From the article, “Aromatherapy: Improve Your Massage Sessions with Nature’s Scents,” by various authors, in the February 2009 issue. Article summary: Aromatherapy can easily be incorporated into a massage-therapy session, whether through topical application or inhalation—and a variety of products on the market today support this marriage of the two therapies.

Just one whiff of a rose can change your attitude from grumpy and tired to happy and energetic. How does this happen? Some answers can be found in the laboratory research and clinical studies being conducted around the world, proving that some scents, upon reaching the brain, produce biochemical changes that at times seem miraculous.

For example, inhalation of the essential oil peppermint, Mentha X piperita, is being used in conjunction with chemotherapy treatment in some hospitals in the U.S. These same programs are using a combination of lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, and eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus, to reduce stress prior to treatment while keeping the patient alert at the same time. These inhalation treatments are resulting in less anxiety, less nausea, faster recovery from chemotherapy and better results from the treatment. It is important to note these treatments have been carried out using only 100-percent pure, organically grown, botanical essential oils.

When we refer to an essential oil, we are not talking about a heavy, fixed oil, such as olive oil. Essential oils, which are composed of tiny molecules, usually feel more watery, evaporate easily and usually leave no trace when applied to the skin or a piece of cloth.

Upon inhalation of the oil, the olfactory apparatus located in your nose transmits signals to the brain which, in turn, effect a change in the body’s chemistry via neurotransmitters. Simultaneously, the actual molecules of the essential oil are absorbed by the mucous membranes lining the nasal cavity and are rapidly transported to the lungs. From the lungs, these molecules enter the bloodstream, causing physiological changes other than those initiated by the olfactory signals to the brain. In addition to this symphony of activity, scents may trigger memories. This could have either positive or negative ramifications, since an individual’s reaction to a memory can change the neurochemical environment of the entire being.

Back to the rose: What you are smelling when you inhale that wonderful aroma is the rose’s essential, or volatile, oil (from the Latin word volare, “to fly”). Through laboratory testing, the smell of rose essential oil has been shown to stimulate the brain in ways that can be differentiated from those effects caused by sight, sound or the psychological state of the subject.

There are many individual phytochemicals that nature combines to produce the complex substance we call rose essential oil. Some of these constituents have been identified by science; others have not. Some produce stimulating effects, while others decrease anxiety, and some have no documented effect—yet they all work synergistically to increase your energy level while simultaneously calming you down. Our current level of scientific inquiry often fails to quantify or qualify these subtleties of synergy. This doesn’t mean that from the beginning of time humans haven’t demonstrated a predictable response to one whiff of a rose on a warm summer day.
Kimberly Powers is a registered aromatherapist. She received her bachelor’s degree at Bastyr University, diplomas in aromatherapy and herbalism at The Australasian College of Health Sciences and apprenticed under Kathi Keville at Oak Valley Herb Farm. She is working toward a master’s degree in complementary and alternative medicine.