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, or essential oil therapy, refers to a range of traditional, alternative or complementary therapies that use essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds.
Essential oils have been used for nearly 6,000 years, with the aim of improving a person’s health or mood.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) defines aromatherapy as “the therapeutic application or the medicinal use of aromatic substances (essential oils) for holistic healing.”
Aromatherapy is normally used through inhalation or as a topical application.
Inhalation: the oils evaporate into the air using a diffuser container, spray, or oil droplets, or breathed in, for example, in a steam bath.
Apart from providing a pleasant smell, aromatherapy oils can provide respiratory disinfection, decongestant, and psychological benefits.
Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, the part of the brain connected to smell, including the nose and the brain.
Molecules that enter the nose or mouth pass to the lungs, and from there, to other parts of the body.
As the molecules reach the brain, they affect limbic system, which is linked to the emotions, the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. In this way, essential oils can have a subtle, yet holistic effect on the body.
Topical applications: massage oils, and bath and skin care products are absorbed through the skin. Massaging the area where the oil is to be applied can boost circulation and increase absorption. Some argue that areas that are richer in sweat glands and hair follicles, such as the head or the palms of the hand, may absorb the oils more effectively.
Essential oils are never applied directly to the skin. They must always be diluted with a carrier oil. Usually, a few drops of essential oil to an ounce of carrier oil is the concentration. Most common carrier oils are sweet almond oil or olive oil.
To do an allergy test:
- Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil at twice the concentration you plan to use
- Rub the mixture into an area the size of a quarter on the inside of the forearm
If there is no allergic response within 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe to use.
Some people report developing allergies to essential oils after using them many times before. If a new allergic response appears, the individual should stop using it immediately and avoid its smell.
To achieve a 0.5 to 1 percent dilution, use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier. For a 5 percent dilution, add 30 drops to one ounce of carrier.
A maximum concentration of 5 percent is generally considered safe for adults.
Ingesting, or swallowing, essential oils is not recommended. Taken by mouth, the oils can damage the liver or kidneys.
They can also lead to interactions with other drugs, and they can undergo unexpected changes while in the gut.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy. It does not provide a cure for diseases, rashes or illnesses, but it can support conventional treatment of various conditions.
It has been shown to reduce:
- Pain and body aches
- Anxiety, agitation, stress, and depression
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Muscular aches
- Circulatory problems
- Menstrual problems
- Menopausal problems
- Alopecia, or hair loss
Some types of psoriasis may find relief with aromatherapy, but a healthcare professional should advise about use and application.
Digestive problems may benefit from peppermint oil, but it should not be ingested.
Tooth ache and mouth sores can be relieved by clove oil, but this, too, should only be applied topically and not swallowed.
Supporters claim that these and a wide range of other complaints respond well to aromatherapy, but not all of the uses are supported by scientific evidence.