What is Aromatherapy?


Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and other aromatic substances to promote physical and psychological well-being. The oils are typically derived from plants.

The oil is diluted with water and inhaled through steam inhalation or through a diffuser, or applied to the skin during a massage. It has antianxiety, stress relieving properties and has been used for headache, insomnia and menstrual cramps.


Throughout history, aromatic plants have been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. The earliest written records of plant use date back to the Neolithic Period and evidence is found in each of the major ancient civilizations (India, China, Egypt, Greece).

The practice of distilling essential oils for therapeutic benefits is credited to the Persians in the 10th century. By the 16th century, there were printed books on the subject. Gattefosse discovered the healing properties of lavender essential oil after being burned in a laboratory explosion. Jean Valnet used oils to treat wounded soldiers in military hospitals during World War II.

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine based on the use of scent to promote health and well being. It is a holistic treatment that can be used alone or in conjunction with massage therapy. Aromatherapy can also be used as a natural remedy for stress and anxiety. The pendulum has begun to swing from Western medication to a more holistic approach.


Aromatherapy is a noninvasive, natural therapy. It stimulates the olfactory system of the nose, sending a stimulus to the brain, where the amygdala triggers emotional responses and the hippocampus stores and retrieves memories. Aromatherapy helps patients relax and improves their overall mood. It also can help with breathing.

Most aromatherapy oils are safe when applied to the skin, but a few can cause reactions. People with sensitive skin should dilute the oil with water or a base massage oil. Essential oils are flammable, so they should be kept away from open flames. It’s important to avoid swallowing any essential oil, because it can damage the liver and kidneys.

Laboratory testing identified the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei in an aromatherapy room spray that sickened four Americans this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people use only diluted versions of the product. The CDC says pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use aromatherapy, because the oil could harm the fetus.


Aromatherapy uses oils extracted from flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees in order to achieve a positive effect on the mind. The oils can be inhaled, applied to the skin or added to a bath. It is important that these oils are properly diluted before they are used.

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from various parts of plants like flowers, barks, stem, leaves, roots and fruits [1]. They contain various components such as saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons, aldehydes, esters, ketones, phenols and oxides which have distinctive odors.

Aromatherapy may help with headache, anxiety and menstrual cramps. It is also used to relieve pain from arthritis, sprains and burns. However, it hasn’t been proven to treat cancer or any other health problems. It’s best to work with a trained aromatherapist or doctor before trying this therapy. It’s also important to know that these oils shouldn’t be taken by mouth because they can be harmful. [2]

Side effects

Although many aromatherapy oils are natural, they should be used only under a doctor’s supervision. Some are poisonous and can cause liver and kidney damage if swallowed, especially if undiluted. It’s also important to know if you have any allergies, since some essential oils can irritate the skin.

Pregnant women should avoid hyssop oil and those with a history of seizures should not use rosemary or spike lavender. Those with high blood pressure should avoid stimulating oils such as fennel, clary sage and aniseed. Oils with estrogen-like compounds, such as fennel, chamomile and sage should not be used by those who have estrogen-dependent breast or ovarian cancer, because they may encourage tumor growth.

Aromatherapy may help relieve nausea and anxiety that can accompany some types of cancer treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy. Studies are inconclusive, however, about whether aromatherapy can prevent cancer or enhance the effectiveness of treatment. Talk to your oncologist about this complementary therapy.