What is Aromatherapy?


Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy that uses extracts from flowers, herbs, trees, and other plants to enhance your mood or relieve symptoms. These extracts are called essential oils. They have a pleasant smell and may contain plant chemicals that interact with your brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

Some oils have antifungal, antibiotic, and antiviral properties. They may also ease aches, pains, and nausea.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that uses essential oils — concentrated plant extracts. People use these scents to help treat some health conditions, like anxiety.

When you inhale a smell, your nerves pass it to the brain and start a chemical reaction that affects how you feel, both physically and emotionally. Different scents can have different effects.

People also use essential oils in massage, lotions, and other products. They can be mixed with a “carrier oil” that dilutes them and helps protect your skin.

Research has found some evidence that the oils can reduce stress and anxiety. But some studies are small and have other issues, so it’s not clear if they work for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re thinking about trying aromatherapy for anxiety. They can tell you more about possible benefits, risks, and how to do it safely. They may be able to recommend other treatments, too.

How do I use aromatherapy?

Inhaling aromatherapy oils can help relax the body. They can also stimulate certain parts of the brain.

People can use aromatherapy at home with an electronic diffuser, oil burner or a simple squirt bottle of pure essential oils. Many cancer patients have reported that incorporating aromatherapy into their daily routine has helped them relax, cope with fatigue and improve their moods.

The oils used in aromatherapy are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it’s important to consult a trained aromatherapist before using them. Inhaled or topical applications of most oils are considered safe, but some can irritate skin. They should never be swallowed or applied near the eyes.

Choosing a quality oil is key. A reputable aromatherapy company will list the Latin name of each oil, along with information on the country it was grown in and its purity. The oil should be packaged in dark-colored glass to prevent discoloration over time.

What are the benefits of aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses plant extracts called essential oils to treat health problems like stress, anxiety and insomnia, as well as boost energy and fight fatigue. People can use these essential oils in a diffuser, diluted with a carrier oil or put them on the skin during massage.

When you breathe in the aroma of an essential oil, molecules go to special cells in your nose called olfactory receptors that send messages to parts of your brain that control emotions and your immune system. Some studies suggest that certain oils can help ease anxiety and depression, treat headaches or migraines and reduce nausea and arthritis pain.

Talk to your doctor before you start any aromatherapy treatment. These natural oils aren’t regulated by the FDA and can cause side effects, such as if you have high blood pressure or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. They may also interact with some medications. For example, rosemary acts like estrogen and may be harmful if you have an estrogen-dependent cancer.

What are the risks of aromatherapy?

Some essential oils can be toxic when ingested, especially camphor, pennyroyal and wintergreen. Others may burn or irritate the skin. It is important to work with a trained aromatherapist, nurse, doctor, physical therapist or massage therapist when using these products and follow instructions carefully. Aromatherapy products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so they do not receive the same level of scrutiny as prescription drugs.

If used correctly, aromatherapy can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep and mood, ease pain and kill germs. But it’s also important to be cautious, as some aromatherapy techniques have not been proven safe or effective. For example, certain oils — such as those from citrus fruits — can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn. Also, some essential oils can interact with some medications. So it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before trying any complementary or alternative treatments, including aromatherapy.