Here at CONTENT we are huge fans of essential oils for the powerful impact they have on our wellbeing and the way they make us feel very ‘content’! So we thought we would spread the love and share some of our favourite key facts about essential oils. Beware, as they may convert you into a fellow aromatherapy enthusiast.
Introduction to Essential Oils
Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) occur widely in the plant kingdom – from flowers, herbs, leaves and fruits, to stems and other parts of the plants. Generally, the more oil glands present in the plant, the higher the yield of essential oil. Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of these oils for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Learn more about why we love essential oils in aromatherapy.
1. Aromatherapy has been around for over 6000 years and is still effective
Although the term aromatherapy was only coined in the 1930s, it is thought that the first methods of extracting essentials oils date back to ancient Egypt, where alchemists dabbled in heating botanical and mineral substances in water baths for religious and ceremonial purposes.
The ancient Greeks then established the fundamentals of holistic aromatherapy. Theophrastus wrote the first treatise on scent “Concerning Odours” while Hippocrates, considered the father of holistic medicine, promoted the benefits of massage which became an integral part of medicine some 300 years later. The Romans continued this tradition and coupled it with an insatiable appetite for incense (they were hard core fans of rose). It was the English herbalists in the 17th century that popularised the use of therapeutic essential oils, which was also prominent in France in the late 1800s. Then in 1920, French Chemist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, soaked his hand in lavender after burning himself – as he didn’t have anything else to hand – and was surprised to find that his wound healed quickly. He was also the first person to coin the term ‘aromatherapy’.
As we are firm believers in the use of natural treatments for wellbeing, we are happy to see how the use of essential oils has spanned space and time, and how it’s still going strong with no signs of abating! You can find out more about the history of aromatherapy here.
2. Aromatherapy is linked to the placebo effect
We’ve all experienced the power of scent… The one of being instantly transported into another time and place by the mere whiff of a perfume (read about the connection between memory and scent here). It is the same case with aromatherapy. Many scientists claim that some essential oils are actually linked to what scientists call the ‘placebo effect’, meaning that the therapeutic beneficial effect produced by a treatment (in this case oil) is actually effective due to the patient’s belief in that treatment rather than the treatment itself. In this case, the effects of aromatherapy could be the result of the binding of chemical components in the essential oil to receptors in the olfactory bulb, which impact on the brain’s limbic system and emotional centre.
For instance, lavender is traditionally believed to have therapeutic and curative properties, ranging from inducing relaxation to treating parasitic infections, burns and insect bites. Studies indeed show lavender helps in decreasing anxiety, increasing mood1,2 and reducing the perception of pain3. However, it is also thought that the efficacy of lavender is due to the psychological effects of the fragrance, combined with physiological effects of volatile oils in the limbic system4. This means that the calming effects of lavender may actually be more effective than lavender’s properties itself, which is good news for us because their effect on the body’s physiology is pretty much immediate and entirely natural. In this way, essential oils are miraculous and super clever!
3. Aromatherapy is a form of vibrational medicine
Albert Einstein himself acknowledged that energy and matter are two forms of the same thing in his famous equation E=MC2. This means that everything on earth is made of energy (atoms buzzing around at different speeds or vibrational motions). It has been measured that essential oils have the highest vibrational frequency and therefore they are highly purifying for our bodies.
If essential oils resonate with energy, they may also work on healing our energy field and our seven chakras – the points of connection through which energy flows, and which are associated with our physical bodies5. When using aromatherapy in this context, what matters most is the intent rather than the method. Think about what you aim to achieve and set the intention of how you want the oil to help you. Of course, the unique aroma of each essential oil reveals an aspect of its character and healing potential. By association, some oils resonate better with certain chakras6, for instance, myrrh and patchouli are great for strengthening the base chakra; sandalwood, jasmine and rose are connected to the sacral chakra; juniper, berry and vetiver are an ideal aid for the solar plexus chakra; rose absolute intensifies the heart chakra; German and Roman chamomile are associated with the throat chakra; rosemary, berry and basil are good for third eye chakra and frankinsence is linked to the crown chakra.
We like to use essential oils as a meditation aid and they can also be used in conjunction with crystals to “potentise” them.
4. Look for quality
It’s worth noting that most essential oils being produced in the world are actually used for food flavouring, perfumery and pharmaceuticals. Only 5% of essential oils are actually being used for aromatherapy, so given the demand, there are many imitations out there which smell nice but do not have therapeutic properties (beware as they may cause nausea and allergies). In order for essential oils to perform their function, they need to be “pure and natural”, meaning that no synthetic fragrances have been added and the oil has remained unaltered. Look out for oils where this information is readily available, including the botanical name, the part of the plant used, the country of origin and the extraction process. As it is acknowledged that organic foods are superior to those grown commercially on the same soil7, organic grown plants will produce essential oils of extremely high quality and that are therapeutically very effective. We can vouch for that!
5. Essential oils are suited to skincare
It’s no wonder that essential oils are extensively used in beauty treatments including moisturisers, scrubs and body care products. Our skin does a pretty fast job at absorbing them. Essential oils can be highly antiseptic, help the detoxification process, improve muscle tone and blood circulation, and help reduce emotional stress. Aromatherapy facials and facials masks are just some of our favourite ways of using essential oils, as well as bath soaks, shower gels, mists… The list goes on! It is vital to choose the most appropriate essential oils and cosmetics to use for your skin type. Some effective pairings would be ylang ylang and sandalwood for dry skin; jasmine and chamomile for sensitive skin; geranium and lavender for combination skin; rosemary and tea tree for oily skin; geranium and neroli for dehydrated skin; and carrot seed and patchouli for mature skin. Reader, beware: As much as we love them, applying undiluted essential oils directly to skin is not advised as it can lead to sensitisation, which can result in severe and itchy rashes, or in most severe cases, respiratory issues. As a general rule, essential oils should be diluted in a carrier substance which could be oil or water, with a maximum concentration of 5%. If you’re using the oils for a massage, the usual ration is one drop of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil.
Interested in aromatherapy and fragrance? See our suggested reading list:
- Introducing Aroma April: Celebrating Flowers and Formulas
- The Green Edit: Home Scenting
- Aroma April: The Nostalgic Nuances of Aroma
- Our Favourite Scent Inspired Reads
- Interview with Tata Harper
- Interview with Rachel Winard from Soapwalla
1. Walsh E, Wilson C. (1999). Complementary therapies in long-stay neurology in-patients settings. Nurs Stand. 13;32-35.
2. Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T et al. (1998). Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness, and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 96;217-224.
3. Buckle J. (1999). Use of aromatherapy as a complementary treatment for chronic pain. Altern Ther Health Med. 5;42-51.
4. Uebaba F, Ogawa K et al. (2008). Pharmaco-physio-psychologic effect of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment using an essential oil from Lavendula angustifolia. J Altern Complement Med. 14(8);947-956.
5. Gerber R. (1998). Vibrational Medicine, Bear & Company USA.
6. Davis P. (1991). Subtle Aromatherapy, The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd.
7. Consens G. (2000). Conscious Eating, North Atlantic Books USA.