Aromatherapy describes treatments that use essential oils to make you feel calm, relaxed, or energised. Aromatherapy oils work with your sense of smell; you can inhale them, bathe in them or be massaged in them.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy uses warm essential oils to activate your sense of smell and increase your sense of well-being. The oils are massaged into your skin, dropped into water for you to bathe in, or blended with other oils or steam for you to inhale.
The essential oils used in aromatherapy are powerful and are extracted from plants, shrubs, flowers, bark, peel, resin, grasses, fruits, roots, trees, petals, stems or seeds. Only a small amount of essential oil is needed, and is blended with a larger amount of another "carrier" oil - such as grapeseed oil - and used on the skin. The most frequently used essential oils include camomile, lavender, rosemary and tea-tree.
The perceived healing power of essential oils is the main attraction of aromatherapy. But it is also the main question for the sceptic. There is not much qualitative evidence for the claims made by aromatherapists regarding the healing properties of oils, but many people do swear by it. Claims of aromatherapy enhancing emotional, physical or spiritual health cannot be tested scientifically, but of course many people do give anecdotal evidence for improvements in these areas.
What is aromatherapy good for?
Aromatherapy is used in a number of ways, including:
* relieving stress and anxiety; it is used with older people with dementia to relieve distress
* helping you to sleep better; whether you have problems getting to sleep (insomnia) or staying asleep
* helping you relax
* relieving tiredness or aching muscles
* improving flexibility
* soothing chronic pain
* improving skin tone
* aiding concentration
* calming bad temper.
Aromatherapy massage can have short-term benefits on psychological well-being and a positive effect in reducing anxiety. Evidence is mixed as to whether aromatherapy enhances the effects of massage. (See References below.)
Before you go
A good spa will be happy to give you any information you need about the therapists who work there. Because aromatherapy oils are quite powerful, you may want to phone ahead if you're worried about your medical history, any skin or other conditions or allergies you are concerned may affect the oils you can use.
Depending on the aromatherapy treatment you have chosen, you can decide how much or how little you want to wear. Essential oils can stain, so it might be wise to bring old clothes.
* high blood pressure
* kidney problems
* had recent surgery
* suffered from deep vein thrombosis.
Certain medications might also be affected by essential oils, including antibiotics, antihistamines, sedatives and anti-epileptic drugs. Check with your therapist before booking your treatment.
Some oils, particularly citrus ones (such as orange, lemon and bergamot), react with ultraviolet light and can cause your skin to burn more easily. Ask your therapist for advice before exposing yourself to the sun.
Watch what you eat and drink beforehand; some essential oils, such as clary sage, don't go well with alcohol and could make you feel sick. Have a glass of wine after your treatment, not before!
What to expect from aromatherapy
After carefully choosing your essential oils, the therapist will blend them with what is called a "carrier" oil (such as grapeseed or almond), and then gently warm the mixture. Adding heat to the oil helps your skin to absorb it more effectively.
Depending on the treatment you're having, the therapist will massage the oil into your hands, feet or entire body. Your massage will be smooth and flowing, designed to instil a sense of relaxation and calm. Every session is tailored towards you, your health and your mood at the time, so every session is unique. Aromatherapy usually lasts for about an hour, although your initial consultation might take longer.
Different kinds of aromatherapy
* Full-body massage
* Indian head massage
* Steam rooms and laconiums