What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is used by massage therapists, nurses, physiotherapists, and other health care providers. It is a type of complementary therapy that claims to improve psychological well-being by using aroma compounds.

The practice of aromatherapy isn’t regulated, so be sure to choose a trained therapist. Ask your cancer centre if they offer aromatherapy, and check that the therapist is a member of a professional organisation.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile liquids extracted from aromatic plant parts, including seeds, flowers, bark, leaves, roots, twigs and resin. They can be used in many ways, but they are most commonly inhaled or applied to the skin, usually in diluted form. They can also be ingested, but that is not recommended without specific instruction from a trained health professional.

Research has shown that certain terpenes (compounds in essential oils) can have a variety of mind-body effects, such as reducing anxiety and depression, relieving pain, stimulating or calming the mood, and enhancing sleep quality. (1)

Keep in mind that essential oils aren’t regulated by the FDA, so quality and purity can vary. Choose a trustworthy company that sources its oil responsibly and store the products in dark glass bottles to protect the integrity of the oil. Avoid blending multiple different oils together, as this can cause an unwanted reaction. Also, because these oils are so potent, they can irritate the skin and should always be kept out of the reach of young children.

How do I use essential oils?

There are over 90 different types of essential oils, and each one has its own unique smell and medicinal properties. When used in aromatherapy, these oils can be inhaled or diluted and applied to the skin (but not swallowed). The plant chemicals in these oils interact with our olfactory system and nervous system to have medicinal effects (1, 2).

They can be used for relaxation and to boost mood or energy, improve job performance through reduced stress and increased attentiveness, relieve nausea and pain, repel mosquitos, treat acne, soothe burns, promote sleep, combat fatigue, reduce infections, and so much more. Most important, though, is to use only high-quality oil and to apply it in moderation. And remember, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, speak to your healthcare provider before using essential oils, as some may cross the placental barrier and affect hormones. (2, 3)

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy can boost mood, ease stress and depression, promote sleep, reduce pain and stimulate the immune system. It can also help ease nausea and vomiting associated with some medical conditions. It’s important to remember that it complements, rather than replaces, medical treatment.

Studies suggest that certain oils, such as lavender, may improve anxiety and help with insomnia or depression. They can be inhaled, diffused, applied to the skin during massage or used in a bath.

During an aromatherapy session, the practitioner will ask you questions about your symptoms and health history. They will then use the appropriate essential oil and method for your treatment. Depending on the type of essential oil, the practitioner might apply it directly to your body or mix it with a carrier oil that is safe to touch. Some oils can irritate your skin, so the practitioner will dilute them before applying them to your skin. They will also tell you how to apply the oils at home.

What are the risks of aromatherapy?

The exact way aromatherapy works isn’t fully understood, but researchers believe the “smell” receptors in our nose communicate with parts of the brain (like the amygdala) that play a role in emotions and memory. The molecules in essential oils may also interact with hormones and other chemicals that influence our mood and physical health.

For example, some of the compounds in lavender may ease anxiety and stress. And the terpene limonene found in lemon oil is thought to reduce labor pains and nausea during pregnancy.

However, the oils can be irritating to the eyes and skin, so they should never be applied directly to the skin. They should always be diluted with a carrier oil. It’s also important to note that certain oils may interfere with the way your medication works. So, before trying aromatherapy, make sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They’ll let you know whether it’s safe for your unique situation.