Aromatherapists pour oils on troubled ailments

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The Independent Online
Aromatherapy, once regarded as the preserve of cranks and "new-agers", has finally arrived in the mainstream and is becoming available on the NHS.

The Royal Liverpool University Hospital is the first to provide aromatherapy as part of a range of alternative treatments, underlining the fact that Britain has become the aromatherapy capital of the world.

As generations of exhausted men and women take to baths filled with lemon and tangerine, and are massaged with essence of jasmine and rose, sales of the oils have rocketed by 40 per cent in two years to pounds 340m, according to the Office of National Statistics.

In Liverpool, nurses are providing aromatherapy services on the wards and in outpatient departments. It is used primarily to relieve tension before other treatments rather than a treatment in itself.

Among the most successful manufacturers is Aromatherapy Products Ltd of Hove, whose best-selling oils include lavender, used for skin conditions, relaxation and sleeping; rose, also a relaxant; and more recently Tea Tree from Australia, which has strong antiseptic qualities.

Alan Harris, managing director, said: "When we started we were only selling to the sandal brigade, but now aromatherapy has got a completely different audience. The new growing market is young males, who have started borrowing the products from their wives and partners' dressing tables. They're slowly becoming hooked too."

He added: "It ties in with people's current lifestyles, and the fact we've all become so much more conscious of the way we live our lives. We've become worried by what drugs we've used in the past, their side effects, and much more concerned about living healthy lives, using natural remedies, and getting rid of stress."

First used in ancient Greece and Egypt, aromatherapy became a forgotten art until a "Eureka-style" accident in the 1930s involving a French chemist called Renee-Maurice Gattefosse, who accidentally spilt lavender over a cut and found that the wound healed without a scar. Despite his discovery, however, it was not until the late 1970s that it began to achieve widespread popularity.

Mintel, the market research company, has produced a report on the success of aromatherapy. A spokesman said: "People are working a lot harder, so they are looking for other ways to relax, and this is something you can do at home that doesn't take much time or preparation. It's almost becoming one of the essential things people buy."

The boom has also led to an increase in the number of aromatherapists, training in the use of the oils which are used for the treatment of ailments from rheumatism to insomnia and mental problems. The largest school is the Tisserand Institute of Aromatherapy, in Hammersmith, west London, which runs pounds 3,295 diploma courses.

When it started, eight years ago, there were only 11 students, compared to the current 150. There has also been a dramatic rise in the popularity of massage, one of the main ways in which the oils are administered. More than 12,000 people train for qualifications each year.

Judith Skyner, manager of the institute, said: "We get everyone applying from chemists and nurses to secretaries and people who work in the City. The UK has become the world centre for aromatherapy, and we also get students coming from everywhere ... People are also more open to hands-on therapy. As life gets harder they need something to support their lifestyle. Life is mean and lean, and they don't feel cared for. It might be the only hour in their week where they allow themselves to relax, and that is completely for them."