Aromatherapy uses essential oils, extracted from parts of plants, to treat various ailments. These oils can be inhaled or applied to the skin during massages.
Studies show that some oils can reduce pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis or headaches. Others, like fennel and clary sage oil, have estrogen-like effects, which may help relieve premenstrual symptoms.
Inhaling or putting oils on your skin may help with anxiety, sleeplessness and pain. But more research is needed to confirm these effects and how they relate to your health.
Essential oils are distilled from the cells that give plants their fragrance and other properties. They’re often extracted from bark, roots, flowers and peels. They’re generally nontoxic and a safe alternative to drugs.
Some aromatherapy oils may also have antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can help treat infections. Tea tree oil may fight viral infections like influenza or colds, and eucalyptus oil may relieve sinus congestion.
A few drops of a relaxing essential oil such as lavender or chamomile in a warm bath can help ease stress and promote sleep. Other oils with anti-inflammatory properties, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, can ease nausea or help with headaches. But most of the time, applying oil directly to your skin isn’t recommended without first diluting it with water or a carrier oil.
Aromatherapy may ease anxiety, promote relaxation and sleep, increase quality of life and alleviate some side effects of cancer and its treatments, including nausea and vomiting, mouth sores and digestive upset. A variety of essential oils are available in health food stores and some regular supermarkets, but it’s important to choose products that are 100 percent natural without any additives or synthetic chemicals.
Some oils can be toxic if swallowed or applied directly to the skin, so they should always be mixed with a base massage oil and applied only topically. Some oils, such as cinnamon, helichrysum and citrus, can irritate the skin. It’s also important to tell your aromatherapist if you have a nut allergy, since many carrier oils are derived from nuts. The vapors from certain oils can be irritating to the respiratory system. Pregnant women should avoid hyssop oil and people with high blood pressure should steer clear of stimulating oils, such as rosemary and spike lavender.
If essential oils are not diluted properly before being applied to the skin, they can cause irritation and a rash. They should not be inhaled directly or applied to the genitals, mouth, eyes, nose or ears. Some oils are toxic when swallowed, and may cause liver and nerve damage. Certain essential oils, such as wormwood, pennyroyal, wintergreen and garlic, are considered poisonous before dilution and should be used only by trained professionals. People with high blood pressure should avoid stimulating essential oils such as rosemary and spike lavender, and those with estrogen-dependent tumors should be careful using aromatherapy with oils that act like estrogen (such as fennel, aniseed and clary sage).
Before attempting aromatherapy, it is best to consult a qualified medical or aromatherapy practitioner. They can tell you which oils are safe and how to apply them properly for therapeutic effects, avoiding side effects. It is also recommended to get quality essential oils from a reputable seller and to keep them away from heat, light and oxygen.