The real reason aromatherapy is on the rise

TEXT: BECCI VALLIS
DATE: 17th July 2019

According to new research from The NPD Group, lavender-based beauty products in the UK have seen an astounding increase in sales – 552% between January and April this year.

And while lavender might be getting the lion’s share, formulations filled with rose, lemongrass and frankincense are in high demand, too. You only have to scan the shelves to see we’re a nation leaning towards products laced with essential oils. Neom has just expanded it’s skincare range crammed with hard-working aromatics, Boots has relaunched Botanics Aromatherapy which incorporates everything from face oils to mists to roller balls, while Aromatherapy Associates has unveiled it’s first new blend in seven years to keep up with the Jones’.

But what’s driving our obsession with essential oils? Once lumped in with ‘alternative therapies’, now they’re being called upon to address everything from emotional to physical woes. “When I started out as an aromatherapist over 15 years ago the scientific community could be quite dismissive but thankfully this perspective has changed due to the increased evidence that aromatherapy can benefit us on several levels,” explains Gemma Clare, aromatherapist and holistic skin expert. “Aromachology (the relationship between scent and behaviour) is definitely starting to reach consumers who are wanting to feel more vibrant or calm for example.”

In America they’re dubbing it ‘inhalable wellness’ and with all the debate around sleep and it’s impact on our health, along with ‘burnout’ now recognised by the World Health Organisation as an official syndrome, is it any wonder we’re honing in on scented solutions? It also ties in with the new ‘mindful beauty’ movement. Whether it’s massaging in some face oil or inhaling the scent trail of a freshly spritzed pillow mist, aromatherapy can aid and abet these miniature me-time moments. “2019 has been a challenging year and in uncertain times, customers return to natural, heritage ingredients that offer a comforting, nurturing effect on skin, body and soul,” explains June Jensen, Director at NPD UK.

However if it’s the science-based back-up you’re interested in, This Works has proved their Deep Sleep blend soothes the socio-emotional areas of the brain that cause a dysfunctional night’s sleep; Northumbria University has found that rosemary can increase brain function and the Mie University School of Medicine revealed that patients with depression needed smaller doses of antidepressant medications after essential oil treatment. While the findings might be a little rougher round the edges when it comes to complexion, practitioners (and formulators) are adamant that they improve skin health too. Take the much in vogue Lavender. As well as remedying insomnia, joint pain and nervous tension, it can be used to treat skin inflammation be it from eczema, stretch marks, wounds or sunburn.

 

So what is aromatherapy?

In simplest terms, aromatherapy means ‘treatment by aromas’. In Europe doctors specialise in the field and can prescribe tinctures to be taken internally and externally but in the UK, it’s external use only (via inhalation or topically) and it’s aromatherapists who provide the bespoke blends.

“They treat both the symptoms as well as the root cause and then use therapeutic level essential oils to help with a range of emotional, physical and psychological concerns,” continues Clare. “Our sense of smell is our most primitive and when essential oils are inhaled they pass through the olfactory system, which is linked to the limbic system of the brain that deals with our survival instincts and emotions, so the aroma can cause changes to mood and brain chemistry.”

So if you’re anxious and can’t sleep, smelling something that will sooth and balance the mind and your emotions could be the answer. Plus because essential oils’ are made up of extremely tiny molecules it’s easy for them to penetrate the body (and the blood stream) very quickly, either via the skin or by being breathed in, which means you don’t have to wait around to see or feel the benefits.

 

How do they help the skin?

Full of antioxidants, these natural remedies really help to null any inflammation caused by free radicals in the environment as well as preventing collagen and elastin from breaking down. They’re also antimicrobial so can help fight spots and because they flow straight into the blood stream they increase circulation allowing blood, oxygen and nutrients to reach the surface, which shows as a natural glow.

 

Do you need a professional to prescribe?

It depends what results you’re looking for. If it’s for your mind, body and soul, it might be best to check in with an aromatherapist as it’s crucial you get the blend and ratio’s of your essential oils spot on. As a general guide it’s one drop of essential oil to every 5ml of base oil but Jo Kellett, Tisserand Aromatherapy Essential Oil Expert, advises logging on to the International Association of Professional Aromatherapists to find a qualified aromatherapist. “The therapists have trained to a very high standard and will have undertaken 250 hours of class training and 450 hours of home study, which includes 60 case studies before being awarded their diploma.”

Or if it’s the skincare side of things that’s piqued your interest, study the new ranges of ready made blends. Traditionally found in face oils, you’ll now find essential oils in everything from cleansers to night creams to serums, and another benefit is that anyone, regardless of age, sex or postcode can use them. Just be aware that you should never use essential oils on their own neat on the skin as they will cause a negative skin reaction and irritation.

 

The best aromatherapy blends

“As with any product it’s about finding and trying what works for you but don’t think that if you have sensitive skin or oily skin, essential oils are a no-go,” says Nicola Elliot, aromatherapist and founder of Neom. She also flags that scent is a big decider and will help dictate what you need on different days however if you’re keen to be guided by your skin type, see below for the best blends.

Lavender – from bites and burns to dandruff and sweat rash, lavender calms distressed skin but also has a sedative effect which is why it’s often used to improve sleep.

Rose – a go-to anti-inflammatory, rose is a superb soother if you suffer from rosacea or sensitive skin. It is also linked with femininity and hormonal health, which is why it’s becoming so popular in self-care rituals.

Frankincense – promoting cell growth and repair, this zips up fine lines and tones and tightens pores. Ideal for more mature skin.

Sandalwood – one to watch because of its nerve-relaxing properties, as well as erasing fraught feelings inside it nulls skin irritations on the outside too.

Neroli – helping to balance out sebaceous glands and sebum production, this oil is especially beneficial for those who suffer from spots and adult acne.