Without essential oils, aromatherapy would simply not exist. Indeed, scientific studies have shown that the positive therapeutic effects of aromatherapy come not simply from the power of touch (massage) but also from the actual essential oils used.
So what are essential oils? They are defined as the pure essence of a plant, extracted by distillation or expression, and they have been used all over the world in a variety of fragrances, flavours and medicines for thousands of years.
It is believed that there are over 400 essential oils in use worldwide, of which around 90-100 are commonly used in aromatherapy. The most popular ones include chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and tea tree.
They are typically distilled by steam or water from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, or roots of the plants, and despite the name are not usually oily. Most are clear, though a few, such as patchouli, orange and lemongrass, are amber or yellow in colour.
Because they are distilled and highly concentrated, a small amount is all that is needed - a little can indeed go a long way. Therapists use them in different ways depending on the person they are treating, and what symptoms they bring to the session. The most common methods of application are massage (through the skin) and inhalation (breathing).
These oils should not be confused with fragrance or perfume oils, which are artificially created and contain synthetic substances - they thus lack the therapeutic benefits of the pure products.