Instagram is awash with photos of essential oil diffusers, but what is aromatherapy and why is everyone talking about it?
In a nutshell, aromatherapy is the use of highly concentrated essential oils from plants to treat health problems.
Aromatherapy's therapeutic and spiritual uses date back millennia, but the phrase wasn't coined until the early 1900s, when a French scientist named René Maurice Gattefosse used lavender oil to cure burns on his hands.
Even though essential oils have been said to help with everything from relieving stress to healing the body, many people are still confused about what aromatherapy is and how it can help. Are you intrigued? Come along as we try to get a "whiff" of the truth.
What is the science behind aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy uses the power of Mother Nature by using highly concentrated natural extracts from all kinds of plants. You probably already know that it takes more than a few flowers to make a bottle of essential oil. For example, it takes roughly 250 pounds of lavender flowers to extract just 500 millilitres of lavender essential oil!
But that's enough math. Experts say that the calming and energizing effects of aromatherapy are mostly felt when we breathe in the scents of essential oils. Their compounds may activate the limbic system, a cluster of nerve cells in the brain that regulates everything from our moods and hormone levels to our heart rates and breathing rates.
"One easy way to use aromatherapy is to open a bottle of essential oil and take a few deep breaths," says Nicky Lamba, founder of NESARA by Nicky.
Another option is to use a diffuser, "such as an ultrasonic diffuser," to spread the aroma around a larger room, as suggested by Jade Shutes, founder of the School of Aromatic Studies. "Use them every two to three hours for around 15 minutes each time."
No matter what method you choose, it's important to work in a well-ventilated area and limit the amount of time you spend diffusing. Sometimes less is more.
Oils are another way to make sore muscles and joints feel better during a massage, and many masseurs and spas use them. Make sure the essential oil is suitably diluted in a "carrier" such as coconut or argan oil, or a body cream or lotion. Do a skin patch test to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction.
No matter how tempting it may seem, NEVER swallow essential oils because of their high concentration and potential toxicity. Furthermore, keep them away from your pets because they could cause serious harm to them.
Why should you try aromatherapy?
Essential oils have been shown to reduce tension and anxiety by as much as 30 percent, as we discussed before; their calming effects are well documented. The aroma's ability to help us relax and unwind after a long day is the main reward for us. It should come as no surprise that aromatherapy has been linked to better sleep given the close relationship between stress and insomnia.
However, this is just the beginning. Some of the benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils that have been shown by scientific studies are less pain, less nausea and headache intensity, and more energy. Lastly, aromatherapy may be helpful if you want to enhance your performance in every aspect of your daily life, from home to the office.
Does aromatherapy have any risks or side effects?
It is quite rare for there to be any negative reactions while utilising pure and natural essential oils. But, like everything else in life, using essential oils isn't completely risk-free. Most problems occur when essential oils are taken in the wrong manner or when they are put on the skin without being diluted.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy has a more complete list of safety precautions, but here are some of the most important ones.
One of the biggest risks is improper dilution, which can cause rashes, irritation, and pain on the skin. Oils should not be put on skin that is already broken or irritated. Some essential oils (particularly citrus oils) can cause skin photosensitivity, which can lead to burns if you go outside or into UV radiation after using the oil topically.
Essential oil use during pregnancy has also been the subject of much discussion, so it should be avoided if possible. It's crucial to talk to your doctor before starting aromatherapy if you have an existing disease or treatment plan, as some oils might aggravate or trigger conditions (such as epilepsy) and interfere with medications (including some antidepressants).
Finally, studies have shown that aromatherapy can be dangerous for children and pets, so it's important to never diffuse oils in their presence.
Recognize unverified claims
Although studies have been undertaken into the effects of aromatherapy on various aspects of human health, current understanding is still limited, and further research is required. There is no scientific evidence to back claims that their use can prevent or treat serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, or COVID-19, but this hasn't stopped some people from trying.
Also, the FDA sees essential oils as cosmetics, not medicines, and often sends warnings to companies that sell their products as medicines.
What benefits does aromatherapy bring?
Research shows that this practise may help with a lot more than just reducing stress.
- Symptoms related to cancer and its therapy
- Helping in reducing arthritis pain
- Reducing headaches and migraine pain
- Relieving the symptoms of insomnia
- Promoting hair growth in alopecia patients
- Reducing blood pressure
- Relieving symptoms of menopause
Which oils are best for aromatherapy?
Some oils are more commonly used for certain purposes than others because of their supposedly unique qualities and benefits. Find yourself in need of a little extra spring in your step? Nicky adds, "Citruses are wonderful for cheering you up, calming your nerves, and giving you a renewed zest for life."
"If you're having trouble concentrating in the middle of the afternoon, rosemary and peppermint tend to be fantastic for increasing mental performance when we are exhausted since the strong aroma wakes your senses up and clears the mind," she says.
"Wood aromas, like cedarwood and cypress, offer a strong grounding and stabilising energy," Nicky says, and while lavender has long been associated with calming energy, she suggests trying it instead if you're feeling emotional.
There's no need to worry if you discover that a certain fragrance isn't producing the desired result, she says. Bear in mind that everyone has a unique sense of smell, and experiment until you find what works for you.
Also, keep this in mind. When selecting an oil, you should not base your decision solely on how it smells. According to Nicky, "the quality of the essential oil used is one of the most crucial parts of aromatherapy."
When it comes to our bodies, we only want the best, but how can you know what is good and what is bad? Nicky notes that while shopping for an essential oil, it's important to know not only the popular name (Lavender), but also the scientific name (Lavandula angustifolia) and the component of the plant used to extract the essential oils (e.g., leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, etc.).
And it doesn't stop there. She adds that you should also check for "the terms 'genuine and authentic' or '100% plant-derived,' and the country of origin." "Also crucial is the fact that this is not a fragrance company but rather one that specialises in aromatherapy,"
Curious about essential oils but not sure where to start? We covered the whole thing in this blog.
Should you consult an aromatherapist?
If you're just getting started with essential oils, it may be wise to consult a trained aromatherapist for advice on which oils will work best for you.
Nicky agrees that, "with the rise in essential oil use, there is a lot of misinformation out there." She suggests seeking the advice of a medical expert, an aromatherapist, and a reputable organisation specialising in essential oils and aromatherapy before beginning use of any.
Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years, and recent scientific studies show that essential oils may help with a number of health and well-being issues. On the other hand, further study is needed, and there are numerous claims about the therapy that haven't been proven.
Even though there is evidence that essential oils are good for your health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not check the purity or quality of them. Before beginning essential oil treatment, it is best to consult with a doctor and learn as much as possible about the brand's quality goods. Perform a patch test whenever you use a new essential oil.
There is a wide variety of aromas available to us, from the freshness of lemon to the warmth of earth, and all of them have the capacity to alter our mood for the better. Even though it's tempting to jump right in, always be aware of the potential risks associated with certain oils before using them.
You only need to inhale the pleasant aroma of an essential oil to feel your spirits soar. Some people may even find that their assistance reduces the severity of their problems. Talk to an expert in integrative medicine to find out how to use them as part of a healthy lifestyle.