René-Maurice Gattefossé : Blasting a myth

René-Maurice Gattefossé Lavender

Aromatherapie; the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes

Many of you will have heard the story of René-Maurice Gattefossé. He discovered the virtues of the Lavender essential oil and coined the term Aromatherapie; the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Also, that he badly burned his hand during an experiment in a perfumery plant and plunged his hand into a vat of lavender essential oil, which healed virtually overnight and with little scarring. Stories over time get embellished here and there and can become legend.  But it’s important to ensure accuracy when we want Aromatherapy to be taken seriously and extol the benefits of essential oils, even in just the stories of the beginnings of Aromatherapy. Often the truth is more compelling.

Experience with lavender essential oil

So I was thrilled to hear the authentic account of Rene-Maurice Gattefossé’s experience with lavender essential oil. It was told by his granddaughter, Sophie Gattefossé-Moyrand (President of the Gattefossé Foundation) and great granddaughter, Ségolene Moyrand-Gros (Corporate Development Director) at Botanica 2020 – clinical aromatherapy conference.

Authentic account of René-Maurice Gattefossé

“On July, 25 1910, while working in his laboratory (a chemist analysing essential oil composition), he was splashed with boiling incense from a round-bottomed flask that had exploded and burst into flames. His head and both hands were very badly burned. Contrary to the stories you might read online, he did not have a vat of lavender essential oil beside him, in which he plunged his hands. In fact, he jumped out of the window and rolled on the grass to put out the fire that was engulfing him, leaving him with first degree burns. In his day burns were treated with oil rich dressings. When his wound started to give off a gangrenous odour, he remembered that the lavender growers had told him that burns could be healed with lavender essential oil. He took off his bandages and coated his skin with lavender oil. The results were outstanding.”

Two days later, his fever eased and his infection disappeared while his wounds healed relatively quickly without trace. He was literally saved from a potentially fatal case of gangrene. This personal experience confirmed the hypothesis that lavender essential oil had wonderful antiseptic and healing properties. Profoundly changed by this experience, Rene-Maurice embarked upon a new mission to convince the medical world that this therapy was truly effective. He dedicated most of his time to studying the benefit of chemical properties of lavender essential oil, naturally developing an interest in lots of other essential oils along the way. He embarked on a series of experiments in hospitals, first military and later civilian”.

GattefosséMoyrand S, Moyrand-Gros ‘Celebrating the Life of René -Maurice Gattefossé18th September 2020. Botanica 2020 – Celebrating Herbs and Clinical Aromatherapy.


Gattefossé R-M, Tisserand RB (ed.) 1993 Gattefossé’s aromatherapy: the first book on aromatherapy. CW Daniel, Saffron Walden, p 87

Written by Qualified Aromatherapist Teresa Barron.

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