Essential oils are plant-derived extracts that can be used to do everything from elevating moods to easing heartburn. They’re becoming a popular trend on social media and are touted as natural remedies for many ailments.
They can be inhaled, added to a carrier oil and applied topically (some), or taken as a supplement.
Aromatherapy uses fragrant oils from a variety of healing plants to promote psychological and physical balance. The oils are extracted through steaming or pressing parts of a plant and are often combined to create specific therapeutic effects. These oils can be inhaled, added to a carrier oil and applied to the skin or used in household products to sanitize and clean. The oils are not regulated by the FDA, so it’s important to use only reputable producers and follow the advice of a trained professional or doctor.
Essential oils can be vaporized through an oil diffuser to inhale the fragrance, or applied directly to the skin where they are absorbed into the bloodstream. They aren’t recommended for pregnant women, and people with sensitive skin should avoid direct contact with the oils. Some people may develop an allergic reaction or a skin rash to certain oils, so it’s always best to start with a small amount and dilute with a carrier oil.
Inhaling essential oils triggers scent receptors in the olfactory system, which send messages to the brain and especially to the amygdala that controls emotions. They also penetrate the skin, where they can affect the same emotional centers, as well as the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.
When used in aromatherapy, essential oils can improve sleep, calm the mind and relieve pain (from headaches, menstrual cramps and more). They can also act as natural mosquito repellent.
The oils are gaining popularity as natural remedies and may be a safe alternative to traditional medications for certain conditions, but more research is needed in humans. If you use them, look for quality and eco-friendly options. Avoid those containing chemicals and synthetic fragrances. And choose those distilled or cold-pressed, rather than steam-distilled, because heat changes the chemical composition of the oil. If you want to apply the oils directly to your skin, make sure you have diluted them in a carrier oil—and never ingest them or vape them.
Countless people struggle with stress and anxiety, and looking for natural remedies can be beneficial. Several studies have shown that the scents of certain essential oils can help to ease those feelings of tension and anxiety.
One such oil is lavender, which has a soothing scent that can promote relaxation and create a sense of calmness. It can be used in a diffuser or added to a carrier oil for massage.
Another popular option is ylang-ylang, which has a sweet and floral aroma that can help reduce stress and increase happiness and well-being. It is often used in combination with rose or frankincense to create an exotic oil blend that can soothe the mind and body.
Another stress-relieving oil is patchouli, which has a musky and earthy fragrance that can help ground your emotions. Try mixing it with jojoba or olive oil for a massage that can help you relax.
If you find yourself struggling to get a restful night’s sleep, you may benefit from the use of natural oils. You can find a variety of supplements that contain melatonin and other ingredients that are known to help induce sleep in some people. However, you should avoid kava root, which has been linked to liver damage when used in large doses (57).
Nonprescription sleeping pills can be helpful for insomnia. These medications work by changing a person’s circadian rhythm, or the body’s internal clock that regulates when a person is awake and asleep. They can also be effective for certain conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, which causes breathing interruptions during sleep.
Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal or nutritional supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. These substances can interact with some prescription drugs or cause adverse side effects in some people, so it’s important to follow the usage directions on the label.