Aromatherapy is increasingly now looked upon as part of a holistic approach to healing which is even being acknowledged by many practitioners of conventional medicine, particularly when used in adjunct with mainstream medicine.
Simply put, Aromatherapy is the treatment or prevention of disease by use of the human olfactory sense. Volatile plant oils, including essential oils, are used for psychological and physical well-being within this discipline and the impact can be through inhalation as well as through application.
Aromatherapy is thought to have a twofold benefit upon human beings: firstly the agreeable smells positively impact the brain particularly the limbic system (which supports a variety of functions including emotion, behavior, long term memory, and smell) through our sense of smell. The oils can be invigorating and anxiolytic, promoting good health and well being.
Secondly the essential oils used in Aromatherapy are themselves thought to have a therapeutic effect on the body in topical application, since they are thought to have antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antibacterial properties which can help control infections. There are also antioxidant properties of aromatherapy oils which can promote good health.
While essentially concerned with the use of aromatic oils, Aromatherapy also concerns itself with finding solutions for promoting good health using cold pressed vegetable oils, jojoba (a liquid wax), hydrosols, herbs, milk powders, sea salts, sugars (used as exfoliants), clays and varieties of beneficial muds.
It is important to differentiate between perfume or fragrance oils and the essential oils that are employed for holistic healing as envisaged by aromatherapy.
While the former typically would have additives of an artificial, chemical nature, they would be unable to provide the same healing benefits as the latter.
There is much skepticism with regard to aroma therapy, with conventional medical practitioners being doubtful or even dismissive of the healing properties of the therapy, questioning its scientific basis.
Even for those that question the efficacy of aromatherapy as a procedure to aid the process of healing, there is one undeniable positive, and that is the lack of side effects.
There are generally no side effects of aromatherapy, and with the possible exception of certain people with specific health problems who may be advised to avoid certain oils, this is true for most practices.
So while accepting the limitations of aromatherapy, this is a branch of alternative medicine that does not aim to replace standard medical care; but rather to complement it.