Aromatherapy or essential oil therapy as is it sometimes known, is the use of essential oils from plants to improve the mind, body, and spirit. Aromatherapy is often used by patients with cancer to improve quality of life and reduce stress, anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting caused by cancer and its treatment.
Essential oils are the fragrant (aromatic) part found in many plants, often under the surface of leaves, bark, or peel. The fragrance is released if the plant is crushed or a special steam process called distillation is used. The word 'essential' is thought to come from the ancient belief that the 'essence' of the plant, or all that is essential about it, is preserved in this highly concentrated liquid.
Aromatic plants have been used since time began to perfume and to heal. Aromatic plant material has been found in ancient tombs dating as far back as Neanderthal times, 60,000 years ago and containers from King Tut’s burial chamber, sealed over 3,000 years ago, still had the faint smell of frankincense and myrrh when the tomb was discovered in 1922.
The ancient Romans saw scent as a status symbol and much of Rome’s high society were known to use common plants such as lavender (Lavandula spp.) and rose (Rosa spp.) in everyday life. The Romans helped to spread the knowledge of aromatic plants throughout the Roman Empire to places such as Great Britain, which led to a wide use of aromatic plants during Medieval Europe.
However, the modern-day term of aromatherapy, or aromathérapie as it is known in French, was only devised by the French perfumer and chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé in 1937. Gattefossé is most well-known for the incident in which he accidently burned his hand in his laboratory and plunged it a vat of lavender. To his surprise, his hand healed and did not bear the scarring he feared, if the hand had been left untreated.
There are nearly one hundred different types of essential oils available and each plant's essential oil has a different chemical make-up that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it affects the body.
Essential oils can be taken into the body by some of the same routes as conventional medications: they can be swallowed orally, absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, or their vapour inhaled through the nose and mouth. Each route has its own risks and benefits.
Oral Consumption of Essential Oils
Essential oils should not be taken internally unless prescribed and administered by a primary healthcare practitioner, pharmacist, or herbalist who is a trained and qualified essential oil practitioner.
It is likely that when administered orally, 100% of the essential oil ingested will be absorbed into the body’s internal system (unlike skin absorption, where the epidermis acts as a semi porous barrier), so dose is very significant. Furthermore, essential oils should never be swallowed neat because they can cause severe mucous membrane irritation.
Although essential oils metabolise and are eliminated or excreted from the body quite quickly, there is increased risk of causing renal (kidney) and hepatic (liver) damage and internal irritation to other accessory organs of the digestive system, whilst some essential oils are oral toxins.
There is also increased risk of negative chemical interaction between the constituents of essential oils and other prescribed medication that may be being taken at the same time, which might potentiate or exacerbate their action.
Topical Application of Essential Oils via the Skin
In terms of skin contact, essential oils In summary, therefore, the IFA advises against the use of essential oils neat on the skin.
alone are not emollient (moisturising), they certainly do not have an ‘oily’ texture. This should always be dispensed in an emulsifying medium before being added to a bath (water itself is very drying to the skin, which can exacerbate irritation), and they should never be added to water and consumed internally as this is virtually the same as consuming them neat (water offers no protection to the lining of the mucous membrane or stomach).
Essential Oils are lipid-soluble, which means that most of the molecules are readily absorbed through the dermal layers of the skin into the bloodstream.
How quickly this happens depends on the weight, polarity and optical properties of each individual molecule. Skin permeability also plays a role. Research suggests the most permeable areas are the palms, soles of the feet, forehead, scalp and armpit.
The presence of hair may facilitate the transfer of essential oils to deeper dermal layers via the hair follicle, and damage from sun exposure, abrasions and rashes can also increase skin permeability.
Heat or friction from massage can stimulate blood vessel dilatation, additionally aiding absorption. However, since skin contact with most undiluted essential oils can result in dermal irritation, they are usually combined with carrier oils, such as almond or grapeseed oil, which acts to dilute and slow their absorption rate.
INHALATION: The molecules in EOs are rapidly transported when inhaled, to both the bloodstream and the central nervous system.
Via the nasal route, EO vapor enters the nostrils, where it contacts the olfactory receptors. These receptors are composed of cilia, surrounded by fluid, which is secreted by specialized olfactory glands. Once dissolved in this fluid, the EOs travel along the olfactory tract to the olfactory bulb in the cerebrum. Due to the close proximity of the nostrils to the base of the brain (just above the bridge of the nose), an EO can elicit central physiological effects rapidly.
Essential oil vapor accesses the pulmonary system by entering the lungs via the nasopharynx and trachea. Traveling through the bronchus and the bronchioles, the EO vapor ultimately encounters the alveoli, millions of tiny grape-like clusters with thin walls, which permit rapid diffusion into surrounding capillaries. From there, EOs are transported through the circulatory system to appropriate receptor sites throughout the body.
Aromatherapy works through the sense of smell and skin absorption using products such as these:
body oils, creams, or lotions for massage or topical application
hot and cold compresses
Essential oils are very concentrated. For example, it takes about 220 pounds of lavender flowers to make about 1 pound of essential oil. The aroma of essential oils fades away quickly when left open to air.
While “aromatherapy” is often used interchangeably with “essential oil therapy”, some experts prefer to use the term “essential oil therapy” to further define the treatment modality that consists of the exclusive use of high-quality essential oils (EOs), rather than merely fragrances that can contain chemical or synthetic constituents. While aromatherapy with EOs has long been associated with pleasant smells used for relaxation, it is also a credible, serious and highly effective therapy.
Using essential oils for nausea is a generally low-risk home remedy. But there are some people that shouldn’t use this treatment as a way to get rid of nausea. In very rare cases, over-exposure from the menthol contained in peppermint and spearmint can hurt your skin. A more commonly reported side effect is dermatitis from lavender oil.
Use a gentle carrier oil, like jojoba oil or coconut oil, to mix with more potent oils before applying to your skin. This will help you avoid burning or irritating your skin’s surface when you use essential oils topically. Three to five drops of essential oil in an ounce of carrier oil is the usual recipe.
Never directly inhale the vapor from an oil diffuser or steam dispenser, as it can irritate your mucous membrane. If your nausea persists over 48 hours, or if you begin to show signs of dehydration, stop using essential oils and contact your health provider.
This home remedy is meant to help mild nausea. It won’t cure the source of your nausea if you have a bacterial or viral infection. And if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and looking for help with morning sickness, you should consult with your midwife or doctor before using alternative treatments.