Aromatherapy is the art and practice of using extracted plant oils, including essential oils, for health and well-being.
Essential oils are the pure extract of a plant or essence and are distilled in different ways. The term Essential Oil is sometimes used in to include CO2 extracted oil, distilled oil and absolutes.
Aromatherapy includes the use of other complementary natural ingredients including cold pressed vegetable oils, liquid waxes, hydrosols, herbs, salts, sugars, clays and mud.
People respond to the sense of smell on an emotional level more powerfully than other senses. Aroma can trigger a whole series of memories previously forgotten. The area of the brain associated with smell is the same area as that associated with memory. The olfactory nerves are located within the nasal cavity and respond to particular aromas taking the information of the fragrance directly to the brain where the memory and associate emotions are evoked. This area connects with another part of the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) which governs our hormonal systems. Aromas are thought to trigger a variety of chemical actions within the body, including the release of specific chemicals. Because the olfactory nerves are a direct extension of the brain's limbic system, reaction to smell is relayed immediately. Smell tells us how our food tastes and we use it to identify each other and attracting each other.
Products that include synthetic ingredients are generally not used in aromatherapy. Perfume oils, also known as fragrance oils, are not the same as essential oils, although they may include essential oils in the ingredients. Fragrance oils and perfume oils sometimes contain synthetically made oil and/or chemicals and are not considered to have the same therapeutic benefits of essential oils.
The use of the word “aromatherapy" on products is not regulated in the United States so any product can use the word whether or not the product contains natural or synthetic materials. Some products on the market contain synthetic ingredients claim to be aromatherapeutic, or claim to be “made with essential oils.”
The term aromatherapy is relatively new (20th Century) but the practice of using essential oils dates back almost one thousand years.
Aromatic plants have been used for well-being among Chinese Health Practitioners in traditional medicine and the Egyptians developed a simple distillation process that produced crude cedarwood oil which was used (along with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and myrrh produced by infusion) for embalming.
During the 14th century, the Black Death hit and killed millions of people. Herbal preparations were used extensively and some believe that perfumers may have survived or avoided the plague because of their constant exposure to natural aromatics.
In the 15th century, more and more plants were distilled for their essential oils and a growing number of books on their properties begin to appear. By the 20th century knowledge of the separate constituents of oils leads to the creation of synthetic oils. French chemist by the name of René-Maurice Gattefossé focuses on the use of essential oils for their medicinal use and is credited with coining the term aromatherapy in 1928.