What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils (fragrance compounds) that are extracted from plants. They can be inhaled or applied to the skin.

Some studies support claims that certain oils boost energy and relieve fatigue. Fennel, aniseed and sage oils have estrogen-like properties and may help ease symptoms of PMS or menopause.

Stress relief

As a form of self-care, aromatherapy is known to help relieve stress. There are a variety of ways to do this, including using essential oils. These are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. Some are calming, while others have antidepressant effects.

The search strategy identified 76 RCTs and 50 non-RCT clinical studies that used inhalation aromatherapy in patients with cancer or other medical conditions that can cause anxiety. These studies compared the aromatherapy group with a control group and used quantitative or qualitative measures including validated questionnaires, physiological measurements such as heart rate variability (HRV), and tests for salivary cortisol and/or behavioural measures such as the Visual Analogue Scale.

The majority of studies were based on using an AromaStick, a Swiss commercial product that delivers a specific dose of essential oil for a specified period of time. However, the studies also examined the use of a range of methods of inhalation, such as nasal diffusion, aromatherapy inhalers, and diluted essential oils in baths.

Pain relief

Aromatherapy can help ease pain in many ways. It reduces the need for narcotic medications and can decrease the time spent in the hospital. It is a safe option for people with sensitive skin and can be used in conjunction with traditional pain management techniques. During a randomized control trial that examined patients after knee replacement surgery, participants treated with eucalyptus essential oil had less pain and discomfort than those who did not receive the treatment.

A meta-analysis comparing 14 studies that included aromatherapy in labor pain reduction found that it was significantly effective as a non-pharmacological method for the first stage of labor. The meta-analysis also found that the aromatherapy treatment reduced the amount of pain medication needed.

This study used a standard standardized mean difference (SMD) with a 95% confidence interval to compare the treatment and control groups. Heterogeneity was assessed by calculating the I2 statistic, with an I2 value greater than 75% indicating high heterogeneity.

Anxiety relief

Many people use aromatherapy to promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. Studies suggest that a combination of aromatic oils can reduce stress, and may also have antidepressant effects in certain conditions.

The olfactory nerve pathways in the brain detect molecules from essential oil, and then send messages to various parts of the body. For example, lavender aromatherapy can help calm feelings of anxiousness, and it may also improve sleep by promoting relaxation.

Other studies show that frankincense oil may help lower stress and depression in humans. This oil can be diluted with carrier oil and applied to the skin, or added to a diffuser.

Another good oil to help decrease anxiety is sweet marjoram. This oil can be diluted and applied to the temples or forehead (use caution to avoid rubbing it in your eyes). It may also soothe headaches, which can often accompany feelings of stress. You can find this oil at Edens Garden, which batch-tests its oils for safety and quality.

Sleep improvement

Whether you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, aromatherapy can help. Certain essential oils can soothe the mind and body, and they may even be able to reduce anxiety, which can interfere with sleep. However, more rigorous research is needed.

Studies show that certain smells can trigger the nervous system to send signals to the limbic system of the brain, which houses emotion and memory. This helps the brain associate a particular scent with sleep.

You can use aromatherapy to improve your sleep by using a diffuser with a soothing essential oil blend or applying a few drops on the pillow before bedtime. You can also find essential oil-infused products, such as soaps and bath salts. Make sure you mix the essential oil with a carrier oil like coconut or sweet almond before applying it to your skin. Alternatively, you can also try adding the oil to a warm bath before bedtime. A 2017 study found that a combination of aromatherapy and massage improved the sleep quality of nurses who worked night shifts.