Aromatherapy is a complementary medical approach used by trained professionals. It involves the use of concentrated essential oils that are distilled from plants (flowers, stalks, and leaves) for their therapeutic properties.
These essential oils can be prepared and used in numerous ways: to be inhaled, massaged into the skin in dilute form, and swallowed as teas or tinctures. Some of the most common aromatherapy methods include:
- Smelling aroma: Open the bottle of the essential oil and take deep breaths of the aroma coming from it. This is the old, traditional way of aromatherapy.
- Steam inhalation: Put two to four drops of the essential oil in a bowl of hot water. Take a towel over your head that covers the sides of the bowl as well while you inhale the steam. The towel arrangement will allow most of the vapors to stay inside the area covered by it.
- Diffuser method: You will find various electric diffusers and candle-based diffusers in the market. You just need to put few drops of essential oil in the diffuser and burn the candle or switch on the electric diffuser. The essential oil gets liberated in the form of fumes, which you can breathe in.
- Dry evaporation: Put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton ball or a piece of cloth and smell the cotton ball/cloth to inhale the aroma of the oil as it disperses. For better sleep at night, you can put the drops on your pillow.
How does aromatherapy work?
There is not enough scientific evidence about the working and effectiveness of the essential oils. Experts think aromatherapy works by activating the smell receptors. Smell receptors are areas in your nose that send messages through your nervous system to the brain.
The essential oils on inhalation, most likely, reach your brain and activate certain areas such as the limbic system and hypothalamus. The limbic system plays a role in emotions, whereas the hypothalamus is involved in releasing the feel-good hormones.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
The market is flooded with dozens of essential oils, each one having different aromas and benefits. Some of you may prefer to choose a particular essential for its aroma to have a relaxing effect, whereas some of you may want to try them out for their proposed therapeutic effects.
You shouldn't substitute aromatherapy for your regular medical treatment. However, for some conditions, research shows that aromatherapy with some essential oils can have health benefits. These benefits include:
- Lavender oil: Many people find the aroma of lavender oil relaxing. It has been used for relieving anxiety, stress, and depression and having good sleep. Some studies have suggested that aromatherapy with lavender oil may benefit people with
- Tea tree oil: Because of its antimicrobial activity, this essential oil is a common ingredient in most skincare products for acne. It also seems to work on relieving fungal infections such as athlete's foot and insect bites.
- Peppermint oil: Based on some evidence, peppermint oil can be used for irritable bowel syndrome. It is also widely used in treating dental problems such as dental caries. However, make sure you buy from a trusted health supplement provider or you can ask your doctor about the best brand. You can also try applying the oil to your head for relieving your headaches.
- Lemongrass oil: It is a known ingredient for cleaning purposes at homes. Apart from its mood-boosting aroma, lemongrass oil is suggested to be used as an effective remedy against candidiasis caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Candidiasis is a fungal infection that most commonly affects the mouth and vagina. It is also used to reduce anxiety and get a good night sleep.
Is aromatherapy safe?
Evidence suggests that aromatherapy is generally safe. However, a few side effects can occur with the inhalation or skin application of essential oils.
- Eye irritation such as watering and redness of the eyes
- Skin irritation such as skin rash
- Nose irritation
- Skin allergy
- Trouble breathing
Remember that essential oils are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you are suffering from any health conditions and are planning to take aromatherapy, discuss with your healthcare provider. Get in touch with an aromatherapist to know about the risks and benefits of aromatherapy.
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Freeman M, Ayers C, Peterson C, Kansagara D. Aromatherapy and Essential Oils: A Map of the Evidence. Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs (US); 2019 Sep. PMID: 31851445.