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Introduction to Aromatherapy

About 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. 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 holistic approach encompassing the whole of a person’s health, both mental and physical, using a variety of methods of application.

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 confidence in 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. It is also regarded as one of the most popular forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

The global aromatherapy market size was valued at USD 2,133.9 million in 2023 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.4% from 2024 to 2030. See report
A survey conducted by the Department of Health found that more than 2/3rds of doctors believe CAM therapies should be freely available on the NHS
A survey conducted by the Integrated Healthcare Collaborative (IHC) revealed that 85% of complementary and natural healthcare therapists do not use plastic-based products in their practice.

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

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. Whilst they are a natural product - if unadulterated – they are highly concentrated and can cause sensitisation and irritation so should not be applied neatly to the skin. Not all essential oils are suitable for use in aromatherapy either. Some oils are carcinogenic, phototoxic, hepatotoxic, neuro-toxic and renal toxic. Therefore, it is vitally important that they are handled with the relevant knowledge and care to ensure their effective, safe use.

Please observe the following basic principles when handling essential oils:

  • Under no circumstances should anyone take essential oils orally without a prescription from an appropriately qualified medical practitioner.
  • 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.

Dilution & Contraindications

The number of drops of essential oil used in a blend is a major factor to its safe use. Generally, dilutions range from 0.5 to 5% dilution. Chronic conditions generally require more diluted doses compared to acute situations. A 2% essential oil dilution is generally regarded as a safe guideline for dermal application on healthy adults.

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

Some methods of application may also 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.

An Aromatherapy Treatment

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

Before a treatment takes place, the aromatherapist will conduct a consultation to establish a client’s medical history and any pre-existing conditions or factors in their lifestyle. This information is necessary to ensure a safe and effective treatment, as each treatment is tailored to suit the clients’ individual needs.

All IFA registered aromatherapists understand both the limitations and scope of their practice and would never claim to cure or diagnose a client’s medical condition. Rather, they look holistically at a client’s overall health and wellbeing and create a bespoke blend to provide a deeply relaxing and personalised treatment, allowing the essential oils to permeate the skin and senses.

There are various methods of application of essential oils, including via the skin as a massage; compresses applied directly to an affected area for example; bath milks, and inhalation – the molecules of the essential oils travelling, via the olfactory system, quickly into the blood stream.

At the end of a treatment clients will receive aftercare advice and where appropriate, some home care products to complement the treatment.

Formore information on the quality of care you can expect from an IFA registered aromatherapist,please see the IFA's Codes of Practice, Ethics and Conduct.

Take charge of your health, the health of loved ones and employees, restock and restore and book a treatment with an IFA PSA registered aromatherapist today.

Essential Oil Storage

Once you have obtained your essential oils and carrier oils from a reputable supplier, there are a few points you should observe to safeguard the quality and therapeutic power of your oils and to 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.
  • 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 coloured glass bottles.
  • Keep away from children.

In such conditions essential oils will keep for a year or more. Please note, once blended and mixed with a carrier oil or 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 professional body for the trade of essential oils, representing manufacturers and suppliers in the UK and provide information in relation to the legislation and legalities surrounding the sale of aromatic products. For more information please visit: www.a-t-c.org.uk or call 01673 844 672.

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

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

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