The term ‘Aromatherapie’ was first coined in 1910 by a French scientist named Gattefosse who having burned his hand and arm plunged them into a vat of lavender essential oil. He was amazed at how quickly his burn healed and with very little scarring.

He later used oils of lavender, thyme, lemon, and clove for their antiseptic properties and noted an increase in the rate of healing in wounds treated with these oils without disadvantages that occurred with other antiseptic agents used at that time.

There is a long history of the use of herbs and plants for healing which unfortunately became out of favor with the advent of modern medicine. However, doctors in France and Germany continued with their use for medical treatments.

Aromatherapy began to be popular again in the 80s and 90s with Complementary therapists using it in their massage and treatments. More recently, there has been a huge resurgence of interest in products that are natural, organic, green, or ecologically friendly and have a pleasing aroma.

Manufacturers have used this knowledge to produce sweet smelling products that are marketed under the ‘aromatherapy’ umbrella. Millions of people use aromatic products, including candles, perfumes, detergents, air fresheners, room deodorants bath soaks, scrubs and skin care. Synthetic fragrances are normally used for these products.

Although they may not be organic or natural they still come under stringent checking by the International Fragrance Association to ensure safety standards are maintained to eradicate any substance that may be considered unsafe.

‘Aromatherapy’ as used by professional complementary practitioners has quite a different connotation. Only oils and products specifically produced for the aromatherapy trade are considered suitable for use in therapy. Essential oils are mixed to a low concentration with a carrier oil and massaged into the body to bring about some desired therapeutic effect

A pure essential oil in this context is the concentrated essence, which has been obtained by distillation of the leaves, flowers, fruits, resin, rind, bark, or stems of an aromatic plant, shrub, or tree. Hundreds of different essential oils are produced, each with their own unique smell and therapeutic properties.

Sometimes the therapeutic value of these oils is based on anecdote or folklore. However, as far back as 1887 scientists discovered that essential oils of oregano, cinnamon angelica and geranium could kill micro-organisms of glandular and yellow fever. More recently, French scientists and those in other countries have proved the effectiveness of essential oils against bacteria, virus, parasites, fungus, malaria, and other diseases.

After much research into the effects of essential oils at inhibiting bacteria and other infectious microbes, researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University in England have finally shown that the vapors of essential oils have successfully and dramatically reduced airborne counts of infectious microbes such as MRSA. It has been reported that 2.5 million Americans have been identified as carriers of MRSA within their nasal passages. In 2007 deaths from MRSA outpaced deaths from AIDS and other well known diseases.

In 2007 the Science of Smell Institute awarded Two Australian researchers who showed that sweet smelling fragrances such as musk and vanilla have an analgesic effect and reduced pain. Another study found that the odor of green apples reduced pain in subjects who found the odor pleasant.

Japanese researchers at Sheseido, a giant cosmetics firm, investigated the effect of smell on the nervous system and found that certain fragrances stimulated the release of adrenaline while other essential oils such as rose and patchouli caused adrenaline to decrease.

A recent exciting experiment was in a group of healthy male subjects. These men experienced an expected glucose drop after being injected with insulin while at the same time smelling a specific odor four days in a row. On the fifth day, they were subjected only to the odor, yet their glucose levels dropped anyway. Their bodies responded to the odor as if they had received a dose of insulin.

As research continues and more discoveries are made, the future of aromatherapy is very exciting and is predicted to continue making a huge difference in peoples’ lives, their health, memory, behavior, perception and much more. Who knows where it may lead?

Whiff by C. Russell Brumfield.
What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert.
Sense of Smell Institute, Fragrance foundation, Research and Education Division
Olfactory Research & Environmental Aroma
Olfactory Research Fund
Compendium of Olfactory Research

Elizabeth McGinnes has been involved in Aromatherapy for more than 25 years and has a postgraduate qualification in clinical aromatherapy.

She holds a postgraduate certificate in education and is qualified in Spa and Salon Management, Counseling, Psychotherapy, Reflexology, Hypnotherapy, Trichology, Electrolysis and Laser hair and skin treatments. She is also certified as a cosmetologist, Massage therapist, and esthetician. She incorporates aromatherapy into all her practices.

She is the Principal of the European Institute of Complementary Therapies, the President of the European Spa and a pure aromatherapy products distribution company named Absolute Essentials.