Shellie Enteen, BA, LMBT
Aromatherapy refers to the use of pure essential oils which have been
extracted from plants, fruits, seeds, roots and flowers. Each essential
oil has specific properties that have beneficial effects on the physical,
mental and emotional levels. When true essential oils are added to massage
oils or inhaled through room diffusion, it greatly enhances the therapeutic
experience. Although they are more expensive than fragrance grade oils,
it is important to use only pure, high quality essences -- manufactured
and grown with integrity and without adulteration or harmful additives.
And while it is possible to select a pre blended oil for a broad category
such as relaxation, pain relief, circulation, the most effective treatment
comes with the individual custom blend, created in the moment for the
client based on their specific needs at the time. In order to create this
kind of blend, the practitioner must have a good knowledge of the properties
of essential oils and their methods of use, sensitivity to both aroma
and the information their client conveys and a large collection of essences
from which to choose. Proper methods must also be observed to insure safety
and allow for contraindications. The following introductory information
will serve to enhance the understanding and experience of True Aromatherapy
for both client and practitioner.
A plant’s “essential oil” is a liquid produced in small,
gland-like pockets. The word “essential” refers to the fact
that this liquid both contains the imprint of the plant’s specific
qualities and acts on behalf of the plant itself. This liquid is not oil
in the chemical sense, but it emulsifies in oil, not in water. The volatile
molecules of the essential oil communicate with the plant’s environment
and mankind through their aroma and vibratory rate.
Though relatively new to the U.S., the art and practice of Aromatherapy
is as old as our relationship with plants. Infused oils, pomades and plant
resins were used from ancient times for healing, cosmetic and ceremonial
purposes. References to the properties and uses for essential oils are
found in manuscripts from China, India and Egypt that date as far back
as 2,800 BC. Since most of these substances were rare and costly, they
were employed mainly in the Royal Courts and Temples, administered with
ritual and invocation. Frankincense, for example, was once used only by
Hebrew Priests on the altar on High Holy Days. Trade routes and methods
of extraction were often closely guarded secrets.
In the Twelfth Century, the introduction of the process of distillation
in Europe made a large number of previously unobtainable plant essences
available. Along with herbs and spices, these were the medicines of the
time and the primary ingredient of personal fragrances. Ironically, nineteenth
century chemists, anxious to identify the active biochemical ingredients
and their effects, laid the groundwork for synthetic derivatives which
led to the decline of both essential oils and herbal medicine.
Modern scientific literature on essential oils began in the late 1920’s
with the French chemist, Gattefosse. He suffered a bad chemical burn while
working in his laboratory in a cosmetics firm and knowing the old herbal
lore, quickly applied the essential oil of Lavender (a popular ingredient
in the colognes and sachets of his day.) To his amazement, the burn healed
without pain, blister or scarring. Gattefosse began an investigation into
the sedative and regenerative properties of Lavender which led to scientific
exploration and testing of other essences. A great deal of medical research
on the effects of essential oils now exists, leaving no doubt that when
the right oil is chosen, at the right time, wonderful things can occur.
However, there are also contraindications for essences, as well as possible
sensitivities and dosage guidelines. For example, some very potent essential
oils such as Sage should be used infrequently and in low dose, while others,
such as Juniper, are contraindicated during pregnancy. With the exception
of Lavender and several other cell regenerating oils, essential oils must
be diluted before use on the skin. A good client questionnaire will help
screen for possible allergic reactions such as skin rash or headache (the
good news is that the reaction is temporary) and other contraindications.
The most powerful Aromatherapy treatment comes through simple inhalation.
Essential oil molecules immediately enter the brain and blood stream via
cranial nerves, nasal membranes and the alveoli in the lungs. Studies
indicate that some is absorbed directly into the lymph and capillaries
through skin contact. In the brain, essential oils activate certain glands
to send chemical messages to the body and mind.
An individual’s response to essences can differ from time to time
which makes having a good “sense” of which essence to choose
as valuable as all the literature on properties. In order to develop this,
one must become familiar with essences and the information directly conveyed
through their aroma. Pay attention to “likes and dislikes”
because it is thought that these responses communicate desirability of
When a practitioner with knowledge and understanding creates a custom
Aromatherapy blend for use in a regular massage, therapeutic massage,
hot stone or other treatment, the effects of the essences combine with
the effects of the bodywork modality to create a more powerful experience
of balance and harmony in the body, mind and spirit. The specific effects
of the essential oils can last up to 24 hours.
True essential oils range in price from extremely expensive (like melissa,
rose, jasmine,) expensive (like frankincense, chamomile, sandalwood,)
moderate (like lavender, peppermint, basil) to inexpensive (like eucalyptus,
rosemary, orange.) “Bargains” are not always what they seem
to be in this field. Question the quality when a wide variety of essences
are offered in the same amount (usually 10 milliliters) for the same price.
Think twice when an essence you know to be very expensive, like Rose,
is offered in large quantity at a low price. Some factors that influence
quality and price are: the method and expertise of extraction, the region
of growth, a particular species of the same plant and/or extraction from
certain parts of the plant. As with crops, a shortage can push the price
In these and other ways, the essential oil business shares many characteristics
with the wine industry: Many of the manufacturers of fine essential oils
have been in business for centuries. Since plants are living organisms,
they are affected by their environment and climate. Therefore, the same
manufacturer can produce an essence that varies in aroma from year to
year, so you can expect the same variance with true essential oils that
you would from different vintages of wine.
Most distributors shop the manufacturers and repackage the essences, either
singly or in blends, under their own label. Be wary if a distributor claims
exclusivity on quality but know that when distributors shop well, the
results are quality products that deliver fine fragrance and good therapeutic
effects. Although essential oils do have specific proven therapeutic effects,
be skeptical when hearing claims that sound too good to be true.
Many books and classes on Aromatherapy are available. There is also a
professional association, The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
(NAHA) which is a resource for trustworthy education and information about
true Aromatherapy. NAHA provides international conferences with well known
speakers on a wide variety of subjects. The next one is September 2006
in Boston. More information can be obtained through their website, www.naha.org.
Bio: Shellie Enteen, BA,
LMBT has over 20 years of experience in the field of Holistic Health.
She teaches in the massage program at Greenville Tech and is on the Board
of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Her regular column
on Aromatherapy appears in “Massage Today” and she teaches
nationally approved continuing education in Aromatherapy and the Aromatherapy
Full Body Technique. Shellie practices Therapeutic Massage, Aromatherapy,
Aromatic Hot Stone Massage and Jin Shin Jyutsu at the Kimah Healing Arts
Center in Greenville (864-232-2729.) Kimah carries her line of pure essential
oils and blends, Three Rivers Aromatics. Shellie can be reached through