There are many ways to enjoy aromatherapy. But, what is it? It is a complementary therapy that takes advantage of the essential oils extracted from aromatic plants to improve the well-being of those who apply them. The oils can be applied in different ways, such as by massage and aromatic baths. It is very effective in relieving some types of ailments and balancing our emotions.
“Natural products and particularly those from plants, are used by humans since ancient times with the purpose to relief and cure diseases or to maintain health. Gradually the herbs and their essential oils became part of the prevention and treatment of diseases, particularly in situations where physicians frequently were not present, as in the case of rural areas. The use of medicinal plants for the treatment of various diseases was a common practice among the populations that resort to spontaneous plants due to easy local access.”1
Nowadays, this treatment is very popular, although it is not something new. There are many experts who say that aromatherapy is a millenary technique that was used in China more than 6,000 years ago. However, modern aromatherapy is attributed to René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist considered one of the founders who burned his arm by doing experiments in his laboratory. He noticed that by adding lavender oil, the healing process on wounds was faster than normal.
Common Aromatherapy Plants
“Did you know the human nose can distinguish up to 10,000 different scents? This sense of smell is extremely powerful, and aromatherapy from essential oils has been found to provide both psychological and physical benefits.
Follow these general guidelines to treat a number of ailments:
- Chamomile: widely known for calming effects; treats headaches, muscle aches and menstrual cramps.
- Eucalyptus: soothes sore throats, coughs and colds
- Jasmine: alleviates post-partum depression
- Lavender: provides stress relief, treats insomnia and migraines
- Rosemary: relieves muscle pain and improves cold feet and hands
- Sandalwood: treats dry skin, acne, and reduces stress and anxiety
- Spearmint or peppermint: aids digestion and eases nausea.”2
Some very useful aromatherapy plants/fruits are: lemongrass, geranium, rose, rosemary, lemon, orange, oregano, peppermint, and ginger. Also, trees where wood and resins may be extracted like pine, cedar, eucalyptus, and many others.
“Most commonly lavender is recommended for oral administration. However, it is also being employed in aromatherapy (inhalation of lavender), aromatherapy massage, dripping oil, and bathing. Unlike many other essential oils used in aromatherapy, lavender oil is often applied undiluted to the skin.”3
“According to aromatherapists, lavender is a cell rejuvenator, anti-septic, and immunostimulant. It is known for its calming effects, and it is said to enhance wellbeing. Essential oils can be used in massage/bath oil, inhalation, compresses, lotions, and hydrating mists. […] Some essential oils such as peppermint are safe for ingestion. However, ingestion of essential oils should be done only in the care of a skilled aromatherapist or clinician. In general, essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin. They should be mixed in a carrier oil such as vegetable oil, sesame, almond, or jojoba. Cold pressed oils should be used because they are free from chemical solvents, heat, and other contaminants. Caution is appropriate when working with clients who have very sensitive skin or respiratory disorders such as asthma. Often, these conditions can be improved with aromatherapy, but one must acquire an appropriate level of training prior to working with these individuals.”4
“Rose (Rosa damascena) scent is effective on the central nervous system including the brain. Bathing with rose essential oil is effective in opening the cervix, and softening the ligament; it also opens up the hips of mothers with large or small-sized fetuses, and helps with the improvement of uterus function; also, if it is used between contractions, it can lead to increased blood flow. Rose essential oil has relaxant effects on the hip and acts as a sedative during labor.”5
It is very common that people use it to control chronic pains, stress, anxiety, and depression. It can help you sleep better, reduce inflammation, and improve some side effects of cancer. Aromatic essential oils are the key tool. There are more than 100 types of different essential oils and each one has its own health benefits that provide various effects.
How Can Aromatherapy Be Applied?
There are several ways. They are usually very strong, so they require to be diluted with vegetable oil or water before being used. Essential oils are concentrated natural substances that should always be used in appropriate quantities while keeping some precautions in mind.
“Essential oils can be applied in several ways. They can be added to a carrier, such as a vegetable oil or unscented lotion, and then applied to the skin, or they can be added to bath salts, room sprays, or diffusers for inhalation. However, the most effective application route for decreasing anxiety and slowing an overactive mind is inhalation. Using a small blank inhaler tube, essential oils are added to a piece of cotton that is inserted into the tube. The oil is then available to smell.”6
“EO (essential oils) are substances with unique chemical properties due to the characteristic of being made of numerous substances, which give them peculiarities that cannot be replaced by other synthetic substances, despite the olfactory similarity. Synthetic products are called ‘essences’ and act in a restricted manner in the body by the fact they have a particular chemical composition, while the EO act more comprehensively.
The action of an essential oil in the body will depend on the pathways by which the molecules are administered, which can occur through inhalation, ingestion or cutaneous pathways. When contact is made through inhalation, the molecules of EO stimulate the olfactory nerves which, in turn, have a direct link to the Limbic System, responsible for emotions, feelings and motivational impulses. The “olfactory memory” results from an identification olfactory process, a specific aroma associating it with any memories triggered by the Limbic System.”7
They can be massaged onto the person, used with humidifiers, sprayed into the environment, combined with shampoos and gels, used in relaxing baths, and vaporized into the air.
“For centuries, the essential oils have found their importance as a fragrance with a curative potential on the body, mind and spirit. These aroma molecules are very potent organic plant chemicals that make the surroundings free from disease, bacteria, virus and fungus. Their versatile character of antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory nature along with immune booster body with hormonal, glandular, emotional, circulatory, calming effect, memory and alertness enhancer, is well documented by many scientists. Many pilot projects and studies have been conducted on humans to decipher their nature and role with disease and disorder. These oils are known for their energy specific character, as their potency is not lost with time and age. The stimulation properties of these oils lay in their structure which are closely in resemblance with actual hormones. The penetration potential of these oils to reach the subcutaneous tissues is one of the important characters of this therapy. Their effects are also complex and subtle due to their complex structure and chemical properties. The mechanism of their action involves integration of essential oils into a biological signal of the receptor cells in the nose when inhaled. The signal is transmitted to limbic and hypothalamus parts of the brain via olfactory bulb. These signals cause brain to release neuro messengers like serotonin, endorphin etc., to link our nervous and other body systems assuring a desired change and to provide a feeling of relief. Serotonin, endorphin and noradrenalin are released from calming oil, euphoric, and stimulating oil respectively to give expected effect on mind and body.”8
- Reduces respiratory issues such as allergies, coughs and colds. The most common oils to use are derived from citrus oils like lemon, orange, peppermint, and eucalyptus.
- Improves alertness and diminishes fatigue. Essential oils from oranges, lemons, eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary are excellent choices.
- Reduces soreness and swelling. Mostly orange, ginger, and myrrh oils are used.
- Improves quality of sleep with chamomile, lavender, rose, and vetiver oils.
- Stimulates relaxation with chamomile and lavender.
- Improves the health of skin with rose, lavender, thyme, chamomile, and Ylang-Ylang extractions.
- Reduces nausea and supports the digestive processes with ginger and mint oil extracts.
“Aromatherapy is used as an alternative treatment method in patient care, and the fat-soluble essential oils are extracted from various plant parts. When essential oil is used for massage, inhalation, or ingestion, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and expelled from the body through the kidneys and liver, and carbon dioxide is exhaled. Ergo, aromatherapy should not be implemented for treating patients afflicted by the liver or kidney dysfunction. In recent years, healthcare workers at home and abroad have used aromatherapy for palliative patient care to improve patients’ physical and psychological problems. It is generally believed that, when the vapor of the essential oil is inhaled through the nose where it contacts with the olfactory nerve, and then the aromatic molecules are transmitted to the brain’s limbic system. This triggers an emotional response which acts as an emotional regulatory force, alleviates stress, and improves hormonal coordination. Additionally, when aromatic molecules affect the hypothalamus, it affects the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system to promote peripheral blood circulation, and regulate breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, which in turn alleviates stress and improves hormonal coordination.”9
“Olfactory stimulation causes immediate physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, pupil size, blink magnitude, skin temperature, skin blood flow, electrodermal activity, heart rate, brain wave patterns, and sleep/arousal states. Inhaled odors activate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, endorphins, and norepinephrine in the hypothalamic pituitary axis and modulate neuroreceptors in the immune system, altering mood, reducing anxiety, and interrupting the stress response.
The sense of smell is related to daily functions such as alertness, relaxation, attention, performance, and healing, and these may be mediated purposefully with different aromas. Lavender, for example, has been associated with parasympathetic stimulation of the autonomic nervous system, leading to increased beta power and decreased contingent negative variation on electro-encephalogram; these in turn are associated with decreased anxiety, improved mood, and increased sedation. Peppermint and rosemary have been associated with increased arousal, improved cognition and memory, and enhanced performance on cognitive assessment tests. The parasympathetic-stimulating effects of lavender and the sympathetic-stimulating effects of rosemary have been shown to significantly decrease salivary cortisol and increase free radical reactive scavenging activity, suggesting a protective effect on the body from oxidative stress, as well as possible antiinflammatory, anti-aging, and anti-carcinogenic activity. These findings on the physiological effects of scent in human beings suggest a link to emotions and memory, both modulators of physical and mental health. The effect is immediate and works beyond the level of conscious awareness. Thus, certain aromas may be used to affect psychoneuroimmune functions to promote healing.”10
What Health Conditions May Be Treated with Aromatherapy?
- Some forms of inflammatory arthritis.
- Asthma, allergies and respiratory infections.
- Anxiety and excessive stress.
- Muscle or joint pain
- Diarrhea, nausea or digestive issues.
- Menopause and premenstrual syndrome.
- Skin issues like acne, rashes and bruising.
- Sexual fatigue or impotence.
“Although many claims have been made relating to the benefits of aromatherapy, most research has focused on its use to manage depression, anxiety, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, nausea, and pain. Some studies suggest that olfactory stimulation related to aromatherapy can result in immediate reduction in pain, as well as changing physiological parameters such as pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, and brain activity. Although the benefits remain controversial, many patients and healthcare providers are attracted to aromatherapy because of its low cost and minimal side effects. Essential oils currently available for medicinal use are generally recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In some cases, essential oils can cause minor skin irritation at the site of use. If ingested in large amounts, essential oils can cause phototoxic reactions which can, in rare instances, be lethal.”11
To attain the best results with aromatherapy, treatments must be applied in proper dosages. Oils that have perfumes or synthetic ingredients of any type may not be as effective.
People must be aware that they may experience allergies, skin irritation or other adverse reactions to some of these essential oils or their ingredients when used in diluted forms. Medical consultation is needed prior to starting aromatherapy treatments, especially if conventional medication is going to be taken simultaneously with it.
(1) Dias, P., Pedro, L. G., Pereira, O. R., & Sousa, M. J. (2017). Aromatherapy in the control of stress and anxiety. Alternative and Integrative Medicine, 6, 1-5. Available online at https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/aromatherapy-in-the-control-of-stress-and-anxiety-2327-5162-1000248.pdf
(2) PV, B. D. (2014). ROLE OF AROMA THERAPY IN STRESS REDUCTION. Asian Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(04), 09-13. Available online at http://jonnsaromatherapy.com/pdf/Deekshitulu_Role_of_Aroma_Therapy_in_Stress_Reduction_2014.pdf
(3) Koulivand, P. H., Khaleghi Ghadiri, M., & Gorji, A. (2013). Lavender and the nervous system. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/
(4) Robins, J. L. W. (1999). The science and art of aromatherapy. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 17(1), 5-17. Available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12924931_The_Science_and_Art_of_Aromatherapy
(5) Kheirkhah, M., Setayesh Valipour, N., Neisani, L., & Haghani, H. (2014). A controlled trial of the effect of aromatherapy on birth outcomes using. Journal of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, 2(1), 77-82. Available online at http://jmrh.mums.ac.ir/article_2058_ae80cc135dcdee9ce903049d1a8d7671.pdf
(6) Butje, A., Repede, E., & Shattell, M. M. (2008). Healing scents: an overview of clinical aromatherapy for emotional distress. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 46(10), 46-52. Available online at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0b57/a0e98c0341fbbc41aac69eaceca1ae72ee4b.pdf
(7) Gnatta, J. R., Kurebayashi, L. F. S., Turrini, R. N. T., & Silva, M. J. P. D. (2016). Aromatherapy and nursing: historical and theoretical conception. Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP, 50(1), 127-133. Available online at http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0080-62342016000100127
(8) Ali, B., Al-Wabel, N. A., Shams, S., Ahamad, A., Khan, S. A., & Anwar, F. (2015). Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281114794_Essential_oils_used_in_aromatherapy_A_systemic_review
(9) Huang, S. H., Fang, L., & Fang, S. H. (2014). The effectiveness of aromatherapy with lavender essential oil in relieving post arthroscopy pain. JMED Research, 2014(2014), 1-9. Available online at https://ibimapublishing.com/articles/JMED/2014/183395/183395.pdf
(10) Andrea Butje, L. M. T., Repede, E., Shattell, M., Butje, A., Repede, E., & Shattell, M. Healing Scents: An Overview of Clinical Aromatherapy for Emotional Distress. Available online at https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/M_Shattell_HealingScents_2008.pdf
(11) Lakhan, S. E., Sheafer, H., & Tepper, D. (2016). The effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain research and treatment, 2016. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5192342/