Aroma Therapy is made up of two words, "aroma" meaning pleasant scent and "therapy" meaning treatment that aims to cure a physical or mental condition. In other words, it means "treatment using scents".

It was the Egyptians who turned their uses for essential oils into the art of aromatherapy and a way of life. The ancient Greeks then turned the use of essential oils to medical science. As a formal science, aromatherapy began in 1937 when a French chemist, Renee Maurice Gattefosse severely burned his hand while in his lab. He immediately plunged his hand into the closest available liquid, Lavender, and was astonished that his hand returned to its normal state. He decided then to dedicate his life studying essential oils for their medicinal properties. Gattefosse coined the term "aromatherapie" to describe this new science.

THE OLFACTORY CONNECTION (When we breathe Ess oils in)

We perceive odors through thousands of olfactory nerves in our nostrils, which contain bundles of highly sensitive nerve cells. Unlike other nerve cells, these cells regenerate every 30 to 40 days. Specific aromatic molecules of essential oils react with specific nerve receptors, which in turn trigger electrochemical impulses that are conducted directly into the brain.

Aromas are transmitted to the limbic system, a part of the brain which perceives and responds to memory, pleasure and emotions. Odor triggers the limbic system to release brain-affecting chemicals known as neurochemicals. Enkephalin reduces pain and creates a feeling of well-being. Endorphins also reduce pain and induce sexual feelings. Serotonin helps relax and calm. Because the olfactory nerves are a direct extension of the brain's limbic system, recognition of smell is relayed immediately, whereas recognition of taste, sound and touch is not as immediate.

The olfactory system of the human brain has a lock and key mechanism for remembering scents. This creates an individual perception of aroma, different preferences for scents and specific memory responses. The lock is the actual smell memory; the key is the scent which opens the mind to the memory. In aromatherapy, the brain responds to the aroma of an essential oil by retrieving a past memory associated with the aroma. If the aroma is unfamiliar, the brain creates a new memory response. The memory responses can be relaxing, balancing, energizing, uplifting, etc. The sense of smell has the longest recall of all senses, so we tend to retain memories associated with aromas for quite some time.

There are several ways of using Essential oils.

Adding a few drops to course sea salts makes lovely bath salts for yourself or a gift. Adding a bit of water then 3 drops of Essential oil to a burner, can also be relaxing or rejuvenating, depending on which oils you use. For Sinus or just a facial steaming, Essential oil also works wonders. Three drops of Eucalyptus to a bowl this size would do well for sinus. You can add a few drops of essential oil to your favourite moisturiser or to plain base cream, and voila, you have your own aromatherapy cream.



A refreshing floral scented oil made from lavender buds.  This a soothing, antiseptic and generally therapeutic oil which also has the ability to regulated the central nervous system. It’s increasingly used in hospitals to give patients a comfortable relaxed sleep.  Lavender is one of the few oils than can be applied undiluted to the skin.  
In Chinese Medicine, Lavender is slightly cooling, with strong Qi-regulating properties.
It promotes tissue repair, calms the mind, reduces fever and inflammation and alleviates headaches, irritability, anxiety and palpitations.


A clear, rose-like refreshing scent made from the whole geranium plant.  It’s a balancing oil, which means it can relax or stimulate you according to your needs – and is traditionally regarded as a feminine oil and a powerful healer. In Chinese Medicine Geranium is a warm, yang herb, regulating and strengthening Qi. It is considered an astringent oil  with moistening properties and is also good for fatigue and depression.


A clear peppery, pine like oil from the berries of a small evergreen tree.  It was a traditional ingredient in ritual perfumes and used to combat the spread of disease: Native Americans still rely on the berries to treat colds and put out  small branches to cleanse the atmosphere. In Chinese Medicine juniper oil is warm dry and yang. It is used in winter for Rheumatism and muscular pain caused by cold. It is also prescribed for a yin person with cold skin and chronic skin problems that appear to worsen in winter.


A woody, lemony oil from the resin of a small north African tree, it was one of the great treasures of the East.  The ancient Egyptians used it for treating wrinkles and ageing skin, and it was traditionally used in meditation, when it’s spiritual qualities gave it a higher value than gold – it’s mind-bending powers were verified by a recent study which found that the burning vapours give off a psychoactive chemical that stimulates our subconscious. In Chinese Medicine this is a warm, yang oil. It encourages the circulation of blood and Qi, reduces swelling and heals wounds. Very good for an ageing neck, wrinkles and scars.

Rose Otto

A floral, honey-like, intense, sweet scent obtained by steam distillation. ("Otto" meaning obtained by steam distillation) Found in Bulgaria, France, Morocco & Russia.
This a very expensive oil, but it is money well spent. Rose Otto is extensively used for dry, ageing skin, and many other skin conditions and is also astringent, antiseptic and it's anti-inflammatory properties are recommended for sensitive skin. It can also help clear broken capillaries. A little also goes a long way. In Chinese Medicine, Rose Otto is a slightly  cool and yin oil. Astringent, stablilising and decongestant with moistening properties, this oil benefits blood and regulates menstruation. It is also used to lift the spirits and relieve depression.


A piercing camphorous herby aroma from the flowering tips of the Mediterranean plant. In ancient times, it was used to protect people from the plague – bundles of Rosemary are still used by Arabs to cool and refresh a sickroom. It’s a very valuable herb as it’s a great tonic for the heart, brain and nervous system, and a powerful antioxidant, which protects against ageing. (NB. Not to be used by pregnant women or Epileptics).

Rosewood (Bois de Rose) - Rare and expensive

A soft Woody Rose scent, extracted by steam distillation from the wood chippings of Brazilian rosewood. This gentle non-toxic, non-irritant oil is a good skin tonic, safe for any skin. It promotes skin regeneration and healing, being highly effective against  a wide range of micro organisms, fungal infections and viruses. In Chinese Medicine this oil is gently cooling, slightly yin, and astringent. It aids the circulation of Qi and is calming. 


A intense , sweet, jasmine-like fragrance from the blossom of a tall, tropical South Pacific tree. It’s a very potent oil and valued for healing distressing emotions and encouraging relaxation and a sense of well-being.  (It is also an aphrodisiac – Eastern women perfume their hair with it, when preparing for an amorous date). It can be overpowering on it’s own, so add a few drops of Lavender Essential oil for a softer scent.


A clear refreshing camphorous oil, from the leaves of a Native Australian Tree. I treats cold symptoms effectively because it has powerful antiseptic and decongestant properties.  It’s also the most potent anti-viral oil, so is wonderful for flu – the bug busting oil stimulates blood flow to the skin and causes sweating, helping to clear the flu virus from the circulatory system.  Australian aborigines dress wounds with the antiseptic leaves and make into a tea for fevers and coughs.


A bitter, floral, sweet, citrus fragrance is extracted from the flowers of the bitter orange. It was named after an Italian princess who used it daily as a perfume. Neroli with it’s anti-bacterial fungicidal and healing properties can be used for all skin types. It is more costly than most of the oils and its therapeutical value on dry ageing skin and its beneficial action on thread and varicose veins or broken blood vessels in particular certainly justify the expense.   In Chinese medicine, this oil has many similarities with mandarin.  It is a slightly warm, yang oil with a strong calming action and is therefore used for stress, insomnia, anxiety irritability, loss of appetite and stomach pain.  It is a general tonic to combat mental fatigue and poor concentration.


A fresh eucalyptus-like, pine-like fragrance comes from the leaves and twigs of a tree found in Australia, East Indies and Tasmania.  It is a very complex oil comprising of over 100 constituent ingredients. As a strongly disinfectant, anti-viral, antibacterial and fungicidal oil, it is very useful for infected skin problems (especially if bacterial or fungal activity is evident or suspected) and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Niaouli is not to everybody’s liking, so use small quantities, but is a good general oil used for all skin types and with no contraindications can be applied neat to the skin for athletes foot. In Chinese Medicine, Niaouli is cooling, dry and slightly yin. It’s main actions are to clear toxins and reduce infection and inflammation.  It is also hormone regulating, helps to get rid of catarrh, flu and colds.  It also improves blood circulation, relieves ear, nose and throat infections and inflammation.


A balsamic, earthy, spicy, sweet, woodsy fragrance, which is, extracted from the plants fermented leaves.  It is extremely popular in Tropical Asia, and India where it is used to scent clothes to protect the wearer from insect bites and even more importantly, to prevent the spread of disease. In addition to it’s insect repellant and anti-microbial qualities, it is a good anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic oil with astringent properties, suitable for all skin types.  In Chinese medicine, this oil is warm, drying and yang. It is used to eliminate excess fluid and reduce inflammation.  It has also has anti-depressant and aphrodisiac properties, aids digestion, and is antiseptic and astringent.

Tea Tree

A camphorous, herbal, spicy, woodsy scent native only to Australia and were already being used by the Aboriginal people about 40 000 years ago.  Distilled by steam extraction for a wide antiseptic for a wide spectrum antiseptic and anti-inflammatory oil, tea tree is exceptionally powerful in it’s bactericidal action and yet remarkably kind to all skin types. A strongly scented oil, it is also an effective insect repellant.  In Chinese Medicine, this is a cooling, slightly yin oil. It aids in the circulation of Qi and blood and clears toxins and reduces inflammation.

Carrier Oils

Carrier oils also referred to as base oils or vegetable oils are used to dilute essential oils, CO2s and absolutes before applying to the skin. Please see the What are Carrier Oils? article for more information on what carrier oils are and how they are used. Below is a list of many of the commonly used carrier oils. 

Almond, Sweet Apricot Kernel
Botanical Name: Prunus amygdalus var. dulcus
Aroma: Light, slightly sweet and nutty.
Texture: Slightly oily, leaves a slight oily feeling on the skin. Absorbs semi-quickly.
Color: Virtually clear with a tinge of yellow.
Notes: Sweet Almond oil is considered to be a good all-purpose carrier oil to keep on hand and is moderately priced.
Botanical Name: Prunus armeniaca
Aroma: Faint
Texture: Somewhat oily, absorbs semi-quickly.
Color: Virtually clear with a tinge of yellow.
Notes: The semi-oily texture makes this oil helpful in massage blends. 
Avacado Borage
Botanical Name: Persea americana
Aroma: Medium. Somewhat sweet, fatty and nutty in aroma.
Texture: Thick, leaves a fatty, almost waxy feel to the skin. 
Color: Deep olive green.
Notes: If not carefully used or used in a small dilution with another carrier, it may overpower a blend.
Botanical Name: Borago officinalis
Aroma: Light and sweet.
Texture: Thin to medium, leaves a somewhat oily feel to the skin.
Color: Light yellow.
Notes: Is said to be excellent in treating many skin conditions. Borage oil is expensive and is usually blended in a small (often 10%) dilution with other carrier oils. It goes rancid rather quickly.
Evening Primrose Grape seed
Botanical Name: Oenothera biennis
Aroma: Light and sweet
Texture: Thin, leaves only a trace of oiliness on the skin.
Color: Medium yellow.
Notes: Evening Primrose is also said to be excellent in treating many skin conditions. It is expensive and is usually blended in a small (often 10%) dilution with other carrier oils. It goes rancid quickly.
Botanical Name: Vitus vinifera
Aroma: Light, slightly sweet with a hint of a nutty aroma.
Texture: Thin but leaves a glossy film on the skin.
Color: Virtually clear, has an almost unnoticeable tinge of yellow/green.
Notes: Unlike most other carrier oils, grape seed oil is solvent extracted and may have trace amounts of chemical solvent remaining. I have heard mixed reports on the shelf-life of grape seed (some have said it goes rancid rather fast). I usually go through a bottle of grape seed once each six months and have not discovered any problems with rancidity when stored in an amber bottle in a cool dark area. 
Hazelnut Jojoba
Botanical Name: Corylus avellana
Aroma: Light, nutty, somewhat sweet.
Texture: Thin and only leaves a slightly oily film on the skin.
Color: Light yellow.
Notes: It is said to be a good choice for those with oilier skin.
Botanical Name: Simmondsia chinensis
Aroma: Light to medium in aroma, not as sweet as the nut oils. The aroma is distinct but pleasant.
Texture: Light and silky. Absorbs well.
Color: Yellow.
Notes: Jojoba "oil" is actually a wax. It is a somewhat pricier oil and is frequently blended in a small dilution (10%) with other oils. It has a very long shelf-life.
Macadamia Nut Olive
Botanical Name: Macadamia integrifolia
Aroma: More fragrant than sweet almond and some of the other nut oils, it is very sweet, fatty and nutty in aroma.
Texture: Thick and leaves an oily film on the skin.
Color: Clear with a tinge of yellow.
Notes: If not carefully used or used in a small dilution with another carrier, it may overpower a blend.
Botanical Name: Olea europaea
Aroma: Typical aroma of olive oil used in cooking (smells somewhat like olives). 
Texture: Heavy and rather oily.
Color: Light to medium green.
Notes: If not carefully used or used in a small dilution with another carrier, it may overpower a blend.
Peanut Pecan
Botanical Name: Arachis hypogeae
Aroma: Like Pecan, it is extremely light in aroma with a slight fatty, nutty quality.
Texture: Thick and leaves a very oily film on the skin.
Color: Virtually clear.
Notes: Peanut oil should not be used by anyone that has an allergy to peanuts. Because of it's oiliness, it is said to be a good choice for inclusion in massage blends. It has been said that it is a good oil to use for those with arthritis.
Botanical Name: Carya pecan
Aroma: Extremely light with a hint of a fatty, nutty aroma.
Texture: Medium thickness, leaves a slight oily film on the skin.
Color: Virtually clear.
Notes: It is said that it goes rancid somewhat quickly. I have used only one bottle of Pecan oil and did not discover any problems with rancidity when stored in an amber bottle in a cool dark area during my use of the oil over about 4-6 months. 
Rose Hip Sesame
Botanical Name: Rosa mosqueta
Aroma: Mild and perhaps earthy aroma.
Texture: Light and leaves only a hint of oil on the skin.
Color: Virtually clear.
Notes: It is said to be excellent in treating many skin conditions. It is expensive and is usually blended in a small (often 10%) dilution with other carrier oils. It goes rancid rather quickly.
Botanical Name: Sesamum indicum
Aroma: Medium with a distinctive sweet, nutty sesame scent. May overpower a blend if not diluted with another carrier oil.
Texture: Mildy thick, leaves an oily film on the skin.
Color: Light yellow.
Notes: Sesame oil may overpower a blend if not diluted with another carrier oil.
Botanical Name: Helianthus annuus
Aroma: Faint and sweet.
Texture: Thin and does not leave an oily residue.
Color: Virtually clear with a tinge of yellow.
Notes: When choosing sunflower oil, strive to get unrefined oil.



Normal Skin:

Roman Chamomile, Olibanum, Geranium, Lavender, Rose, Neroli

Oily Skin:

Lavender, Lemon, Bergamot, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Tea Tree, Cedarwood, Juniper

Dry Skin:

Roman Chamomile, Lavender, Neroli, Rose, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood

Combination Skin:

Geranium, Lavender, Rose, Neroli


Cedarwood, Roman Chamomile, Vetiver, Eucalyptus, Patchouli, Lavender, Tea Tree, Rosemary

Dehydrated Skin:

Roman Chamomile, Clary Sage, Lavender, Rose

Sensitive Skin:

Use only half of the recommended drops of Roman Chamomile, Lavender and Rose

Puffy Skin:

Lavender, Clary Sage, Roman Chamomile, Rose

Ageing Skin:

Sandalwood, Rose, Olibanum


Juniper, Cedarwood, Lemon, Grapefruit, Patchouli


Use only half recommended drops of Roman Chamomile, Neroli and Lavender