Heal pain using a massage oil therapy based on the use of essential (concentrated) plant oils. The oils are usually massaged into skin, put in a bath or inhaled. The concentrated essential oils aromatherapists use to treat conditions are aromatic and volatile (ie which evaporate easily) elements from plants. The oils are not concentrated from whole plant parts – unlike herbal medicines – but are extracted, generally by steam distillation, from flowers, leaves, roots, grasses, peel, resin or bark.

A French chemist called René-Maurice Gattefossé, coined the term aromatherapy to describe the process of using plant oils therapeutically. The story goes that, while working in a perfume factory in the early 20th century, he burnt his hand and instinctively grabbed some lavender oil and poured it onto the burn. He was so impressed by how quickly and cleanly the burn healed, he began studying the healing powers of plant oils.

Essential oil is now used to treat a whole range of conditions and is believed to work on people both physically and psychologically. The first part of the theory is that when you smell an essential oil, it triggers your limbic system – the part of the brain that controls emotions and stores and retrieves learned memories – and relaxes you. The other part of the theory is that the essential oils are absorbed through the skin, and have medicinal properties which act on the cause of the problem.

Just some of the conditions essential oil is used to treat are:

Anxiety, stress or insomnia

Muscular aches and pains




Digestive problems

Menstrual or menopausal problems

You can choose to be treated by an aromatherapist, or you can buy certain essential oils over the counter at pharmacies and health shops, and treat yourself. These are used as massage oils, add them to your bath, or inhale them using steaming water, a diffuser or an incense burner.

How does essential oil therapy work?

Aromatherapy products such as toiletries contain only small amounts of essential oils. But in their concentrated form the oils can be very powerful and should always be handled with care – you only need a few drops in a bath for example. More could cause irritation, and some essential oils are toxic if used incorrectly – such as eating or drinking them. Essential oils can have side-effects – nausea, headaches or an allergic reaction for instance. Some of them, including citrus oils such as orange, lemon and bergamot, react with ultraviolet light and can cause skin to burn more easily in sunlight.

You can buy a range of essential oils over the counter in pharmacies, health food shops and even supermarkets. Check the labels as some are already diluted whereas others are pure Essential Oils.

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