The Potential Use of Aromatherapy as a Therapeutic Treatment in Healthcare

Aromatherapy involves the utilization of essential plant oils for therapeutic purposes. To add to its therapeutic value, aromatherapy is an activity that can be practiced as an income generating venture, and therefore can be beneficial to groups and households. The use of natural oils from plants has numerous physical and psychological values to the human body. More over, aromatherapy has encouraged the use of other natural materials that are used together with it. These include milk powder, mud and clay, vegetable oils and other such natural substances. Introduction of these natural oils in to the body through inhalation in to the lungs as well as application on the skin is both physically and psychologically beneficial to humans. Reactions in the brain are usually triggered by aromas that are inhaled into the lungs and also are of therapeutic value. The naturally abundant chemicals can be used to release stress from the body, e. g the natural oil found in Eucalyptus has been widely used to ease nasal congestion (Buckle 2003 pp. 33-35).

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Application of the natural oils to the skin provides entry for them in to the blood stream. These oils can be used for beauty, cleaning the body as well as for boosting the immune system of a person. The essential oils should be diluted before application to the skin or before being used through any other means since they are strong due to their high concentration. It is also important for users of these oils to ensure that they do not contain chemicals from synthetic oils. They should understand that it is possible to find aromatherapy products in the market that are not natural. The impure aromatherapy products containing synthetic chemicals do not posses the same benefits as the natural oils (Grace 1996 pp. 27-32).


The history of aromatherapy

The use of aromatherapy began many years ago. Archeology libraries indicate that as 1555 B.C, There were illustrations linked to aromatherapy in France appearing on the walls of the Lascaux caves. It was also practiced in Egypt at around the same period whereby natural oil was extracted from plants. Several plants are known to have been widely used for a variety of ailments in the ancient times. One such plant is the medical papyri is said to have been used around 1555 B. C in a way that is almost similar to contemporary aromatherapy. Many cultures especially the Chinese widely used aromatherapy for therapeutic functions. In Greece, the medicinal value of aromatic plants was highly recognized. Many perfumes were developed in Greece such as Megaleion that was developed by Megallus who was a Greek perfumer (Lunny 1997 pp. 45-47). This perfume was used for medical purposes to heal wounds. It was preferred mainly because of its gentle reactions while applied on the skin. It had a nice aroma and anti-inflammatory characteristics that made it user friendly. The success of this perfume led to extraction of more natural oils.

It is believed that a disease known as the Black Death occurred in the early 14th century and caused the deaths of many people. Many perfumers are said to have survived this calamity due to their regular contact with aromatic plants. The disease was mitigated with the use of essential oils prepared from herbs. These were prepared on large scale and helped fight the disease. Their success resulted in the continuous extraction of natural oils and investigations on their therapeutic value. This culminated in the extraction of oils such as frankincense, rosemary and many others. Research led to the publication of articles and books in on aromatherapy in the late 15th century. Many alchemists recommended the use of herbs for medicine by the end of the 15th century. Until the early 18th century, natural oils were used for medicinal purposes before they were replaced with modern medicine. However, from the late 20th century, people reverted to the use of herbal medicine. Many countries are currently using essential oils from plants for therapeutic purposes. This has been facilitated by the increased publications of articles and books as well as access of information in the internet concerning aromatherapy (Pengelly 1996 pp.55-57).

Essential oils

These are liquids which are usually extracted from various parts of the plants through distillation. These plant parts include the bark, flowers and leaves. The extracted oils are usually diluted before use. This is because they are usually powerful and concentrated in their natural form, which could be lethal if used in that state. They are usually diluted with oils such as apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil and other carrier oils. They are then applied on the skin for absorption in to the body. They can also be inhaled carefully in to the lungs to provide therapeutic effects once absorbed in to the blood stream. The benefits derived from essential oils include boosting immunity, beauty especially in improving the texture of the skin as well as boosting personal hygiene. The soothing and refreshing properties of essential oils are usually due to the many phytochemicals present in the plant cells. They normally produce a variety of special effects to the body (Lawless 2001 pp. 36-41).

Essential oils may be lethal under certain circumstances. They usually have a negative effect for people with asthma, high blood pressure, cancer and those who are epileptic. They are also known to cause miscarriage due to their toxicity and therefore should not be used by pregnant women. Aromatherapy should not be used on children under the age of five years. The oils may have adverse effects on their delicate body tissues. The essential oils are known to induce nausea or negative feelings in patients who are under chemotherapy treatment. High dosage of about 10 to 20 ml is known to cause non-lethal toxicity.

Therapeutic actions

Essential oils have therapeutic characteristics that are beneficial to the human body. They help in stress reduction, muscular relieve, relaxing the body as well as boosting the mood of the users. Due to the fact that the essential oils are natural, they are normally ready for use once diluted. They hardly cause irritation in the body or skin. Most essential oils have substantial levels of anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Other therapeutic characteristics that are found in many of the essential oils from plants include; hormone like characteristics that help in boosting body immunity, cancer fighting agents that are useful in the control of cancer and the anti-inflammatory characteristics that make them friendly to the skin. The aromatic molecules in the essential oils give them the therapeutic abilities. Aromatherapy has been used by human beings as medicine for many years. In most cases, oils from a particular plant may contain more than one therapeutic characteristic. This is what makes the essential oils suitable for healing a variety of ailments due to their chemical balance. Because of this chemical balance within the oil, the oils tend to have powerful balancing effects on the body. Natural oil from the eucalyptus is an example of essential oil that contains a variety of therapeutic benefits. These include improvement of the respiratory system, antibacterial characteristics as well as relieve of sore muscles.

Research has established that there exists a strong link between memory and aroma in the human brain. Aromatherapy facilitates strength in memories of the past. Short term memory in patients can also be invoked in patients through aromatherapy. Apart from boosting memory and healing other physical ailments, aromatherapy has a number of benefits in regard to deficiencies in the body. The anti-fungal problems of the feet especially for athletes can be treated through the use of aromatherapy. The fundamental aim of aromatherapy is usually to treat disease, although it can be used to reduce the symptoms associated with ailments such as headache. Aromatherapy is usually significant in strengthening body organs and boosting their functioning. The immune system of the body is strengthened thereby protecting it from ailments. Functioning of aromatherapy is usually facilitated by other natural therapies that are meant for invigorating the body. Many natural therapies boost the activity of antibodies in protecting the body from external threats of disease.

Therapeutic application of the natural oils in the form of massage was adapted since the 1940s. It has been proved to be a gentle way of bringing out the best results for therapeutic application. Massage is known to have prolonged effects to an individual while combined with the natural oils. Aromatherapy is a significant way of facilitating the functioning of the usual body processes through slowing down the brain inhibitors of the normal body functions. This happens through the improvement of particular emotions that may have adverse effects on the brain. Their inhibition helps the brain to function correctly thereby improving the general health of the human body. It also works effectively in relieving the muscles and the skeleton from ailments. More over, aromatherapy can be used in the treatment of skin upsets. It can also be used to prevent diseases from occurring. Supporting the immune system of the body helps in delaying the impact of diseases as well as preventing them from occurring. It helps in keeping the human skin and hair healthier. This has occasionally been used to treat the elderly who wish to get rid of signs of aging.



Problems that respond to aromatherapy

There are several experiences that the human body undergoes, which respond well to aromatherapy. Problems associated with the brain respond positively towards aromatherapy. The most common problems in this category include; anxiety and stress. Some other problems such as muscular pains also respond to aromatherapy. Postnatal related depression, problems with the menstrual cycle and many other problems of women. Generally, problems such as sleeplessness, high blood pressure, exhaustion and digestive disorders are aromatherapy responsive. Problems of the head respond well to aromatherapy. These problems include constant headache, sinusitis and other such problems.

Learning problems are amongst the problems that respond well to aromatherapy. This is especially common in children who suffer from mild mental retardation. Cancer is also known to respond to aromatherapy treatments are also used as painkillers. The functioning of the circulatory system is facilitated by these treatments. Diseases such as arthritis as well as asthma respond well to aromatherapy treatments. The Neil Cliffe Cancer Centre in the United Kingdom is known to offer successful aromatherapy services using essential oils. Another institution that is known to offer aromatherapy support services to patients in Manchester is the adult leukaemia unit of the Christie Hospital (Lunny 1997).

Methods of Application and Absorption of Essential Oils

There are several ways through which essential oils can be absorbed in to the human body. They are usually diluted before being introduced in to the body in order to reduce their concentration since they are normally very strong in their natural state. They are applied in small quantities per session. They are usually diluted with cream or oil especially for massage sessions. The essential oils are composed of small molecules that can be quickly absorbed in to the body through the skin. Some of them easily penetrate the skin layers to get to the blood stream. Substantial amounts of oils gain entry in to the blood stream through this method. They usually get in to the blood stream through diffusion. This is facilitated by the inability of the skin to bar fat soluble compounds from passing through it in to the blood stream (Churchill Livingstone 2008 pp. 112-114).

The normal respiratory process in a human body usually takes place through diffusion. When oxygen gets in to the lungs from the air, it diffuses in to the blood stream from where it circulates throughout the body. The same case happens to the aromatherapy treatments that involve inhaling the essential oils in form of steam or perfume. Once sprayed in the air surrounding the nostrils, the steam or perfume is inhaled and absorbed through the lungs in to the blood stream. The disinfecting ability of the perfumes is significant in the improvement of breathing after disinfecting the air from pathogens that may cause problems to the respiratory system. The nose is of utmost importance in the detection of essential oils that is absorbed in to the body through inhalation. The sense of smell is generally accepted as the most efficient means of detecting the means through which essential oils access the body. It has an express connection with the brain thereby changing the chemical structure of the smell of the essential oils inside the nose and transmits the information into the brain, resulting in a variety of effects after the brain transmits electrochemical impulses to the receptor cells.

Effects of aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has a variety of effects on the human body. This mainly depends on the quality and effects of the oils that are used for treatment. They are usually physical and psychological. Essential oils usually produce psychological effects due to the fact that they are hydrogen based compounds. They are a source of stimulation for the body. They also cause relaxation and facilitate the actions of other elements aimed at boosting the body functions. The essential oils normally affect the skin after physical application. Some absorb water from the surface of the skin while others moisturize it. For the purpose of pain relief, the oils are applied physically and therefore can result in multiple effects on the body.

In addition to therapeutic effects, aromatherapy is also a source of beauty. Essential oils have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that protect the skin from the action of bacteria that may be attached on the skin causing skin rash and pimples. The natural fragrance helps to boost the moods of a person once inhaled because in their gaseous state, they tend to affect the mind. Due to the uniqueness of emotional centers of the brain in storing information, the smell of different essential oils makes many people to experience a particular awakening of long time memories whether favorable or unfavorable. In such a case, people who have suffered situations of memory loss are able to remember some of the important circumstances which may otherwise be forgotten. The placebo effect is a significant form of treatment in the human body. It is usually derived from essential oils. It is usually felt in the body to a large extent compared to the other methods of cure. It boosts the body’s self healing system (Brenda Mullingerb 2008).


Aromatherapy is one significant way of improving the standards of living. It helps in providing the human body from ailments that may be caused by environmental stress or day to day chores. It promotes the strength of mind and the ability to cope with challenges associated with emotions that occur in the mind of a human being. However, not all aromatherapy treatments should be used under all circumstances. Users should be careful while shopping since it is common to find impure oils in the market which are usually inferior chemicals that have been mixed to produce a specific aroma. These can be dangerous for human use.



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  2. Brenda M. (2008). Excessive Physical Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice,

Genamics Journal, volume 1. ISSN: 1744-3881, viewed on 7th Feb. 2009, at


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  3. Lawless J. (2001). Essential Oils. An Illustrated Guide. Hammersmith: Harper Collins
  4. Lunny V. (1997). Aromatherapy. London: Salamander Books Ltd
  5. Pengelly A. (1996). The Constituents of Medicinal Plants. New South Wales: Sunflower Herbals
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