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The miracle of aromatherapy

For thousands of years, humans have harnessed the power of plants, herbs and flowers for health and wellbeing. It’s believed the Ancient Egyptians invented the first distillation machine to extract essential oils. They used cedarwood, clove, cinnamon and frankincense to embalm their dead (if essential oils can preserve dead bodies, imagine what they can do for your skin!)

The French connection

Jumping to the 20thCentury, the story goes that French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse burned his hand while working in his laboratory. He plunged it into a jar of lavender oil that happened to be there, and was amazed that the burn healed so quickly and painlessly. He went on to pioneer the use of essential oils for wounded soldiers in WWII. He also the person who invented the word ‘aromatherapie’ (you guessed it, that’s French for aromatherapy!)

In the 1950s, Austrian biochemist Marguerite Maury did extensive research into essential oils and created many aromatherapy techniques still widely used today. The treatments at her clinics were initially designed to rejuvenate the skin, but clients reported other health benefits, like better sleep, pain relief and improved wellbeing.

Introducing Madame Arcier

Micheline Arcier was one of the very few people to be trained personally by Marguerite Maury. In the 1960s, she opened her own clinic in William Street, Knightsbridge. And that’s where I come in – well actually, I didn’t come in until the 1980s.

This was in the dark old days before complementary therapies went mainstream – I’m so happy they have – and there weren’t many places you could get an aromatherapy massage. I had to look it up in the phone book and there I found The Micheline Arcier Clinic.

The first thing I remember was being completely overwhelmed by the smell of essential oils. It literally hit you as soon as you opened the door. Because the smell has such therapeutic power, you started to feel better immediately – before you’d even had your treatment!

I was also overawed by the other clients, because they looked impossibly rich and glamorous, like old school movie stars (some of them probably were). I remember they sometimes wore turbans to hide their post-massage oily hair. Believe me, if you can look good in a mink coat and towelling turban, you can look good in anything!

The Micheline Arcier Clinic has long gone but I’m happy to say the brand is still going strong. Still hand blending the highest quality essential oils to Madame Arcier’s original recipes, still sending packages all over the world to discerning clients, and still winning awards for best aromatherapy products.

At the heart of the range are the iconic bath and body oils. There are eight bath oils and eight body oils to choose from, all with different therapeutic qualities (and all marvellous for your skin). As well as the classic relaxing Lavande – which I’m never without – Enchantement is another favourite. Containing rose, geranium and ylang ylang, it boosts low energy and lifts your spirits. Vigeur is the perfect winter blend. With invigorating eucalyptus, pine and niaouli (related to tea tree and commonly used for respiratory complaints) it clears the head and wards off colds and flu.

I used to live in a large block of flats and my aromatherapy baths used to scent the corridor deliciously. I got quite used to neighbours knocking on the door, asking what that wonderful smell was. Isn’t it beautiful to enhance the world around you with healing fragrances? I can’t think of anything nicer!

There’s also a beautifully simple 4 step facial routine: pure Lavande Cleansing Oil, organic Rose Floral Water, with a choice of three facial oils and creams to follow. The creams are all rich and highly nourishing – perfect for mature skin.

One of the reasons essential oils are so rejuvenating is that the molecules are small enough to penetrate the skin’s top layer (the epidermis, formed mainly of dead skin cells) to reach the lower, living layer (the dermis). The dermis contains blood vessels, and so the oils enter the bloodstream and are carried around the body to do their wonderful work.

I’m as passionate about Micheline Arcier today as when I first discovered that little clinic in William Street all those years ago. Long live aromatherapy – and long live you and your beautiful skin if you’re wise enough to use it!