History of Aromatherapy – 1900 to Present


1900 – Present

Medical doctors primarily used synthetic chemical drugs by the 1900’s, and aromatic oils had almost completely disappeared by the early 20th century. Herbal and aromatic medicine had lost its status as a credible method of treatment for disease. Healing left the hands of the individual and became the sole endeavor of a select group of trained professionals.

In 1928 French perfumer and cosmetic chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was involved in researching cosmetic purposes of essential oils. While working an explosion in his lab severely burned his hand and he immersed it in a vat of lavender oil. He was surprised his burn healed rapidly and with no infection or scar. Convinced that the antimicrobial properties of many essential oils was greater than the chemical pharmaceuticals being used Gattefosse turned his attention to researching the medicinal properties of essential oils and their benefits for treating skin conditions. During WWI Gattefosse used essential oils with patients in military hospitals. He published his findings in his book Aromtherapie, and is credited with coining the term “Aromatherapy.”

By the mid-twentieth century essential oils were used as flavoring, perfumes, cosmetics, and household cleaning supplies. Until the 1950’s essential oils were commonly used in medicine, and used in a wide range of pharmaceutical products.

During WWII Jean Valnet, an ex-army surgeon, used essential oils for treating wounded soldiers, and found them to be highly effective for treating wounds and burns. Later he found them useful for treating psychiatric problems and renewed their credibility in the medical community of France. Many medical aromatherapists followed his practice in the use of essential oils, and today practitioners prescribe essential oils which are reimbursed by insurance carriers. Valnet published The Practice of Aromatherapy in 1964 which was written for lay people, as well as medical professionals.

A self help holistic approach of aromatherapy was introduced by Marguerite Maury in England in the 1950’s. Madame Maury was a biochemist and studied with Valnet. She wrote The Secret of Life and Youth which applied Valnet’s research to her beauty therapy. While treating patients for skin conditions and cosmetic problems Maury discovered surprising results for improved sleep, reduced symptoms of pain, and increased mental awareness. Maury pioneered the use of essential oils in a synergy for massage to treat the body with touch and smell, for stimulating internal organs and improving the skin.

Robert Tisserand’s book The Art of Aromatherapy was published in England in 1977. It was the first book to combine medical and esoteric approaches to aromatherapy. Aromatherapy now has branches in medical aromatherapy for internal application which is primarily practiced in France, esoteric or spiritual forms of aromatherapy, aromatherapy massage, and scientific studies in fragrance and its effects on mood and emotions.

With the renewed interest now taking place aromatic oils are beginning to enjoy popular use by the general public once more. New research and studies for essential oils has increased, and hospitals and medical centers are beginning to introduce essential oils as a complementary form of health care to promote health and well-being.


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