Aromatherapy is the use of extracts from plants to promote healing. It may be part of massage therapy or used in baths. Some cancer centers and hospitals offer this complementary therapy at no cost.
The oils are usually diluted in a carrier oil before you inhale them or put them on the skin. Some people also use them in a diffuser.
What are essential oils?
Aromatic essential oils are concentrated liquids containing volatile chemical compounds that give plants their unique scent. They are typically extracted from the plant using steam, water or mechanical methods and then distilled. The resulting oil is then combined with a base oil, usually coconut or almond oil, to make it suitable for use.
There is little rigorous scientific research on essential oils, but some have been shown to provide specific health benefits. For example, lavender and chamomile are believed to have calming effects, while peppermint and lemon may help boost energy levels.
When selecting essential oils, look for those that have been distilled using “clean” methods. This ensures that you are not breathing in any solvent residue, which can be harmful. Moreover, always dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin or inhaling them. This will protect you against any potential side effects such as rashes, asthma, headache or liver and kidney damage. If you have a serious medical condition, see your state-licensed and credentialed physician before starting a treatment that includes the use of essential oils.
How do I use essential oils?
Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways. They are inhaled through a diffuser, applied to the skin for aromatherapy massage or mixed with a carrier oil to be taken orally. Inhalation of essential oils is believed to stimulate the limbic system of the brain, affecting emotions and long-term memory.
Some people use them to make their homes smell more inviting or to create a romantic mood. Others apply the oils to their body to reduce pain or anxiety, help insomnia, promote sleep or treat wounds. It’s important to know that some oils can be toxic if you apply them to the skin without a carrier oil and that they shouldn’t be ingested.
Ideally, aromatherapy should be performed by a certified aromatherapist. This professional will know how to dilute the oils properly and how to use them safely. They can also recommend which oil may be best for you based on your health history and current medications.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
Using aromatherapy in conjunction with massage therapy can be very beneficial for those with chronic pain or other conditions. Aromatherapy can help relieve stress and anxiety, which in turn helps ease pain and discomfort. Aromatherapy is also used by acupuncturists, chiropractors and holistic healthcare providers when working with their patients.
Aromatherapy is effective for treating anxiety, insomnia, headaches and nausea. It can also help with premenstrual syndrome and menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and sleep disturbance. Lavender is one of the most relaxing oils and is good for easing stress and depression. Peppermint oil is energizing and can improve concentration. Other oils such as ylang-ylang and rose oil can be sexually stimulating, while fennel and clary sage have estrogen-like effects that may help alleviate pain in menopause.
A qualified aromatherapist will interview you about your health condition, lifestyle and medical history before recommending certain essential oils. They will then dilute the oils and massage them into your skin while playing soothing music.
What are the risks of aromatherapy?
As with any treatment, aromatherapy can cause side effects. But these are typically mild and not long-lasting.
Aromatherapy involves breathing in the scents of essential oils, which are extracted from plant parts such as leaves, bark, roots, flowers and fruit. The terpenes in the oil are associated with various health benefits, from alleviating nausea to decreasing anxiety and improving sleep.
You can use a diffuser to inhale the scent or apply them directly to the skin during a massage. If you’re going to apply the oils to your skin, make sure that they’re diluted first because undiluted essential oils can be toxic if swallowed or ingested.
It’s important to work with a trained aromatherapist and tell them about any conditions you have, such as high blood pressure or sensitivity to sunlight (especially sunburn), because some of the oils contain compounds that may react negatively with those treatments. The therapist should also know whether you have any allergies, because some oils are derived from nuts and can be poisonous when concentrated.