and wounds. Apply two drops of lavender oil or tea tree oil extract directly on to cuts and wounds. These oils, when used sparingly, act as natural healers.
Relief from stress and anxiety. A blend of lavender and grapefruit, added to a dispenser that is placed on your work table, can do wonders to create a soothing atmosphere. Lavender has a calming effect and grapefruit heightens your senses, making you more quick and alert.
Glowing skin. Add one drop Geranium oil or myrrh to your facial moisturiser — to bring out a radiant glow in your skin.
For healthy hair. Place 1-2 drops of rosemary on your hair brush before brushing your locks to promote healthy hair!
As a household germicide and cleanser. Peppermint oil is a natural cleanser. Add two drops to washing machine as you do your laundry. You can also combine this with a couple of drops of your favourite scent, such as lemon essence, so that your clothes not only come out squeaky clean, but fragrant too!
Benefits of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy massage. This relieves menstrual cramps. Massaging an aromatherapy blend of lavender, sage and rose essential oils on to the abdomen just before and during your menstrual cycle provides relief from cramps. Studies from South Korea suggest that menstrual pain dropped by more than 50 per cent in women who received aromatherapy massage.
Aromatherapy for anxiety. According to a study conducted by Gaye Kyle, a senior lecturer at Thames Valley University in Slough, England, a massage with sandalwood oil was the most effective and sustained treatment for reducing anxiety.
Improved sleep in cancer patients. A study of the long-term effects of massage and aromatherapy, on the physical and psychological symptoms of patients with advanced cancer, showed that the intervention significantly improved subjects’ quality of sleep, and also provided short-term relief from pain and anxiety.
Eases agitation in Alzheimer’s disease. A US study showed that aromatherapy reduced agitation and increased constructive activity in people with severe dementia. Sunflower oil was added to a base lotion and applied to a patient’s face and arms twice daily. The essential balm/oil was well tolerated and resulted in a 35 per cent improvement in agitation.
- Avoid the use of essential oils in pregnancy, since their effects on the growing foetus have not been documented
- Never use rosemary essential oil if you have epilepsy, or high blood pressure
- Avoid peppermint essential oil if you use homoeopathic medicines
- Never apply any essential oils to the surface of the skin directly as the highly concentrated solution may cause skin problems
- Keep essential oils away from pets and children. Internal ingestion can be very dangerous
- Always store your aromatherapy kit in a cool dry place, as exposure to intense heat can rob the extracts of their healing properties
- Avoid contact with eyes, or broken skin. Rinse immediately with cold water if the essential oil gets into your eyes.