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The Allure of Aromatherapy

By: Michele Phelan
Posted: May 30, 2008, from the June 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Beautiful girl surrounded by rose petals.

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Aromatherapy is closely related to herbalism and is a respected branch of complementary medicine. When administered by a knowledgeable practitioner, it can help to achieve and maintain homeostasis of the body by working synergistically with one’s own immune system.

Investigating the science of the oil

There is little doubt that what makes essential oils so alluring are their exotic aromas; however, it is their innate ability to help heal in a variety of ways that make them exceptionally beneficial. And the answer to how these extracts provide such extraordinary capabilities lies within their chemistry.

On a molecular level, each essential oil is comprised of many different atoms—the smallest unit of all matter—bonded together to form molecules, which are the building blocks that form compounds. An oil may encompass a varied group of compounds within its chemical network, which can contribute to its healing diversity. Compounds of different combinations of oxygen molecules are known as functional groups, which account for the properties and effects of the oil.

To view a simple list of several of the major functional groups, their properties and the common and botanical name of the essential oil associated with each group, see Aromatherapeutic Oil Groups. Although an essential oil may belong to more than one group, it will be categorized according to the functional groups that are most dominant in the oil. Unfortunately, there are far too many functional groups and essential oils to list them all in the context of this article. Therefore, only the most common are included.

Scent therapy

Now having a more in-depth understanding of what essential oils are and how they work, you can learn more about the glamorous side of these liquid gems. Smell is an amazingly acute sense that can mysteriously attract a treatment recipient. An aroma can be incredibly alluring, having the uncanny ability to penetrate the memory. Sense of smell is steeply linked to the memory because the part of the brain that registers odor is also related to memory and emotions. If you think of some of your favorite fragrances, you can likely recollect a time in your life that was most enjoyable. A scent can often positively or negatively influence the psyche depending on an individual’s past experience associated with the smell, so it is important to take this into consideration when servicing a client with essential oils.