Aromatherapy is the use of volatile plant oils for preventative care, healing and general physical well-being. Although the term aromatherapy was not used until the 20th Century, the foundations of Aromatherapy date back thousands of years and can be traced back through to ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian and Chinese cultures.

Essential oils can be used in different ways, including massage, bathing and inhalation. When essential oils are inhaled, olfactory receptor cells are stimulated and the impulse is transmitted to the emotional centre of the brain, or “limbic system”. The limbic system is connected to areas of the brain linked to memory, breathing, and blood circulation, as well as the endocrine glands that regulate hormone levels in the body. The properties of the oil, the fragrance and its effects, determine stimulation of these systems. When used in massage, essential oils are not only inhaled, but absorbed through the skin as well. They penetrate the tissues and find their way into the bloodstream where they are transported to the organs and systems of the body. Different oils are thought to act on the body in different ways, having a relaxing, energizing, calming or uplifting effect.

Popular because of its non-invasive nature, aromatherapy is sometimes available in maternity services and is widely used in palliative and cancer care in hospitals and hospices. Some people also use aromatherapy just for its relaxation effects.

Therapists need to be made aware of any health problems the patient may have, particularly cardiac, respiratory, neurological or dermatological conditions, as some essential oils have to be avoided for people with these conditions. There is also the possibility of some essential oils interacting with prescribed medications, so patients should check with their GP as well as informing their therapist of any medication they are taking. Pregnant women are advised to avoid essential oils in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and some should not be used at all during pregnancy.