The term ‘aromatherapy’ was first used in 1928 by Gattefossé, a French chemist working in a perfumery operated by his family. Gattefossé became fascinated by the therapeutic effect of the oils after he discovered by chance that lavender quickly healed a severe burn on his hand and helped prevent the formation of scars. He also discovered that many essential oils are more effective in their entirety than their synthetic substitutes or isolated active ingredients. As early as 1904, Cuthbert Hall demonstrated that the antiseptic power of eucalyptus oil in its natural form was much stronger than the antiseptic power of its isolated main active ingredient ‘eucalyptol’ or ‘cineole’.
Dr. Jean Valnet, another French physician and scientist, used essential oils as part of his programme, through which he successfully treated certain medical and psychiatric disorders, and published the results of his treatment programme in 1964 under the title Aromatherapy.
What is Aromatherapy?
The word 'aromatherapy' can, in some respects, give us the erroneous idea that it is a form of healing that only acts on our sense of smell and emotions. However, apart from the odour, each essential oil has combinations of components that interact directly with the chemistry of the body and then affect specific organs or systems as a whole. For example, when oils are used externally in the form of massage, they are easily absorbed through the skin and transported throughout the body via the blood circulatory system. This can be experienced with the example of rubbing a clove of garlic on the soles of the feet; the essential oil content will be absorbed and carried through the blood and after a while the odour will be felt on the breath.
How Do Essential Oils Function in Our Body?
Different essential oils are absorbed in the skin at varying rates and durations. For example: Turpentine is absorbed by our body in 20 minutes, eucalyptus and thyme in 20-40 minutes, aniseed, bergamot and lemon in 40-60 minutes, citronella, pine, lavender and geranium in 60-80 minutes, coriander and mint in 100-120 minutes.
We can classify essential oils according to how they interact with the human body in terms of their mode of action: pharmacological, physiological and psychological.
The pharmacological effect is related to the chemical changes that occur in the body when an essential oil enters the bloodstream and reacts with hormones, enzymes, etc.
The physiological effect is related to how the essential oil affects the body systems by soothing, stimulating and other similar ways.
The psychological effect occurs when an essential oil is inhaled and the person reacts to its odour.
With regard to the first two groups, aromatherapy has a strong commonality with the aromatic herbalism or the tradition of phytotherapy. In other words, what is important is not only the aroma, but also the chemical interaction between the oils and the body and the physical changes that occur.
The practice of aromatherapy can be seen as part of the wider field of herbal medicine, since essential oil is only one of the many ways in which a plant can be prepared for therapeutic purposes. In addition, in herbal medicine, the effect of one herb is often supported by combining it with others, and this is called synergistic mixtures.
How to Benefit from Essential Oils?
As a general rule in line with the aromatherapy 'codes of practice' in force today, essential oils need to be used only in combination with external products (Balm, Cream, Shampoo ..etc.). This is mainly because the use of oils in high concentrations and in undiluted form can potentially cause irritation or damage to mucous membranes and the sensitive stomach lining. When inhaled, essential oils can affect the mood or emotions of the person and can also cause physiological changes in the body. Indeed, an experiment conducted by the Japanese in 1963 demonstrated that the effects of essential oils on the digestive system are stronger when inhaled than when ingested. Essential oils carried into the lungs by inhalation (3rd state of matter - gaseous state) are mixed into the blood circulation system much faster.
The cosmetics industry today acts with the mission of making products cheaper by synthetically copying/producing allergens known as components of essential oils. These ingredients, known as essences (perfumes), give odour to many cosmetic products. It is not possible to perform aromatherapy or provide any benefit to people with the essences obtained with these synthetically combined components as mentioned above.
Their Effects on Body Systems
Skin: Skin problems are often a superficial appearance of a deeper problems, such as a build-up of toxins in the blood, hormonal imbalance, or nervous and emotional distress. In this area, the versatility of essential oils becomes valuable because essential oils can fight against such complaints on various levels.
Circulatory System, Muscles and Joints: Essential oils are easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin and mucous membranes and affect the functioning of the circulatory system as a whole.
Respiratory System: The nose, throat and respiratory tract are areas that respond very well to treatment with essential oils. The essential oil components reaching the bronchus with inhalation provide an increase in bronchial secretion (a protective reaction), which is beneficial against many respiratory diseases.
Immune System: Almost all essential oils have bactericidal properties and can help prevent and treat infectious diseases by stimulating the production of white blood cells. Infections such as malaria and typhoid in the tropical regions, and the benefits discovered during plague epidemics in the Middle Ages, have given aromatic herbs and oils a high reputation.
Nervous System: Recent research has revealed that the traditionally accepted properties of many oils are incorrect. Some oils are known as 'adaptogens', meaning that they have a balancing or normalising effect on the body's systems. Words such as 'relaxing' and 'refreshing', although the terms are interrelated, often relate more to the description of odour and emotional response rather than the physiological effect. As a result, oils such as bergamot, lemon balm or lemon can soothe the nervous system while at the same time revitalising the "spirit". Conversely, oils such as jasmine, ylang ylang and neroli can be stimulating on the nervous system, but can have a soothing and relaxing effect on a more subtle emotional level.