There are many natural remedies on the market, and one of them is aromatherapy. However, does this natural solution really work? In this article, readers will learn everything about aromatherapy, including what it is, how it got started, why it’s beneficial, and how people can experience aromatherapy safely.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Sometimes it’s called essential oil therapy. Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils medicinally to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit. It enhances both physical and emotional health. Aromatherapy is thought of as both an art and a science. Recently, aromatherapy has gained more recognition in the fields of science and medicine. – Source
What is the history of aromatherapy?
Humans have used aromatherapy for thousands of years. Ancient cultures in China, India, Egypt, and elsewhere incorporated aromatic plant components in resins, balms, and oils. These natural substances were used for medical and religious purposes. They were known to have both physical and psychological benefits. Essential oils distillation is attributed to the Persians in the 10th century, though the practice may have been in use for a long time prior to this. Information about essential oil distillation was published in the 16th century in Germany. French physicians in the 19th century recognized the potential of essential oils in treating disease. Medical doctors became more established in the 19th century and focused on using chemical drugs. However, the French and German doctors still recognized the role of natural botanicals in treating illness. The term “aromatherapy” was coined by a French perfumer and chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé in a book he wrote on the topic that was published in 1937. He had previously discovered the healing potential of lavender in treating burns. The book discusses the use of essential oils in treating medical conditions. – Source
How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy works by stimulating receptors in the nose responsible for smell, sending messages by olfactory cells to the part of the brain that controls the drive for survival, emotions, and instinct called the limbic system. The olfactory cells recognize scents as specific aromatic molecules that fit into receptors on these cells. Although not fully understood, scientists believe that these nerve signals’ action causes powerful mood changes in response to particular smells. – Source
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants. The oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, or “essence.” Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence. Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing. Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready for use. The way the oils are made is important, as essential oils obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils. – Source
5. How do essential oils work?
Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, in which they are inhaled through various methods. Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed. The chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body in several ways. When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed (1, 2). It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking (3, 4). Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory (5). Interestingly, the limbic system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions (6, 7). The limbic system also plays a role in controlling several unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body.
What are the most common essential oils?
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the most popular essential oils are:
- clary sage
- Roman chamomile
- tea tree
- ylang ylang
Are essential oils for aromatherapy safe?
Most essential oils are safe to use. But there are some precautions you should take when using them, as well as side effects you should be aware of, especially if you take any prescription medications. Don’t apply essential oils directly to your skin. Always use a carrier oil to dilute the oils. Remember to do a skin patch test before using essential oils. Since citrus essential oils may make your skin more sensitive to the sun, these oils should be avoided if you’ll be exposed to sunlight. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should use essential oils with caution and under the supervision of a doctor. You should avoid some oils and never swallow essential oils.
Side effects of using essential oils include:
- asthma attacks
- allergic reactions
- skin irritation
Use essential oils with caution if you have:
- hay fever
- high blood pressure
- What are the benefits of essential oils?
Here’s a look at the evidence regarding some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat.
Stress and anxiety
Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work alongside traditional therapy to treat anxiety and stress (9, 10, 11). However, due to the scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blinded studies and rule out biases. Thus, many reviews on the stress- and anxiety-relieving effects of essential oils have been inconclusive (12, 13). Interestingly, using essential oils during a massage may help relieve stress, although the effects may only last while the massage is taking place (14). A recent review of over 201 studies found that only 10 were robust enough to analyze. It also concluded that aromatherapy was ineffective at treating anxiety (15).
Headaches and migraines
In the ’90s, two small studies found that dabbing a peppermint oil and ethanol mixture on participants’ foreheads and temples relieved headache pain (16, 17). Recent studies have also observed reduced headache pain after applying peppermint and lavender oil to the skin (18, 19). What’s more, it has been suggested that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil to the temples may treat headaches and migraines. This is a traditional Persian headache remedy (20). However, more high-quality studies are needed.
Sleep and insomnia
Smelling lavender oil has been shown to improve the sleep quality of women after childbirth, as well as patients with heart disease (21, 22). One review examined 15 studies on essential oils and sleep. The majority of studies showed that smelling the oils — mostly lavender oil — had positive effects on sleep habits (23).
It has been suggested that essential oils may help fight inflammatory conditions. Some test-tube studies show that they have anti-inflammatory effects (24 25). One mouse study found that ingesting a combination of thyme and oregano essential oils helped induce the remission of colitis. Two rat studies on caraway and rosemary oils found similar results (26, 27, 28).
Antibiotic and antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has renewed interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections. Test-tube studies have investigated essential oils, such as peppermint and tea tree oil, extensively for their antimicrobial effects, observing some positive results (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39). However, while these test-tube study results are interesting, they do not necessarily reflect the effects that these oils have within your body. They don’t prove that a particular essential oil could treat bacterial infections in humans.
How do you use essential oils for aromatherapy?
Each oil has a characteristic scent, and in aromatherapy, the oil is inhaled or used topically on skin for sleep, headaches, and other conditions. Although essential oils are widely available, it’s important to understand how to use these potent oils. Here are some tips to guide you.
Whether you’re using a diffuser, steam inhalation, spray, or you are simply inhaling a drop or two of an essential oil on a cotton ball, be sure to test a very small amount first because allergic reactions can occur.1 A common mistake when using essential oils is to use too much. Usually, one to three drops is all that is needed.
When using essential oils on skin, in a bath or shower, or in an aromatherapy massage, always dilute the oil and be careful not to use too much. Essential oils are absorbed through the skin, and using an excessive amount or applying undiluted essential oils to the skin can result in an overdose.2 Although recommended amounts may vary, concentrations as low as 3% to 5% have been shown to cause irritation.3 A 1% solution is generally considered safe, or less if you have sensitive skin or plan to use it on your face or another delicate area.