In 1910, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, received third-degree burns during a laboratory explosion at his family’s cosmetics and fragrance firm. Covered in burning substances, as he put it, he ran outside and wisely began to roll in the grass to extinguish the flames.
While the flames were put out, his hands experienced some severe burns that were not healing properly. In fact, he had rapidly developing gas gangrene, which can be fatal in forty-eight hours without treatment. Based on his scientific research of the chemical properties of essential oils, Rene treated himself with lavender essential oil. He said the lavender stopped the gasification, and within a few days his hands began to heal more normally. While gas gangrene is rare today, 25% of those who contact it still die. It was common during WWI and resulted in both losses of limbs and loss of life of many soldiers.
During WWI, Rene used essential oils such as lemon, clove, thyme, and lavender on wounds to test their antiseptic properties. He was impressed by the results and noted that they seemed not to possess the disadvantages of other antiseptic agents that were being used by doctors at that time.
Rene would go on to coin the phrase “aromatherapy” and write the first book on the subject.