The story of René-Maurice Gattefossé began in 1881 in Lyon, France. He was the third child of five siblings and was surrounded by perfumes from an early age: his father Louis, founder of Etablissement Gattefossé in 1880, represented foreign companies manufacturing essential oils, petroleum oils, household products and raw materials for the perfume industry.
René-Maurice studied chemical engineering at the University of Lyon and very quickly joined the family business. While his older brother Abel was in charge of trade and administration, René-Maurice looked after research into essences and perfumes. He was an inspired and creative formula maker. In 1906, he published “le guide pratique et formulaire du parfumeur moderne, the result of his research and proof of a wide variety of products to his credit. This form was a success and gave the company a real scientific influence.
René-Maurice developed the Lavender in Haute-Provence
In 1907, René-Maurice met the lavender producers of Haute-Provence because essential lavender oil is an essential component for perfumery.
He discovered a poor region and was upset by the poor living and working conditions of the farmers. He decided to help them and was fully committed to the development of French lavender.
A visionary, he patented techniques that improved and modernised distillation facilities, planted hectares of lavender, set up selected nurseries and created a union of lavender producers.
He organised the chain from production and picking to perfumer. In just a few years, the volumes of crops harvested, and essential oils distilled increased significantly and the essence of French lavender was recognised at last. It was during those years that René-Maurice picked up the knowledge and know-how of the farmers who taught him the medicinal virtues of lavender.
Passionate about his work, René-Maurice wrote about and passed on his discoveries, his research and new technologies by founding the first review to defend the French perfume industry: La Parfumerie Moderne.
It was for the company Gattefossé a real platform, and for René-Maurice the opportunity to publish numerous articles on lavender and its therapeutic properties.
René-Maurice continued his activities as a chemist while characterising essential oils with the aim of improving its quality.
On July 25, 1910, while working in his laboratory, he was splashed with boiling essence from a round-bottomed flask that had exploded and burst into flames. His head and both hands were very badly burned but,
At this time, burns were treated with oil-rich tulle gras dressings. When his wounds started to give off a gangrenous odor, 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 astounding. Two days later, his fever eased and his infection disappeared, while his wounds healed relatively quickly without a trace. He was literally SAVED from a potentially fatal case of gangrene.
For René-Maurice, this personal experience confirmed the hypothesis that lavender essential oil had wonderful antiseptic and healing properties.
Profoundly changed by this experience, René-Maurice embarked upon a new mission: To convince the medical world that this therapy was truly effective. He dedicated much of his time to studying the beneficial chemical properties of lavender essential oil, naturally developing an interest in lots of other essential oils along the way.
He then embarked on a series of experiments in hospitals, first military and later civilian.
Deterpenated and concentrated essential oils, that are soluble in water developed by Mr Gattefossé, are precious products. Their antiseptic qualities are very effective particularly during emergency surgery and for fighting epidemics that cause tremendous harm in wartime
Military surgeon in Lyon
René-Maurice worked with doctors and developed essential oil formulations to combat infections.
A second episode in 1915 prompted René-Maurice to develop aromatherapy further. His older brother, Abel, who also worked at the family company and to whom he was very close , died of infectious disease during the war.
René-Maurice was very affected by this, and decided to devote himself to developing an aromatic antiseptic that he called SALVOL.
When the Spanish flu hit hard in 1918, he was convinced that SALVOL could save lives.
To support the effectiveness of his aromatic blend, he published in the journal La Parfumerie Moderne a study on the bactericidal properties of essential oils , on staphylococcus cultures.
It turned out that the deterpenated essence of lavender, of rosemary and SALVOL destroy staphylococcus as of the first hour of contact.
Many military and civilian hospitals in France and abroad then used it successfully.
However, René-Maurice did not want to turn the SALVOL formula into a commercial product, believing that it was a public asset to be used for the common good. So, he made the manufacturing process available to those who asked for it.
In 1918, his younger brother Robert also died of an infection. Those years were difficult for René-Maurice but they helped form his conviction that essential oils constituted a new way of treating and healing.
René-Maurice demonstrated the effectiveness of aromatherapy in the hospital environment by recording the clinical follow-up of patients treated with essential oils in several hospitals in Lyon.
It was discovered that diseases varied, but the prescriptions were relatively similar.
René-Maurice shared his experiments
In the 1920s-30s, René-Maurice’s experiments were gradually recognised. He wrote about the physiological action of aromatic solutions and published 4 booklets on the therapeutic uses of lavender. He manufactured antiseptic soaps and creams. Once more, SALVOL became widespread for disinfection in hospitals as well as in factories, barracks, schools, cinemas, on the railway etc.
Drawing on the results of his many experiments, René-Maurice wrote a summary of his work in 1937 in a book he called Aromatherapy.
The following year, he published a second book that complemented the first: Essential antiseptics, in which he gave details of the bactericidal and microbicidal properties of essences and described the complexity of the protocols. These two publications reported 30 years of research and studies on the subject.
René-Maurice liked to share his knowledge, publishing more than 30 scientific and technical books, not to mention all his articles.
While managing the company, Gattefossé, René-Maurice continued to work as the editor of La Parfumerie Moderne, and wrote many articles.
RMG had an open mind and was able to take on exceptional workloads: he addressed a wide range of concerns.
He continued to develop Gattefossé, creating a highly successful range of veterinary products containing essential oils, then turned to dermatology to treat skin diseases with his new excipients of aqueous continuous-phase emulsion. He also manufactured beauty products, hair products, fragranced necklaces, various lotions, etc. His passion for essential oils took him to North Africa, Bulgaria, Sicily, Istanbul…
As a free spirit, René-Maurice wanted to understand science as much as philosophy, and above all wanted to use science for innovative research for the good of all. In 1950, during a visit to Morocco with his younger brother, the botanist Jean Gattefossé, he suffered a pulmonary embolism and died suddenly. His son Henri-Marcel took over the family business and continued the studies on essential oils started by René-Maurice, which he published in various works.