Aromatherapist: Robert Donkers
What is it?
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils, from flowers, trees and shrubs and their fruits, blooms, leaves, stems and roots. The oils are obtained by steam distillation, expression (squeezing the oil from peel), maceration (immersing the plant in hot oil to release the essence) or enfleurage (pressing flowers between oiled glass plates).
What does it involve?
Essential oils are usually either massaged into the body, to be absorbed through the skin, or inhaled by means of vaporisers. They may also be added to steam inhalations or baths, added to compresses or spread throughout a room with diffusers.
What is it used for?
The list of uses for aromatherapy is endless. For example, besides using aromatherapy for relaxation and well-being it can help to combat many different illnesses and conditions. It's often used to relieve stress, headaches, insomnia, muscle tension and pain, combating cold and influenza. Aromatherapy is also used for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It can also increase and decrease blood pressure levels. Certain oils will assist women with childbirth. It's increasingly being used in cancer care, palliative care and in sports therapy.
What's the evidence?
Research on different oils has identified their individual constituents and different effects from stimulant to sedative. Clinical trials have confirmed that aromatherapy can aid relaxation and help relieve anxiety. A randomised, controlled trial of 288 cancer patients, in four UK cancer centres and a hospice, showed that aromatherapy helped to provide short-term relief of anxiety and depression in those patients undergoing chemotherapy. However, in the long-term, only a decrease in self-reported anxiety was evident and the study did not distinguish between the effects of different oils, the massage and interaction with a sympathetic therapist. Other studies have suggested that aromatherapy may be helpful for conditions such as bronchitis, alopecia and agitation associated with dementia. However, more research is needed to establish the effectiveness of different oils.
Treatment: The aromatherapist will take a medical history and then determine which oil, or combination of oils, will be the most beneficial for you. You'll normally be asked to undress to your underwear and then be covered with towels in a warm room.
The oils will be diluted in a carrier oil, such as almond or grapeseed, and then massaged into your neck, shoulders and upper back, or given as a full body massage, or a facial. Various massage techniques may be used although Swedish massage is the most common.
Time taken: An aromatherapy massage can last from 30 to 60 minutes
Is it safe and are there any side-effects?
Common, mild side-effect - slight drowsiness. You should not drive or operate heavy machinery immediately after treatment.