Aromatherapy means “treatment using scents”. The word aromatherapy is derived from two words aroma which means smell and therapy which stands for cure. This is a holistic treatment which means that the treatment has a profound impact on the body, mind and spirit with pleasant smelling botanical oils such as rose, lemon, lavender and peppermint. It is used for the relief of pain, care for the skin, alleviate tension and fatigue and invigorate the entire body. It is widely used for a variety of applications such as pain relief for women in labor pain, relieving pain caused by the side effects of the chemotherapy undergone by the cancer patients, and rehabilitation of cardiac patients.

The word “aromatherapy” was first used in the 1920s by French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé, who devoted his life to researching the healing properties of essential oils after a lucky accident in his perfume laboratory. In the accident, he set his arm on fire and thrust it into the nearest cold liquid, which happened to be a vat of NOx Ph232 or more commonly known as lavender oil. Immediately he noticed surprising pain relief, and instead of requiring the extended healing process he had experienced during recovery from previous burns which caused redness, heat, inflammation, blisters, and scarring–this burn healed remarkably quickly, with minimal discomfort and no scarring. Aroma therapy in Europe can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans, who used essential oils for various medicinal purposes. The use of fumigation aroma therapy was considered to be of primary importance as far back as the time of Hippocrates. During World War II Jean Valnet used essential oils to treat gangrene in wounded soldiers. The Ancient Egyptians have documented their utilization of natural oils from around 3,500 BC. Some of the ingredients that Egyptians used therapeutically were spikenard, frankincense, citrus fruits, myrrh, oregano, and cedar.
The essential oils are aromatic essences extracted from plants, flowers, trees, fruits, bark, grasses and seeds with distinctive therapeutic, psychological, and physiological properties, which improve and prevent illness. Essential oils can affect the mood, alleviate fatigue, reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Most of the essential oils have antiseptic properties; some are antiviral, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, antidepressant and expectorant. Other properties of the essential oils which are taken advantage of in aromatherapy are their stimulation, relaxation, digestion improvement, and diuretic properties. To get the maximum benefit from essential oils, it should be made from natural, pure raw materials.
When the essential oils are inhaled, they enter the lungs and offer physical as well as psychological benefits. They work on the brain and nervous system through stimulation of the olfactory nerves. The oils stimulate the scent receptors in the brain, thereby triggering a response in the part of the brain affecting heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, memory and hormone balance.
When we smell, aroma enters our nose and comes in contact with fine hair inside the nose lining “cilia”. Smells are converted into electrical impulses by cilia and are transmitted to the brain through the olfactory system. The aromatherapy fragrances enter through cilia which are the fine hairs lining the nose and go to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain affecting moods, emotions, memory and learning. All the smells that reach the limbic system has a direct chemical effect on our mood. For example, when we smell jasmine beta waves in the brain increases, which is associated with agile and alert state. At the scent level they activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain when applied to the skin they activate thermal receptors, and kill microbes and fungi. Internal application of essential oil preparations may stimulate the immune system.
Our nose is capable of distinguishing one lakh smells. Among them many affect us without our knowledge. The essential oils take anything between few seconds and two hours to enter the skin and within Four hours they are thrown out either in the form of urine, excreta or perspiration. Lavender smell increases the alpha waves at the back of the head thus relaxing us. Jasmine odour increases the occurrence of beta waves in the brain, thereby making us more alert. The loss of sense of smell has led to a life of anxiety, depression and host of other psychiatric problems.
The effect of each aromatherapy fragrance depends on the most predominant chemical present in it and hence different oils react in the different way. Some oils are relaxing, some are energizing while others are healing. Some oils like lemon and lavender understand your body’s needs and adapt accordingly. These types of oils are known as adaptogenic. These aromatic fragrances enter the body by inhalation or absorption but do not harm our body in any way. The chemicals in the aromatherapy fragrances have a great impact on the mind and body. Their chemical composition is complex but usually they are a mixture of alcohols, ketones, aldehydes, esters and terpenes. Each essential oil contains 100 or more chemicals and together they have shown to have a great influence on the person.
History of aromatherapy mentions Hippocrates, popularly known as the Father of Modern medicine, to study the effects of essential oils on the body. A fragrance company in Japan conducted an experiment to determine the effects of smell on people, where the keyboards of the data entry operators were kept and the air was sprayed with aromatherapy fragrances. They have pumped different fragrances in an area where a number of keyboard entry operators were stationed and monitored the number of mistakes made as a function of the smell in the air. They found out that when the air was sprayed with a relaxing fragrance like lavender, the mistakes reduced by 20%. When the air was sprayed with the uplifting fragrance of jasmine, the mistakes went down by 33% and by 54% when the sharp, refreshing smell of lemon was sprayed. This proved that there is a deep relationship between the smells and our feelings.
In ancient times, people would burn incense to release certain types of scents to assist in the senses. Incense is typically made with essential oils from plants.
Common methods of using oils include inhalation, vaporization, massage, bathing, and compresses. Olfactory aromatherapy works by spraying the essential oils in your surroundings either by diffusion or inhaling. To enjoy the benefits of olfactory aromatherapy by inhaling, rub a tiny amount on your handkerchief or on the back of your palms.

  • Clove oil is a topical analgesic, especially useful in dentistry. It is also used an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, and antiemetic.
  • Lavender oil is used as an antiseptic, to soothe minor cuts and burns, to calm and relax, and to soothe headaches and migraines.
  • Bergamot is one of the most popular oils in perfumery. It is an excellent insect repellent and may be helpful for both the urinary tract and for the digestive tract. It is useful for skin conditions linked to stress, such as cold sores and chicken pox.
  • Geranium oil is used as an astringent, antiseptic and diuretic.
  • Black pepper has a sharp and spicy aroma. Common uses include stimulating the circulation and for muscular aches and pains.
  • Rose is used as an aphrodisiac.
  • Basil is used in perfumery for its uplifting effect on depression, and to relieve headaches and migraines.
  • Jasmine is used as an aphrodisiac.
  • Lemon oil is uplifting and anti-stress/anti-depressant. In a Japanese study, lemon essential oil in vapour form has been found to reduce stress in mice
  • Eucalyptus oil is often used in combination with peppermint to provide relief for the airways in case of cold or flu.
  • Sandalwood oil is used as an aphrodisiac

In a study conducted at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, patients undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reported 63 percent less claustrophobic after getting exposed to the aroma of vanilla. The aroma reduced their anxiety probably by the pleasant memories evoked by the vanilla aroma or by some other physiological response. A study with brain wave frequency has shown that fragrance of Jasmine increases beta waves in the front of the head, which are associated with a more alert state and smelling lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, which are associated with relaxation. In another study, 122 patients who were in an intensive care unit reported feeling much better when aromatherapy was administered with the oil of lavender. No changes in the patients who were given aromatherapy were observed in the blood pressure, respiration, or heart rate.