What Can Aromatherapy Do For You?

Aromatherapy uses fragrant extracts of flowers, herbs and trees to improve mood, relieve pain and other symptoms. It’s not a substitute for medical care, but it can help with things like anxiety and insomnia.

Oils are absorbed through the skin or nose and can be inhaled, or put into a diffuser to be dispersed into the air. They can also be mixed with a massage lotion or water.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are concentrated, volatile liquids extracted from plants for their scent and natural benefits. They are found in the seeds, roots, bark, leaves, rinds and flowers of aromatic plants.

Aromatherapists use essential oils in a variety of ways to promote health and well-being. They can be inhaled (usually through a diffuser), added to a bath, diluted and applied directly to the skin or mixed with other ingredients in cooking and cleaning products.

Regardless of the method, it’s important to choose quality. Look for a label that lists the Latin name of the plant and provides details on purity, as well as how it’s harvested and processed. Also, avoid bottles made of plastic, which may dissolve the oil and taint it. Essential oils are generally safe when inhaled or used topically if they’ve been properly diluted. But there’s limited scientific evidence supporting many of the popular health claims about these oils. And certain conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis, can be aggravated by them.

How do they work?

The concentrated scent of essential oils stimulates smell receptors in the nose and sends signals to the limbic system of the brain, which then transmits messages that may calm, energize, or otherwise affect mood or emotion. Inhaling the scent may also help open the airways and relieve sinus congestion.

The oils can be used in many ways, including putting a few drops on your palms and inhaling the aroma; adding them to bath water; or using a diffuser. People can also buy bracelets or keychains scented with the oils, as well as body oils that mix the essential oil with safe “carrier” oils like olive or jojoba to dilute it; and aromatic inhalers, which are small plastic containers with an absorbent wick that soaks up the essential oil.

Limited research suggests that aromatherapy may improve symptoms of anxiety, nausea, and sleep problems; and alleviate pain from osteoarthritis or during labor and childbirth. But it’s important to keep in mind that the practice isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there’s no guarantee that it will work.

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy can reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression, help you sleep better and make you feel more alert. It can also ease colds and coughs, headaches, nausea or indigestion. It may even lessen the pain of fibromyalgia and dysmenorrhea.

But not all claims about aromatherapy are supported by scientific research. For example, some studies suggest that aromatherapy can help with dementia symptoms (like memory loss and confusion), but other studies don’t.

Talk to your doctor before trying aromatherapy. Some essential oils can react with certain medical conditions, like seizures and clotting disorders. Some may interact with medications, too. It’s also important to choose a trained aromatherapist. They can help you use the right amount of oil and apply it correctly. Using too much oil can be harmful. And using undiluted essential oils on your skin can irritate it. It’s best to mix the oil with a dispersant or carrier oil, like jojoba oil, or add it to a bath.

How do I use aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts, called essential oils, in a variety of ways to improve emotional and physical health. It’s an alternative to traditional medicine, and it’s often combined with massage therapy or herbal remedies.

It’s important to choose quality products that are pure and free of artificial ingredients. Not all products labeled as “aromatherapy” are genuine — some may contain ingredients that can cause harm or provide no benefit at all.

When inhaled, the smell of these oils triggers the olfactory system to send signals to your brain. Your brain interprets these messages and can produce certain physiological responses, like reducing anxiety or increasing sleepiness.

When applied topically, these oils can also help treat certain skin problems, such as burns or psoriasis. However, some oils can irritate the skin or interfere with medications, so it’s important to dilute them with carrier oils and apply them correctly. A professional aromatherapist can advise you on this.