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Introduction to Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the ancient art and science of blending naturally extracted essential oils to balance, harmonise and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It enhances well-being, relieves stress and help in the rejuvenation and regeneration of the human body. It is used as a preventative measure against the build-up of stress and onset of ill-health related issues. Essential oils are extracted from aromatic plants, with each essential oil having its own unique healing properties. Originating from herbal medicine, aromatherapy initially involved only the medicinal use of aromatic substances. However, as the practice of aromatherapy has progressed, it has adopted a more clinical approach encompassing the whole of a person’s health, both mental and physical, using a variety of methods of application. It has been used throughout history in various forms of traditional medical practices of the world's greatest civilisations. Nowadays, aromatherapy is widely accepted by orthodox and complementary practitioners as one of the most comprehensive of the natural therapies.

Basic Principles

The IFA do not advocate the oral ingestion or neat application of essential oils. Certain oils are toxic when ingested, so under no circumstances should anyone take essential oils orally without a prescription from a medical practitioner. Essential oils need to be treated with the same respect as conventional medicines. 

Safety & Toxicology Information

Essential oils have been used medicinally for thousands of years and when used appropriately pose little risk. Essential oils are obtained from plants and, when processed correctly, contain potent chemical compounds each with their own proven therapeutic properties. Not all essential oils are suitable however for use in aromatherapy. Some oils are carcinogenic, phototoxic, hepatotoxic, neuro-toxic and renal toxic. Others can cause sensitisation and irritation and should not be applied to the skin. Whilst they are a natural product - if unadulterated - they are also very potent and it is vitally important that they are handled with the relevant knowledge to ensure their effective, safe use.

Please observe the following basic principles:

  • Essential oils should not be taken internally. Certain oils are toxic when ingested, so under no circumstances should anyone take essential oils orally without a prescription from an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Essential oils need to be treated with the same respect as conventional medicines.
  • Do not apply neat essential oils to the skin, always dilute with a carrier oil or suitable base lotion or cream.
  • Keep essential oils out of the reach of children
  • Avoid UV exposure with citrus oils as they are photo sensitive
  • Avoid essential oils coming into contact with the eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Keep essential oils away from direct sunlight.
  • Always seek the advice of a professional aromatherapist.

General Dilution Guidelines

The number of drops of essential oil used in a blend is a major factor to safe use. Generally dilutions range from 0.5 to 5% dilution. Chronic conditions generally require more diluted doses compared to acute situations.

Special consideration is required for children, the elderly, terminally ill patients, during pregnancy and lactation and when attempting to conceive, epileptics, clients on medication and patients going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy should always seek professional advice before using any essential oils.

A 2% essential oil dilution is generally regarded as a safe guideline for dermal application on healthy adults.


Some essential oils and methods of application may be contraindicated in some medical conditions and illnesses and during on-going medical treatments.

Professional advice is required when using essential oils in combination with medications.

Babies, children, teenagers, pregnant and lactating women, palliative clients in particular require a gentle approach and should always seek professional advice.

Always contact a professional aromatherapist who will guide you on the oils that are suitable for your individual needs.


Purity is important as many essential oils are expensive and to avoid inadvertently using adulterated products or synthetic products always purchase essential oils and carrier products from reputable suppliers.

Evidence Base of Aromatherapy

Ancient history has provided anecdotal evidence of the therapeutic use of essential oils but, in the last few decades, increasing scientific research has evidenced and substantiated their health benefits. The objective evidence base which supports aromatherapy comprises clinical trials, case histories, clinical audits and also patient reported outcome data. The amount of such research, and the media profile of some studies, has led to a high level of public confidencein the efficacy of aromatherapy. As a result, it is used in the health and social sector in a variety of ways, including hospitals and hospices. And is one of the most popular forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

An Aromatherapy Treatment: What to expect

When you visit an IFA aromatherapist, there are several things you can expect.


Before a treatment takes place, the aromatherapist will conduct a thorough consultation to establish the client’s medical history and any pre-existing conditions that the client may have to ensure a safe and effective treatment. Consideration will also be given to lifestyle, diet and the client’s general wellbeing and stress levels. Consultations are entirely confidential. The information provided is essential as each treatment is tailored to suit the clients’ individual needs. All IFA aromatherapists understand both the limitations and scope of their skills and would never claim to cure or diagnose a client’s medical condition. Rather, they look holistically at a client’s overall wellbeing and provide a deeply relaxing and personalised treatment, allowing the essential oils to permeate the skin and senses. They do this by creating a bespoke blend tailored for your specific physical and emotional needs and devise a personalised treatment plan.

If you are currently receiving treatment for a serious illness or if there are concerns about your current state of health, you will be advised to consult your doctor before embarking on a course of aromatherapy treatments.

Essential Oil Selection

Essential oils are then selected for that individual person based on their current health needs (both physical and emotional), and taking into account any safety issues that may arise. Essential oils can be applied via the skin as massage when diluted in a vegetable oil; compresses applied directly to the affected area; bath milks, and inhalation – the molecules of the essential oils travel, via the olfactory system, quickly into the blood stream. In the UK essential oils are never taken internally, this is practiced by doctors in other countries in Europe who are specially trained in the use of essential oils as medicines.

Essential oils contain powerful chemicals which provides their therapeutic value, it is therefore important that they are used with care and are administered by a trained professional. There are a number of essential oils with well-known therapeutic qualities a therapist would choose from a selection of these oils to administer a treatment. If a condition is made worse with stress for example, then the therapist can use oils that will help to balance the nervous system. There are numerous oils which can be used for this e.g. Geranium, Neroli, Sweet Orange, Melissa Lavender, Rose, Ylang Ylang and Vetiver, depending on how the stress is presenting in the individual.

The history of aromatherapy began in France and it is there that the recognition of the therapeutic chemicals in the essential oils was identified. Many people think aromatherapy is about lovely smells but the lovely fragrances are a bonus. The most important fact is that the oils used are of therapeutic grade i.e. they contain the actual chemicals that define the therapeutic quality of the essential oil. Essential oils are very expensive and therefore there are some products on the market that are adulterated with cheaper oils e.g. Rose is often mixed with Geranium, Lavender officinalis with Lavendin. A qualified aromatherapist knows how to identify good quality oil and uses only professional and reputable suppliers.

Bespoke Blend

The synergy of the blend of oils is also important, as oils must complement each other chemically for them to enhance the therapeutic effect. Whilst there are a number of oils to treat many minor conditions when applied with massage, the actual choice is based on the individual’s needs – there age, general state of health, lifestyle etc. Although essential oils are most definitely natural they are not always gentle and each person’s degree of sensitivity is individual which can vary from time to time depending on what is happening in their lives.

Treatment Plan

The aromatherapist will work with your schedule and budget to create a treatment plan to suit your particular requirements.

Method of application

Usually, a full body massage is carried out covering the legs, back/neck, abdomen, arms, face and scalp. Two different blends are used, one for the face and one for the body. A classic full body aromatherapy massage routine begins with the back, arms, shoulders and neck, followed by the backs of the legs and the feet. Having helped you to turn, the therapist washes their hands before massaging your head and face, your neck and upper shoulders, your abdomen, the fronts of your legs and feet. Sometimes more than one aromatherapy blend is used during the course of your treatment.

In some situations, however, it may be more appropriate to give a massage treatment which focusses on only one part of the body, e.g. the back/neck/shoulders or your therapist may decide to limit the application of essential oils through massage to specific areas of your body. They might choose to apply the oils to your skin via compresses or they may feel you should simply inhale an oil or a blend of oils to help your current condition.


At the end of a treatment clients will receive some aftercare advice and where appropriate other advice and maybe some home care products to complement the treatment with advice on use.
Our registrants provide not only a deeply relaxing treatment but also sound guidance to use in everyday life to maintain optimum health. Take charge of your health, the health of loved ones and employees, restock and restore and book a treatment today.

For more information on the quality of care you can expect please see the IFA's Codes of Practice, Ethics and Conduct.

Essential Oil Storage

Once you have obtained or bought your essential oils and carrier oils from a reliable supplier, there are a few points you should observe to safeguard the quality and therapeutic power of your oils and keep them as fresh as possible:

  • Store in a dark place away from air, light or heat. Light or heat will cause evaporation, air causes oxidation and sunlight cause photo-catalytic activity and photo-toxicity.
  • Avoid leaving bottles of essential oils by a window or a heater, where sunlight and heat can affect them.
  • Keep in an even temperature, as cool as possible.
  • Replace tops immediately after use, firmly and securely.
  • Always ensure that your essential oils are stored in appropriate containers, e.g. use glass bottles not plastic and use dark glass bottles.
  • Keep away from children.
In such conditions essential oils will keep for a year or more. Once blended, mixed with a carrier oil and with other essential oils they will keep for a much shorter time and may even go off after six weeks or less.

Legislation Surrounding the Sale of Products

The Aromatherapy Trade Council (ATC) is the association for the essential oil trade and the EU legislation surrounding the sale of products. For more information please visit: www.a-t-c.org.uk or call 01673 844 672 during office hours 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday or email info@a-t-c.org.uk

The ATC is a specialist advisor to the IFA. Registrants please login to the members area for legislation updates.

Above is a short video of how oils sit on water, like they would on the stomach if taken internally.