What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses essential oils to promote psychological and physical wellness. These oils are extracted from the roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of certain plants. They can be inhaled or used as a skin treatment.

Some health conditions respond to aromatherapy, including some types of psoriasis and mouth sores (clove oil). But research is limited and many claims about the benefits aren’t supported by evidence.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are liquid extracts from various potentially beneficial plants that contain a wide range of health benefits. They’re used in natural and alternative healing practices including aromatherapy and naturopathy.

Essential oil is a highly concentrated compound extracted from different parts of the plant including flowers, leaves, bark, roots, seeds, twigs, and resin. It is important to buy pure, high quality essential oils. Avoid cheap brands as they could be mixed with chemicals or have been diluted.

Essential oils are inhaled, massaged into the skin and sometimes taken orally in capsule form. If you’re using them topically, they are always diluted and should never come into contact with sensitive areas of the body like eyes, ears, anus, or vagina. They’re not regulated like prescription drugs so it’s best to work with a trained professional and follow recommendations carefully. They can have strong effects on the mind and body, so they need to be used correctly to be effective.

How do essential oils work?

Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that contain the natural scent and flavor of a particular plant. They’re used for their fragrance but can also be used in aromatherapy to improve mental and physical health.

When you smell the scent of an essential oil, it triggers a response in your brain, specifically in your limbic system—the part of your brain associated with memory, emotion and behavior. This effect is due to chemicals in the oil called terpenes, which are known for their ability to impact mood and emotions.

Topical and inhaled aromatherapy can be effective, but you should only use diluted essential oils on the skin or ingest them under the guidance of a trained professional, such as a pharmacist or a nurse. Undiluted oils can cause a rash and may harm the fetus in pregnant women.

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It uses extracts from certain plants, called essential oils, to improve your mood or boost your health. You can sniff these oils or put them on your skin, like in a massage.

For example, lavender and chamomile oils may help ease anxiety. They can also reduce pain from rheumatoid arthritis or cancer treatment, and headaches. Other oils, like fennel, clary sage, and sage, might have estrogen-like effects, which could help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or menopause.

But research on aromatherapy is mixed and inconclusive, and it can’t replace medical care. It’s best to get a recommendation from your doctor before trying aromatherapy. Your doctor can check whether it’s safe for you based on your health history and any medications or supplements you take. You should also avoid aromatherapy if you’re pregnant or have a medical condition like epilepsy or severe asthma. Some oils can be toxic if you ingest them, and they can cause allergic reactions in some people.

What are the risks of aromatherapy?

Most aromatherapy oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic if applied directly to the skin. People should always dilute them with a carrier oil, which also helps distribute the oils throughout the body. It’s important to follow the directions on the bottle for safe use.

The most common method for aromatherapy is inhalation. Putting a few drops of oil in a diffuser or applying it to a vaporizer can help clear sinuses and lower stress levels. People can also inhale essential oils through a nasal spray or by adding them to bath salts, soaps, lotions, and other water therapies.

Some aromatherapy practices haven’t been scientifically tested, but research suggests that certain oils can treat certain conditions. For example, one study found that abdominal massage with an essential oil blend reduced menstrual pain more than acetaminophen did. However, the study was small and results should be taken with a grain of salt. Other research has found that fennel, clary sage, and chamomile can ease symptoms of PMS and menopause, but more studies are needed.