The practice of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils may seem mysterious and maybe even a little woo-woo, but the truth is: it’s science. Scientific research is finally catching up to the trend, providing all kinds of evidence supporting the therapeutic use of essential oils. So, whether you’re looking for a natural aid for anxiety, wanting to improve your sleep, reduce pain, boost your mood or clear up your skin, here is everything you need to know to start taking advantage of the medicinal properties found in essential oils.
What is Aromatherapy?
In the simplest terms, aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that involves using plant extracts to achieve a specific response, such as relaxation, pain relief, improved mood, headache relief and so on. The plant extracts are often put into oil form, which you likely know of as essential oils, making it easy to use the medicinal properties of these plants. However, aromatherapy can also consist be used in any way that allows you to benefit from the scent of the plant. For example, smelling dried buds of lavender can also be considered aromatherapy.
Since it is a holistic practice, aromatherapy can be used to enhance your physical health, as well as your emotional, mental and spiritual health.
Aromatherapy used to be considered “woo-woo” but it has been gaining recognition in both the science and medical fields, with many studies confirming the benefits it can offer for your mind, body and spirit.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils come from various parts of plants, such as flowers, herbs, barks, roots, peels, and petals. The “essence” of a plant is its scents, which is extracted and turned into an essential oil.
The production of essential oils requires a considerable amount of plant extracts. For instance, it takes over 200 pounds of lavender flowers to produce just one pound of lavender essential oil.
Some examples of types of plants used for aromatherapy are:
- Herbs, such as thyme and rosemary
- Grasses, such as lemongrass
- Fennel seeds
- Leaves from eucalyptus plants
- Zest from fruits, such as oranges and lemons
- Flowers, such as geranium, lavender and rose
- Bark or wood from trees, including cedar and fir
- Roots from ginger
- Resin from trees, such as frankincense trees
It’s also worth mentioning that not all products that are made with a plant’s fragrance can be considered essential oils. In order for a product to be deemed an authentic essential oil, it has to be pure and free of any synthetic chemicals or artificial fragrances. They must also be manufactured using a specific method that preserves the natural chemistry (and medicinal properties) of the plant.
How does Aromatherapy work?
It comes down to science. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic purposes, which are provided to you through scent, hence the name aroma-therapy. As you inhale the scent of the plant extract, which is common in the form of essential oil, the scent molecules travel from the olfactory nerves, which are responsible for your sense of smell and go directly to the brain. Here, the molecules impact different parts of the brain, especially the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain.
You can also inhale the essential oils, which works similarly to the prior. As you inhale the aroma of these plant extracts, the molecules get absorbed by the body. This method is particularly beneficial for the respiratory system, especially when used with essential oils that have antibacterial and antiviral properties that aid with a healthy respiratory system.
The practice of aromatherapy can also involve absorbing the essential oils and the medicinal properties through the skin. This works a little differently than the prior, for obvious reasons. Instead of the molecules traveling through the nose, they penetrate through the top layer of your skin to reach a deeper layer called the dermis. From there, they enter the bloodstream through blood vessels, and circulate throughout the body.
What can aromatherapy be used for?
Aromatherapy can be used for a plethora of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ailments and goals. This is because the majority of essential oils have antibacterial properties, with many also having antiviral, anti-fungal, and/or anti-inflammatory properties. As such, they can be used to for everything from stress relief and relaxation to joint and muscle pain, respiratory infections, PMS and menopause symptoms, skin disorders, blood sugar fluctuations, fatigue and much more. While scientific studies are being done to prove the benefits of essential oils for a variety of different ailments, research has shown that essential oils can help with:
- Stress relief
- Easing anxiety
- Helping depression
- Improving sleep
- Helping with sleep disorders
- Boosting relaxation
- Inducing calming
- Improving quality of life for people with dementia
- Soothing pain, from headaches to pain caused by kidney stones and osteoarthritis
- Fighting off bacteria
- Easing side effects of cancer treatment
- Increasing appetite
- Treating nausea
- Helping dry mouth
Different Ways to Use Aromatherapy
One of the most common ways to use essential oils is through inhalation, either by direct sniffing from the bottle or by adding a couple of drops of essential oil into a diffuser or humidifier. You can also dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil and apply it directly to the skin or mix a couple of drops with your body wash, shampoo, or bath to add an extra dose of therapeutic benefits. Here’s a quick recap with some other ways to use aromatherapy include:
- Add a couple of drops into a diffuser or humidifier
- Smell the scent directly from the bottle
- Combine with a carrier oil and apply to your skin
- Add the essential oil to your favourite products
- Add a couple of drops to your bath
- Wear aromatherapy accessories, such as necklaces, bracelets and keychains that have an absorbent material for you to add essential oils to
- Use as a spray on your linens
However, it’s important to know that not all essential oils can be used the same. For example, some essential oils shouldn’t be applied topically. As such, it’s crucial to research the specific essential oil you plan on using to find out how to do so properly.
Popular Essential Oils To Start With
Essential oils come in a wide range of fragrances with just as many therapeutic properties, so there are a ton to choose from. This can be quite overwhelming if you’re new to aromatherapy. As a general rule of thumb, you want to look for essential oils that are designed to help you with your specific goal or ailment or you can choose one based on its scent. Keep in mind, there are several essential oils that offer the same or similar benefits, so play around with them and see which ones you like best.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Bergamot oil: A citrus scent that is perfect for stress relief and treating inflammation.
- Chamomile oil: A popular oil used to treat anxiety symptoms and sleep disorders
- Clary sage oil: Use this oil to lower blood pressure levels and induce relaxation.
- Eucalyptus oil: A great oil to have during cold and flu season, as eucalyptus can help with nasal congestion and the common cough.
- Lavender oil: Inarguably, one of the most popular essential oils, this oil is renowned for its calming scent, which many people find soothing. It is frequently used to reduce stress and anxiety and to promote a restful sleep.
- Lemongrass: Use this oil to relieve tension and to provide anxiety relief. It’s also great when used during a massage.
- Lemon oil: A refreshing citrus scent that can brighten your mood.
- Orange: The perfect, mood-boosting scent that can also reduce stress and anxiety.
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil is an excellent oil to have in the home as it can help reduce tension headaches and indigestion.
- Rose oil: A must-have essential oil for improving skin complexion! It can also induce relaxation and repel insects.
- Sandalwood oil: A popular essential oil used to treat skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema.
- Tea tree oil: An excellent oil for treating wounds, tea tree oil is commonly used to prevent lice, treat skin issues such as acne and soothe wounds including insect bites.
- Ylang ylang oil: A flowery scent that is best known for providing stress relief and relaxation, promoting sleep and boosting your mood.
With just a sniff of their aroma, essential oils can boost your mood and make you feel great on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. You can use them to soothe symptoms or boost your health, or to slip into a state of relaxation. The options are endless – and so are the benefits. Just remember to do research on the specific essential oil you intend on using so you can learn how to do so properly and safely.