What is Aromatherapy?

Often used in conjunction with massage therapy, aromatherapy uses essential oils to help promote relaxation and boost your energy. They are inhaled or diluted and applied to the skin.

While evidence is limited, some research suggests that aromatherapy may be helpful for stress, anxiety and sleep problems. But before trying aromatherapy, talk to your doctor and a qualified aromatherapist about what you can expect from this complementary practice.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are distilled or pressed plant extracts that contain a variety of natural chemicals such as alcohols, aldehydes, esters, phenols and ethers. They are the oil-soluble parts of plants and used to produce a plant’s fragrance, protect it from harmful environmental conditions, and assist in pollination, among other important functions.

When inhaled, they travel from your nose through the olfactory nerves to the limbic system of your brain and can affect a wide variety of body systems and emotions. You can use them in many ways, from rubbing them on your temples for a headache to adding them to natural cleaning products and all-natural soaps.

Look for pure essential oils in dark-colored glass bottles and avoid any that are bottled with synthetic or chemical fillers. Also, if you have COPD, avoid strong odors because they may trigger your symptoms. Speak with your integrative medicine professional about the safe use of essential oils. They can help you determine if they have health benefits for you.

How do they work?

Aromatherapy relies on the concentrated scent of essential oils to help with stress, anxiety, mood, sleep, and more. Experts believe inhaling the molecules of these oils stimulates smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to your brain’s emotional center (your limbic system). That may cause the body to calm down or energize.

Some limited studies suggest aromatherapy can lower nausea after surgery or during chemotherapy, ease pain in people with kidney stones or osteoarthritis, and reduce menstrual pain. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Talk to your healthcare provider before trying aromatherapy. They can explain the benefits and risks based on your medical history, current health condition, and other treatments you’re receiving. You can also work with a trained integrative medicine specialist to learn more about your options. Find 24/7 care for all your health needs, in-office or on the go with My Health Home. Join today to get primary care designed for real life.

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses scented oils to help with health issues like anxiety, stress and sleep problems. The oils can be inhaled (sprayed in a room or diffuser container, dry evaporation or aroma sticks) or applied to the skin using a carrier oil.

When inhaled, the molecules go to special cells in the nose called olfactory receptors. These send messages to parts of the brain that control mood and body functions. For example, they may influence hormone levels or the body’s ability to react to pain.

The scent of some oils, like lavender or chamomile, is believed to cause the nervous system to relax. This can reduce the activation of the fight-or-flight response, which causes symptoms such as a fast heartbeat and sweaty palms.

Before using aromatherapy, talk to your healthcare provider about it if you have any diagnosed health conditions like asthma or high blood pressure. Some essential oils can be toxic if they’re not properly diluted or mixed with the right amount of carrier oil.

How do I use essential oils?

The most common ways to use essential oils are aromatically and topically. The latter involves mixing the oils with a carrier oil or a product like a cream and applying it to the skin, according to the International Association for Aromatherapy and Massage.

When used aromatically, the evaporating oil’s scent stimulates your smell receptors that are linked to the parts of your brain that control emotions and memory. This can lift your mood, calm you down or help with sleep.

It’s important to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause negative side effects, including a possible allergic reaction, if not used properly. Always consult a medical professional before using them, especially if you’re pregnant or taking medication. Also, it’s best to avoid contact with your eyes and mucus membranes. Finally, always use high-quality oils and make sure they’re in dark glass bottles to prevent the oil from tainting. Ideally, the label should include the Latin name of the plant and have information on purity and any added ingredients.