Aromatherapy with Karla Perentin
Aromatherapy is a therapy based on the use of essential (concentrated) plant oils. The oils are usually massaged into skin, put in a bath or inhaled.
It’s not known exactly how aromatherapy works, but there is some evidence to show that it does, and that it can be helpful as an alternative or complement to conventional medical treatment.
What is aromatherapy?
The concentrated essential oils Aromatherapists use to treat conditions are aromatic and volatile (i.e. which evaporate easily) elements from plants. The oils are not concentrated from whole plant parts – unlike herbal medicines – but are extracted, generally by steam distillation, from flowers, leaves, roots, grasses, peel, resin or bark.
A French chemist called René-Maurice Gattefossé coined the term aromatherapy to describe the process of using plant oils therapeutically. The story goes that, while working in a perfume factory in the early 20th century, he burnt his hand and instinctively grabbed some lavender oil and poured it onto the burn. He was so impressed by how quickly and cleanly the burn healed, he began studying the healing powers of plant oils.
However, people have been treated with plant oils for thousands of years – records go back to the times of ancient Egypt, China and India.
How can aromatherapy help?
Aromatherapy is now used to treat a whole range of conditions and is believed to work on people both physically and psychologically. The first part of the theory is that when you smell an essential oil, it triggers your limbic system – the part of the brain that controls emotions and stores and retrieves learned memories – and relaxes you. The other part of the theory is that the essential oils are absorbed through the skin, and have medicinal properties which act on the cause of the problem.
Just some of the conditions aromatherapy is used to treat are:
• anxiety, stress or insomnia
• muscular aches and pains
• headaches
• asthma
• eczema
• digestive problems
• menstrual or menopausal problems

You can choose to be treated by an Aromatherapist, or you can buy certain aromatherapy oils over the counter at pharmacies and health shops, and treat yourself. If you visit an Aromatherapist, he or she will probably massage oils into your skin. If you treat yourself, you can add them to your bath, or inhale them using steaming water, a diffuser or an incense burner. There is also a wide range of toiletries containing essential oils available, some of which may claim to increase wellbeing or have some healing properties.

Does aromatherapy work?
Despite a lack of good research proving that essential oils could work by either stimulating your sense of smell or being absorbed through your skin, in theory it is possible to predict the effects of the oils based on their chemical make up. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that the theories are true – or false – and there has been little research to try and prove them right or wrong.
There have been good quality trials studying the effects of aromatherapy on groups of people including studies that compared aromatherapy with the effects of a placebo (a dummy treatment) and no treatment at all. A review of these suggests aromatherapy can help with some conditions. For instance, the evidence suggests that:
• it has mild and short-lasting anti-anxiety effects
• it may help if you have a type of baldness called alopecia areata
• might help prevent bronchitis
• tea tree oil can help relieve acne and fungal infections
However, little of this research has been conclusive and more research is needed to investigate the effectiveness of aromatherapy in the treatment of other conditions.

Are there any concerns?
Aromatherapy products such as toiletries contain only small amounts of essential oils. But in their concentrated form the oils can be very powerful and should always be handled with care – you only need a few drops in a bath for example. More could cause irritation, and some essential oils are toxic if used incorrectly – such as eating or drinking them.
Aromatherapy oils can have side-effects – nausea, headaches or an allergic reaction for instance. Some of them, including citrus oils such as orange, lemon and bergamot, react with ultraviolet light and can cause skin to burn more easily in sunlight.
Essential oils should almost never be used neat on skin – exceptions are lavender oil and tea tree oil in small amounts. You should only ever take them internally on the advice of a fully trained professional therapist, and some professional organisations advise against using the oils in this way at all.
Check with a professional therapist or your doctor before using an essential oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. There are several oils that should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as some may find their way into breast milk.
Some oils can aggravate skin conditions in susceptible people, so essential oils should be used with caution on:
• infectious skin conditions
• broken skin
• varicose veins
Anyone recovering from surgery should not use aromatherapy. It’s also not suitable for anyone with any of the following conditions:
• epilepsy
• high blood pressure
• deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in your leg)
Some essential oils may either reduce or enhance the effects of certain conventional medicines, including antibiotics, antihistamines, sedatives and anti-epileptic drugs. Most homeopaths advise against the use of essential oils if you are taking a homeopathic remedy.
Your first consultation
If you decide to visit an Aromatherapist, he or she usually starts by taking a detailed medical history, and asking questions about diet, lifestyle and health problems. The therapist will then decide which oils most suit you – you may be recommended just one oil, or a blend of two or three. A therapist should not make any medical diagnosis – they are not trained to do so.
Most likely, your Aromatherapist will then mix the chosen oils with what is called a carrier oil – almond or grapeseed, for example – and massage this mixture into your skin. You may also be given advice about home treatments, such as using the oils in baths or inhalations.
Your first session may last up to two hours, and subsequent ones about one hour. For a chronic (long-term) condition, you will probably be recommended one treatment a week for a few weeks, then follow-ups two or four weeks later.
Using essential oils at home

You can buy a range of essential oils over the counter in pharmacies, health food shops and even supermarkets. Check the labels as some are already diluted whereas others are pure oils.

Always keep the oils in tightly-sealed containers stored in a cool dark place. Like all medicines, they should be kept out of the reach of children.
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Cure By Nature Limited
Acupuncture, osteopathy, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, colonics, reflexology, massage,pain clinic, fertility treatment in Southfields, Earlsfields, Wandsworth and Wimbledon, London SW14, SW15, SW17, SW18, SW19, SW20 Cure By Nature 95 Replingham Road SW18 5lu Tel 020 8875 1101

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