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Aromatherapy has a history that is as old as the history of medicinal practices itself. Though no one is certain as to when aromatherapy was first used, the fact that it has a revered history dating back to 4500 years is accepted by all. Experts believe that aromatics were the first medicines and they pre-dated even the use of herbs for medicinal treatment.
If one has to go to a recorded time when one can be sure of the prevalence of aromatics, one has to time travel to ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were the first (in recorded history) to have widely used aromatherapy in their daily life, religious rituals and medical substances. The Egyptians were the first to discover that fragrances are effective and can be used for religious practices, illness treatments and other physical and spiritual needs. They used essential oils, herbs, perfumed oils and spices extensively in skin care, body massage and to cleanse physical impurities.
Egyptian cosmetics: Perfumes, sunscreen lotions, exfoliants, depilatories, lip-glosses, anti-wrinkle creams etc. may sound like a cross-section of the current cosmetic and skin care industry. But the ancient Egyptians too knew about all these. They used a lot of skin care products and fragrances to keep their bodies clean, fragrant and to ward off diseases. In no culture or civilization has cosmetics played a vital part in social living like in Egypt. And the source of all this cosmetic industry were the essential oils. Egyptians transported valuable, aromatic and healing herbs and spices from other lands (like Persia) to be steam-distilled into essential oils.
Their love for perfumery made them keep perfumed cones under their headdresses during festivals. The cones, consisting of aromatic oils, would melt into the head and release sweet fragrances. After bathing, they would anoint their bodies with oils to moisturize their skin cells and replenish dead cells. They had formulated eyeshadows, eyeliners and other cosmetics from essential oils way before the western world could pack them and give them names and labels.
Pharaohs and mummification: In their quest for immortality, they buried their Pharaohs with lots of oils inside the pyramids. When the tomb of King Tutankhamen was explored in 1922, it contained about 50 alabaster jars designed to hold about 350 liters of essential oils. Thieves had looted all the oils instead of gold and stones, which show the value the ancient Egyptians gave to essential oils. Oils made from frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard were buried with the Egyptian dead. This was in practice from 2650 to 2575 B.C., illustrating the advancement of Egyptians in aromatherapy as a science.
Egyptian essential oils: Myrrh was the most popular herb used for producing essential oils. Apart from Myrrh, other oils made from frankincense, spikenard, cedarwood, cinnamon etc. were also in popular use. Masters of cosmetics and perfumery, the Egyptians slowly brought aromatherapy into medicinal practice also. Ebers Papyrus (discovered in 1817 by Ebers), dating back to 1500 B.C., is a medical scroll that lists over 800 different medical remedies and prescriptions of which most of them used essential oils. Many mixtures used myrrh and honey with myrrh serving to alleviate skin and throat infections and for regeneration of throat tissue. The temple of Edfu has hieroglyphics depicting the use of Kyphi, an aromatic substance to induce sleep, alleviate anxieties and as an antidote of toxins.
In brief, Egyptians were first to master the art of aromatherapy. Many of the systems and methods followed by them have influenced aromatherapists down the ages.