What Is An Aromatherapy Oil?

What Is An Aromatherapy Oil?

In this article we answer the questions what is an aromatherapy oil and how is it made.  We look at the history and beliefs about aromatherapy and then specifically examine what is an aromatherapy oil.

History and Belief of Aromatherapy 

To truly understand what is an aromatherapy oil we need to look at what is aromatherapy, it’s history an the beliefs surrounding it’s practice.

As may be obvious the word Aromatherapy is a derivative of two other words:

  • Aroma –  which means having a fragrance or smell
  • Therapy – which means giving or getting a form of treatment for illness or imbalance.
what is an aromatherapy oil
Egyptian Papyrus depicting Egyptian pharaoh Niuserre being treated with aromatherapy oils and massage

The first recorded historical evidence of Aromatherapy is credited to an Egyptian medical papyrus which dates back to around 1555 BC, however it is likely that it was practiced long before being physically recorded, and contained specific remedies for illnesses along with methods of treatment.  These treatments and applications are almost identical to some forms of aromatherapy still practiced in today’s modern society.

From these early recorded papyrus we know the ancient Egyptians used the infusion method to extract oils from various aromatic plants.  These infusions were commonly used to create incense.

2 highly popular infused incenses were Frankincense and Myrrh.  Each incense was burned at sunrise and sunset – Frankincense at sunrise as an offering to Ra the sun god and Myrrh at Sunset for the moon god Khonsu.

The Egyptians also used aromatics in their practice of mummification and embalming and, as shown by the image to the right fragrant oils (aromatherapy oils) were massaged into the skin following bathing and were believed to ensure health, vitality and well-being.

what is an aromatherapy oil de materia medica pedanius dioscorides
Pedanius Dioscorides Greek Physician and author of De Materia Medica

Following the Egyptians we see reference to Aromatherapy in ancient Greece where aromatherapy oils were used both in medicine and for cosmetic purpose.  This led to the Greek herbal physician Pedanius Dioscorides compiling the herbal medical guide “De Materia Medica”.  This book became the accepted medical reference text in the Western world for over 1200 years.  Similarly to the ancient Egyptian papyrus the remedies and practices described by Dioscorides are still in use today.

One of the most famous and well known historical references to the practice of Aromatherapy comes from The Bible

“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

John 12:3 King James Version

It was then the Romans, who basing their medical knowledge from the Greeks, began using aromatics. Ancient Rome was the bathing capital of the world and as part of this widely used aromatherapy oils in massage after bathing.

Following the establishment of trade routes through Arabia and East India the Romans discovered the wide usage of aromatics and began importing them.

what is an aromatherapy oil -Avicenna
Avicenna, Arab Physician, credited with discovery of the distillation process for extracting essential oils and floral waters.

Avicenna, an Arab Physician (A.D 980 to AD 1037) is the person accredited to have discovered the process of distillation to gather the aromatic oils, namely the essence of Rose, through the process know known as a refrigerated coil.  At the same time it was the Arabs also discovered the process for distillation of alcohol making it possible to produce aromatic perfumes without the common thick and oily base.

Shen Nung, the author of the oldest surviving medical reference text in China (dated around 2700 BC) contains health related information of over 300 plants and clearly references the practice of a medical aromatherapy alongside the accepted religious practice of using aromatic herbs and the  burning of aromatic woods and incense in reverence to god.

Other historical references to the use of aromatherapy as a recognized medical practice are:

  • Ayurveda, the traditional medical practice from India is over 3000 years old and incorporates aromatic massage as a key aspect.
  • The Aztecs were well known for their use of herbal remedies and aromatic medicines. Montezuma’s botanical gardens were filled with medicinal plants and were discovered when the Conquistadores invaded the Aztec nation.
  •  Herbal Oils and Aromatic Remedies were widely used by North American Indian cultures.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that physicians and scientists across Europe began to properly research Aromatherapy and in particular the impact of essential oils on bacteria.

what is an aromatherapy oil
René Maurice Gattefossé – French Physician and “Father” of Modern Aromatherapy.

René Maurice Gattefossé, a French physician is credited as being the “Father” of Modern Aromatherapy. After burning his hand in his laboratory he applied lavender oil and was amazed at how quickly the injury healed. This led him to begin scientific research on the healing properties of essential oils and aromatics.

His book “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales” published in 1937 contains his research on the anti-microbial effects of the oils and is where the terms Aromatherapy originates.

Following the publication of his book he continued his research and went on to establish a business producing oils for use in fragrances and cosmetics.

Gattefosse was not alone in researching essential oil usage and other French researchers also published material and medical references in the usage of Aromatherapy oils.

Albert Couvreur, published a medical reference on the usage of essential oils for healing around the same time as Gattefosse, while French doctor Jean Valnet began further research about essential oils and healing after reading Gattefosse’s work.

Valnet used essential oils as a major part of treating wounded soldiers and civilians during the war and was amazed by their enormous positive impact on healing and recovery.  He publishedThe Practice of Aromatherapy: A Classic Compendium of Plant Medicines and Their Healing Properties in 1964.

Around this time Marguerite Maury, another French citizen and highly regarded biochemist developed the method of applying these oils to the skin with massage.

However it was Micheline Arcier, after studying and working directly with Maury and Valnet combined their remedial practices and guideline to create the form of Aromatherapy now used worldwide.

what is an aromatherapy oil
Aromatherapy Oils – What is an Aromatherapy Oil?

What is an Aromatherapy Oil?

Aromatherapy Oils are a combination of the volatile plant oils, known as essential oils with a carrier oil (such as coconut or ground-nut) and is used in the treatment or prevention of disease.

Aromatherapy oils are used within the holistic and complementary discipline of Aromatherapy.  Aromatherapy is designed to treat the whole person (holistic remedy) not just the symptom or disease.  It is claimed that the use of essential oils assists the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself.

Aromatherapy oils consist of tiny aromatic molecules from plant and herb essential oils that are readily absorbed via the skin and whilst breathing they enter the lungs.

Once the essential oil therapeutics enter the body they are absorbed into the bloodstream and travel quickly throughout the body to deliver healing.

Essential oils are added to carrier oil due to their extreme concentration.  Only a very small quantity of pure essential oils are required to bring about the desired health related results.

Other related posts on Aromatherapy can be found below:

Healing with Essential Oils

Aromatherapy and Diffusion

I hope you have enjoyed the article and now now the answer to what is an aromatherapy oil.  Please do leave a comment or ask a question and I will get back to you ASAP.  I can also be contacted by clicking here.


Last updated on 19 April, 2018 10:14 pm

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34 thoughts on “What Is An Aromatherapy Oil?”

  • Healthy Natured is my favorite New Age site
    It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hello , Thank you for a great article. This is an excellent website. I stumbled upon it on Yahoo , I
    will return once again.

  • I loved reading your post. I myself have long been a fan of aromatherapy and have been collecting essential oils for around 5 years now. I turn to aromatherapy for almost every illness and it always works. I’m just curious what your favorite carrier and essential oils are? Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Julie,

      Glad you enjoyed the article. In honesty carrier oils are a matter of personal taste…all I would say is the carrier is just that…something to mix your essential oils with…so dont blow your budget on a carrier…many are way over priced. I use olive oil…its cheap but great quality and just as good as any others…if you wish for a carrier with less original fragrance then go for jojoba. My favourite essential oils are lavender (which is a multi purpose brilliant oil), calendular and rosehip. Can’t go wrong with them….and they make a great blend….10 drops L, 4 drops C, and 7 drops C.

  • Hi Jason, The history of aromatic therapy is very interesting. Relating it to the anointing of Jesus feet and how the sweet odor filled the room is a nice touch.
    I know that certain aromas can relax and reduce your anxiety. This is very interesting and something I will have investigate further.

    • Hi Marty

      Thank you for your comments. Please let me know how you find aromatherpay should you choose to explore further.


  • Hi Jason,

    What a nice and informative article, I really enjoyed reading it! The history of the aromatherapy oils is just amazing. It’s always good to know from where comes the things we use or buy. I have a family member that use oils for her patients, she practices acupuncture, so I’m sure this article will interest her!
    Thank you for this awesome blog!

    • Hi Daniella,

      I’m very pleased you enjoyed the post. And thank you for sharing the information on to those who also share an interest. Aromatherapy is an ancient art and the history is fascinating. The use of essential oils for healing has changed little over thousands of years…why? because it is so effective and produces huge health benefits.

      Love and Light


  • Thank you so much for a great article. I’ve always wondered about whether there were genuine practical benefits to aromatherapy oils..and now I know 🙂
    I was literally just talking with someone the other day about what carrier oil might be used to produce them, and you’ve covered that too! Great info, and I will take them quite a bit more seriously now I know how great they are.
    Beautiful site 🙂

    • Thank you Yvette,
      Im pleased you found benefit from the post. There most certainly are benefits for using aromatherapy oils. Please do have a go and use them and you will see first hand how much they can improve health and wellbeing.
      Love and Light

  • Great information on aromatherapy. The history that you provided is well worth the read. I thought I knew a lot about aromatherapy but apparently not. I did not know it has been used as long as it has.

    I was aware that herbs and such were used in Egypt but did not consider it was a form of aromatherapy or that they used the herbs for other things as well. Your post has given me a renewed interest in aromatherapy.

    I also appreciate the links that you provided to some products. I know that these oils can be very expensive. Have a source to purchase quality oils at lower prices is very helpful.


    • Hi Ron

      Thanks for your comments. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.

      The history of aromatherapy is incredibly interesting so I’m delighted you found it so also.

      It is always advisable to buy good quality essential oils, but to beware of some claims that highly exaggerate the price! The oils here are great quaility and great prices.

      My thanks


  • Great information on aromatherapy. The history that you provided is well worth the read. I thought I knew a lot about aromatherapy but apparently not. I did not know it has been used as long as it has.

    I was aware that herbs and such were used in Egypt but did not consider it was a form of aromatherapy or that they used the herbs for other things as well. Your post has given me a renewed interest in aromatherapy.

    I also appreciate the links that you provided to some products. I know that these oils can be very expensive. Have a source to purchase quality oils at lower prices is very helpful.


    • Hi Ron

      Thanks for your comments. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.

      The history of aromatherapy is incredibly interesting so I’m delighted you found it so also.

      It is always advisable to buy good quality essential oils, but to beware of some claims that highly exaggerate the price! The oils here are great quaility and great prices.

      My thanks


  • Hi Jason,

    First class article – well researched and informative. This is the kind of information that people are looking for and I wouldn’t be surprised if this post went viral.

    My wife and I have been using essential oils for a long time. She uses organic coconut oil exclusively as a moisturized and to keep her face looking like a teenager’s.

    Lemon Myrtle and Lavender are among my favorite fragrances.

    • Many thanks my friend
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Organic coconut oil is fabulous and it’s the oil I use as a carrier when I do aromatherapy. Lemon Myrtle and Lavender are brilliant fragrances. There must be a lot of peace and calm in your home with those 2 combinations.
      Wishing you best health

  • When I first heard about aromatherapy 5 years ago I thought it was just a fad. I didn’t think that different smells could really help with sleep, energy, calmness, etc. But, then I started to do some research on them and found out that a lot of studies have been done on aromatherapy. For instance, I found out that Lavender really helps with sleep (amongst other things). People actually sleep more soundly when when a diffusor is placed in their bedroom. They tested their brain and found out that their brain goes into a deeper sleep.

    Really, I have been pretty hooked on essential oils for about 5 years now. I have 2 electronic diffusors and use them for everything. When I need energy and am in my office I put in clove and lemon. Peppermint helps me when I have a headache. When I want to wind down I put in Lavender and Vetiver.

    Have you ever heard of doing steam facials with essential oils? What are the best ways to go about steam facials?

    • Hi Garen
      Absolutely correct. There has been a great deal of research and some countries have even approved the use of essential oils as a recommended medical treatment. The oils you mention are wonderful (try adding a little frankincense to your lavender before you go to bed and you’ll just have the most brilliant sleep).
      Now I should probably be offering you a product to buy in regard the steam facial…but in reality..the free way is still the best way (truly)
      Get a pot of water to a rolling boil. Take it off the heat. Add 5-10 drops of essential oil to the water. Cover with a lid immediately. Leave to cool for 5 minutes (you don’t want steam burns!!!)
      Then place your head over the pot with a towel across the back of your head forming a tent and lift the lid…let the steam bathe your face…if it cools down reheat with the lid on (but remember never ever put your face over a just boiled pot…steam burns the same way as boiling liquid…so before you place your face test it with your wrist (place your wrist above the steam…if its comfortable on your wrist its fine for your face)

  • Interesting article

    Your article reinforces my belief that God created for each disease; several types of plants to be used for the treatment of this disease; we just have to discover the benefits inherent in each type of plant.

    I also think that extracting oils from the plants by cold-pressing method is the healthiest way, instead of the current chemical products that could be destroying our health in the long run.

    We can use natural oils for almost everything, starting from hair care, skin care, cleaning and washing up to the treatment of incurable diseases.

    Thank you 🙂

    • Thank you Daria

      I agree that nature provides us with everything we need for a healthy life and well-being.

      Aromatherapy has been practiced for centuries and almost in the same way…there’s got to be a reason for that….because it works.


  • Aromatherapy is a very interesting idea. Olfactory input can have a significant effect upon the mind and body. I like your appeal to historical examples. It really is amazing what history can teach us if we are willing to read about it. Much of the difficulty that we face in our lives have solutions from historical contexts. If we ignore these historical tutorials, we are doomed to reinvent the wheel and unnecessarily reproduce the past. I suppose I’ve been unconsciously aware of aromatherapy, however, it wasn’t until I read this article that I was able to describe in words what it is. The sense of smell involves all kinds of complex and important chemical reactions. Putting the results of these reactions to use in a meaningful and therapeutic way is not something I had previously thought about. Thanks for the enlightenment. I enjoyed very much reading this article. History is such a great educator. Thanks for reminding me of this.

    • Hi

      I’m very pleased you enjoyed the post. History is our greatest teacher if we learn from it. Aromatherapy has been used for centuries and the reason it still exists is because of the recognised success of methodology and positive impact on patient health.

      Best health to you


  • Hey Jason

    I just read about the history of aromatherapy and I had no idea how extensive it is. My naive self thought is was something some hippies started. I truly feel educated. Keep on posting! My interest will bring me back! I also wanted to mention the layout of your site is clean and easy to look at.

    • Hi Megan

      Thanks for your comments. I think many people view aromatherapy and other compleementary therapies as new age or “hippy”…most however are deep rooted in history and passed down through the ages because of the positive ipact on patuents and the benefits others have seen in them

      Best wishes


  • Hello just wanted to say thanks for the great info. Also very interesting history I am always looking to buying healing oil because I have pretty bad eczema and was wondering if this may actually help me out with my eczema? Thanks again for the information will recommend to friends.

    • Thank you for your comments. Using essential oils will definitely help with eczema. I recommend applying chamomile or rose-hip (you can dilute in some carrier and hemp-seed oil is perfect)

      best wishes


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