The term "Aromatherapy" was not coined until the 20th century, but the practice of using volatile plant oils for health reasons dates back thousands of years. It is believed that the ancient Chinese first burned incense for relaxation over three millennia ago. Ancient Egyptians began distilling plant oils and using it as perfume, medicine, and for embalming their dead. The Persian and Indian cultures are also thought to have distilled plant oils and used it for health and spiritual purposes. The Greek philosopher Dioscorides published the first study of aromatherapy in his work De Materia Medica during the first century A.D. In his study, Dioscorides described the healing properties of plant oils he had observed as well as notions of the powers of the plants that were common at that time.
It was not until the 11th century in Persia that plant oils were first properly distilled, and when the pharmaceutical industry began in the 13th century, aromatherapy became increasingly popular. In 1937, the first modern book on aromatherapy, Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales, was published by French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé. The practice of using volatile plant oils for medicinal purposes grew popular in Europe in the early 1900s, and was used most notably by the French surgeon Jean Valnet as antiseptic to treat wounded soldiers World War II. Beginning in the latter part of the 20st century, the use of aromatherapy and essential oils for cosmetic and relaxation purposes has grown increasingly popular.
Aromatherapy is the use of distilled volatile (quick to evaporate) plant oils for health purposes. When properly used, essential oils (pure oil extract from a plant) and other oil extracts can provide natural, therapeutic psychological and physical benefits. The three main uses of aromatherapy are diffusion, direct inhalation, and direct application on the skin. Practitioners use diffusers such as reeds spread the scent of essential oils throughout a room, creating an atmosphere conducive to relaxation. For example, thyme and lemon oils are often used for stress relief and anti-depressants. When distilled plant oils are directly inhaled by a patient, the scent triggers a reaction in the brain- for example, inhaling Eucalyptus can help clear congestion. Diluted essential oils mixed with carrier oils such as almond and apricot oils can be applied directly to the skin and can have a positive impact on health, beauty, and hygiene.
While the extent of scientific proof that all aromatherapy beliefs is debatable, controlled studies have shown that the use of essential oils has anti-bacterial properties, and that the use of aromatherapy to complement other treatments causes the patient to relax, and can be potentially rejuvenating and healing. When aromatherapy is properly practiced, a patient can experience an increased calm as well as receive many health benefits. It is important to only consult with an experienced, accredited aromatherapist and to avoid falsely labeled aromatherapy products- because the term “aromatherapy” is not regulated, many manufacturers will claim to sell therapeutic, natural products. It is important to make sure the ingredients consist of pure oils and not potentially toxic, synthetically produced fragrances.
To obtain an education in aromatherapy, a provider can train at a number of schools that specialize in the practice, or jointly with herbal or massage therapies. Schools approved by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) and/or the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) are the preferred places of education, and provide certification upon completion of the program. Some popular NAHA and AIA approved schools are the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy and online-based Aromahead Institute. Courses generally run from 6 months to 1 year (200 hours). Additional 200+ hours of training is available for those wishing to further specialize. Aromatherapy practitioners generally hold a license in another field, such as massage therapy or nursing.
Credentials and Regulation Bodies
Currently there are no state regulations or licensing laws governing the practice of aromatherapy. The Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) is currently developing certification standards, meaning that in the near future all practitioners will have a uniform accreditation for this practice. As of now, the topical application of any essential oil requires a professional license in an area such as massage therapy, nursing, or acupuncture.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) is main nationwide organization for aromatherapy professionals. Currently NAHA does not provide any certifications, but provides recommendations in aromatherapy education. The Alliance for International Aromatherapists works to promote the education and practice of aromatherapy globally, and is currently outlining a set of certification standards for professionals.
To learn more about aromatherapy, visit the NAHA website at www.naha.org, the informative AromaWeb at www.aromaweb.com, or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at www.nccam.nih.gov.
Aromatherapy sessions can range from 30 minute consultations to 90 minute Raindrop Therapy sessions. A patient will pay $30 to $200 depending on the type of session. Aromatherapy is often given as an additional service to bodywork therapies like massage or in meditation. Prices for those services will likely include the aromatherapy used during it.