What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to heal and relax the body. It’s often done during massage. It can also be used with other treatments, like psychotherapy.

Your healthcare provider who delivers complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can tell you more about the benefits and risks of aromatherapy. They can also teach you how to use it at home.

How it works

Inhaling the smell of essential oils stimulates smell receptors in your nose, which send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system in your brain. This part of your brain controls mood and the perception of pain, among other things.

When diluted in a carrier oil, the chemicals in the oils can also be absorbed through your skin. Your body then uses the chemical messengers to change your mood, energize you or help you sleep.

People use aromatherapy for health conditions such as anxiety, stress, insomnia and nausea. Some studies show that the smell of certain oils can help reduce anxiety and depression. It can also bolster the immune system and make chemotherapy treatments less painful for some people. However, further research is needed to confirm these benefits. People should work with a trained aromatherapist and consult their doctors before trying aromatherapy. Pregnant women should avoid hyssop oil and those with epilepsy should not use stimulating oils, such as rosemary.

Choosing an essential oil

There are more than 90 types of essential oils, and most have been associated with specific health benefits. It is important to choose the right oil for your needs, and to purchase a pure, high-quality oil. Look for a company that shares with buyers where the oil was cultivated and harvested, how it is processed and what testing has been done.

The oil you choose will depend on your wellness goals; for example, lavender, chamomile, basil, and frankincense may have a calming effect that can relieve stress and help sleep, while peppermint and bergamot oil are stimulating and can boost energy levels. There is no governing body that grades or certifies essential oils as therapeutic or aromatherapy grade, so it is important to do your research and work with a reputable aromatherapist.

Avoid purchasing essential oils from vendors that primarily sell to the restaurant or perfumery industries as they may have been redistilled, adulterated and diluted with other chemicals. Additionally, avoid purchasing oils that are shipped in plastic or clear glass containers as they will degrade more rapidly and lose their healing properties.

Breathing the oil

Aromatherapy uses natural oil extracted from the roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of certain plants to boost a person’s mood and make them feel better. The oils are called essential oils and contain a mix of chemicals that determine how the oil works.

When the oil is inhaled, it stimulates the brain, spinal cord and nerves and causes a chain reaction of chemical responses throughout the body. This can help to relieve stress, pain and other symptoms.

Aromatherapy can be used to treat many conditions, such as stress, headache, insomnia and depression. Before using any aromatherapy products, consult your doctor or a registered aromatherapist for an individual treatment plan. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy has resources on its website to find a practitioner in your area. If you use the oils internally, make sure they’re mixed with a carrier oil and are diluted. Undiluted essential oils can cause skin irritation and some are toxic when ingested.


Massage is a great stress reliever. The body is able to relax when it has been touched, and combining that with the inhalation of an aromatherapy oil makes for a relaxing experience.

The scents of the oils can have specific effects on emotions and brain function. They work through olfactory nerves that lead straight from the nose to the part of the brain responsible for mood and emotional responses.

Essential oils are extracted from flower, herb and tree parts, including roots, bark, stems, peels and petals. They are then distilled to create the oil that is used in aromatherapy. They can be inhaled directly or applied to the skin using a diffuser or diluted with massage lotion.

Oils like chamomile, lavender and ylang-ylang have calming properties that promote relaxation. They also help to balance the emotions and enhance your mood. When combined with perfect massage techniques, they can make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated. However, it is recommended to avoid eating a meal before a massage so that the stomach can absorb the oil faster.