Just how therapeutic can plant oils be? Catherine Turner speaks to three aromatherapists to find out

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Oils have become a beauty staple of late. Not a day goes by without me reaching for a few drops of rich, unctuous potion to heal my skin, smooth my hair or simply lift my mood. But beyond of-the-moment argan, coconut and rosehip, precious though they are, essential oils are the ones which can create change from the inside out, says Acupuncturist and Aromatherapist, Annee de Mamiel . ‘Because their aromas are inhaled as well as being applied to the skin, they have a physical, chemical and emotional impact, working on the hormone system and the brain to affect how we think and feel.’

Super knowledgeable  Fiona Brackenbury , Head of Training and Education with French spa brand Decleor, studied aromatherapy 24 years ago. She describes essential oils as the concentrated heart of a plant. ‘A single plant can produce 3-4 different oils from its leaves, root, bark or flowers,’ she says. ‘Each one of those is highly complex, with up to 300 active molecules which have a great affinity with the skin. We see them as liquids which can be absorbed by the skin, but they’re also made up of gas molecules which we breathe in for psychological as well as physical benefits.’

Essential oils when used as ‘single notes’ can have a therapeutic effect as in tea tree oil, which has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties and is why it's so often used as a treatment for spots. When blended - which is really where the art of aromatherapy comes in - plant oils can become powerful, multi-layered treatments. Annee De Mamiel studied with renowned aromatherapist  Michelle Roques-ONeil  and combines it with her training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture. ‘It’s recognised in Chinese medicine that certain oils have an affinity to the meridians [energy channels] in the body. Vetiver, for example, is good for kidney energy and rose nourishes yin which depletes in women with age. So I learned to blend and layer oils to work therapeutically as well as smelling beautiful.’

So do we need to like an oil for it to work? ‘There’s a belief that the body will tell you what it needs to heal, but inevitably our likes and dislikes come into it,’ says Fiona Brackenbury. Again this is where sophisticated blends come in, she explains. ‘Some people might say to me they don’t like lavendar, but when it’s blended with 4-5 other oils, they can still get the benefit without being put off by the scent, plus much more.’

Geraldine Howard, co-founder of beloved British aromatherapy brand, Aromatherapy Associates agrees. ‘Using a blend can help if you want to achieve more than one thing, for instance our De-Stress Mind Bath & Shower Oil is a blend of frankincense, petitgrain and rosemary which helps you to switch off in a way individual essential oils could not achieve on their own.’

In our overly perfumed world we do, however, need to choose our aromatherapy oils carefully. Truly natural oils don’t necessarily come cheap as Fiona Brackenbury points out. ‘Rose, jasmine, neroli and frankincense are particularly precious oils, and iris is, weight for weight, more expensive than gold.’ Intelligent Nutrients, the company founded by aroma fanatic and natural/organic beauty pioneer Horst Rechelbacher, produces beautiful pure perfume oils and they quote that it takes 60 roses to create one drop of its 100% Pure Rosa Damascena Absolute reflected in its $412 price on their US website. Gorgeous too yet less of an investment is their  Jasmine Absolute , £61.

Above all, remember that inhaling your oil is the instant way to experience its effects. ‘Take 3-4 drops in your palms and take deep breaths before you massage onto your skin to get the 360 degree effect,’ says Annee de Mamiel. Using it in the bath or shower is another good way as the heat and steam from the water will also help us to breathe in those precious molecules. See below for our three experts’ opinions on which oils solve common summer health and beauty problems.


Both Geraldine and Fiona cite ylang-ylang for reducing oil production and therefore breakouts. Find it in Aromatherapy Associates Refining Face Oil , £42 alongside lavender which has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, and Decleor Aromessence Ylang Ylang Purifying Serum , £27.90. Annee uses fragonia oil, a floral tea tree oil in her De Mamiel Altitude Oil , £25 which has an anti-bacterial effect to help clear blemishes.

Insect bites

To cool and take away itch try Aromatherapy Associates Support Lavender & Peppermint Bath & Shower Oil , £40 which is super calming and healing (also great if you’ve had too much sun, and says Geraldine, can help ease a sensitive tummy brought on by a change in diet, who recommends rubbing a little over the affected area before stepping into the shower). Fiona mentions tonka bean and basil as great oils to draw out infection and inflammation; find them in the Decleor Aromessence Neroli Essential Night Balm , £32.50.

Stressed, foggy head

There’s nothing like citrus oils to invigorate and re-focus, says Fiona Brackenbury. For that combination of de-stress but remaining alert, try Decleor Aromessence Bath Oil , £50 which contains calming lavender alongside zingy lemon. Geraldine Howard recommends frankincense as in Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Frankincense Pure Essential Oil , £26 for helping to relieve stress, calming the mind and focusing the thoughts. Sprinkle a few drops onto a tissue and inhale.

Jet lag

Bergamot is great to re-awaken the senses; ylang-ylang is a fantastic pick-me-up before an evening out, and pink grapefruit and rosemary refresh the mind give you a boost to get you going says Geraldine who has used them all in Aromatherapy Associates Revive Morning Bath & Shower Oil , £40. Annee created Altitude Oil (as above) because she was always on and off planes and included lavender to release tension, eucalyptus to clear the head, peppermint to refresh, pine to clear the sinuses, and patchouli for grounding and balancing.

Dehydrated skin

Rose is the skin hero - it’s Geraldine’s favourite oil. She created a whole skin care line around it for its deeply nourishing effect and ability to produce radiance and glow, as well as helping to take out high colour on cheeks - all with a wonderfully uplifting fragrance making it a joy to use. Try the Rose Hydrating Mist , £21 and Rose Face Mask , £37. Fiona finds it calming, boosting and protecting and for summer, recommends Decleor Aromessence Solaire Body Super Serum , £44 which has rose amongst many other oils to help calm and soothe overheated skin top to toe.