When a wellness trend seems so harmless anyone can try it, questioning the evidence to support its marvelous claims is a given. Aromatherapy has experienced one of the highest popularity waves in recent wellness news. Even though essential oils have been used for nearly 6,000 years.
If there wasn’t an aromatherapy diffuser by your living room, bedroom, and even your office desk, you were definitely missing out on all the wellness benefits. Or were you? We’ve asked the GR8NESS experts and scoured the web in a quest to find an answer to our question – does aromatherapy actually work?
What Exactly Is Aromatherapy?
The whole idea of aromatherapy is to use essential oils extracted from plants to help improve the mind, body, and spirit. Using the fragrant part found in many plants, such as ginger, lemon, tea tree, and lavender, each one of them has a different makeup that affects our body differently.
People use aromatherapy in many different ways, but the most prominent are:
Indirect inhalation: using an aromatherapy diffuser, which helps spread the scent through the air.
Direct inhalation: breathing using an inhaler that contains the essential oils and hot water.
Massages: another popular way is to get an aromatherapy massage, where one or more oils are diluted into a carrier oil and massaged into the skin.
Some people choose to rub a few drops of essential oils on pressure points to help them ease migraines, anxiety, and other symptoms.
How Does Aromatherapy Work and How Does it Help?
Aromatherapy is not intended to cure diseases or illnesses. Instead, those who vouch for the power of aromatherapy consider it an alternative treatment that can help with various conditions. From controlling psoriasis to helping with digestive issues, aromatherapy has an extensive list of benefits, including:
- Reducing nausea
- Controlling body aches
- Managing stress, anxiety, and depression
- Fighting fatigue and insomnia
- Reduce headaches
- Aid with circulatory problems
- Fight hair loss
- Reduce menstrual and menopausal problems
These benefits are not related to all essential oils out there. Different oils have different uses and effects. Aromatherapy experts should be able to combine these oils to provide a more customized solution for your aches.
However, most aromatherapy lovers know a few things about the specific benefits of specific essential oils. For example, basil is used to sharpen concentration. Others use chamomile to treat eczema. The famous lavender essential oil is used to enhance sleep and relaxation. Not so popular essential oils like yarrow are used to treat symptoms of a cold, and black pepper is used for stimulating circulation.
Who’s an Aromatherapy Expert?
An Aromatherapist is someone who looks at the body holistically. They understand how the different essential oils interact with your body. Looking back through your medical history, lifestyle, medications, diet, and current health history, an Aromatherapist would be able to blend different oils to help ease your symptoms.
Is There Any Evidence to Prove It Works?
Because aromatherapy is not intended to cure or treat any disease, aromatherapy products don’t need FDA approval. Clinical trials of aromatherapy exist, mostly looking at its use for anxiety, vomiting, nausea, and other health-related symptoms in cancer patients. So far, studies of aromatherapy have shown mixed results. While there are studies that report improved mood, sleep, and nausea symptoms, others show no difference in symptoms whatsoever.
On Anxiety and Depression
A trial looking at 103 cancer patients, studied the effects of massage compared to massage with chamomile essential oils. After two weeks, a decrease in anxiety and improved symptoms were seen in the group that had the massage with essential oils. The other group didn’t experience the same benefits.
Another study, looking at 58 patients with various cancers, also showed a decrease in anxiety and depression, in comparison to the symptoms before the aromatherapy sessions started.
One recent systematic review went over 16 randomized control trials and concluded aromatherapy showed an improvement with those experiencing anxiety. Another systematic review looked at 13 randomized control trials and saw that specifically, lavender oil helped with anxiety.
Several medical textbooks agree aromatherapy may help with stress, which is a common trigger of insomnia. In another study, patients who received intensive chemotherapy, received an aromatherapy blend of lavender, peppermint, or chamomile for three weeks. By the end of the trial, the improvement was evident in sleep, drowsiness, anxiety, and well-being.
On Nausea and Vomiting
A study looked at the effects of inhaled ginger essential oils, and saw no difference in vomiting or chronic nausea. Another one looked at orange essential oil, and saw some improvement in reducing nausea, retching, and coughing.
In most cases, studies have linked aromatherapy with helping people find relief from anxiety, improve their quality of life, and sleep. Some smaller studies suggest lavender oil can help improve the quality of life for people with dementia. However, more evidence in the form of clinical trials needs to be gathered.
Are There Any Risks?
If there’s not much evidence to prove how does aromatherapy work and the benefits it provides, how can we know it’s safe? When used as directed, aromatherapy, and essential oils have shown very few side effects or risks. Most essential oils on the market have been approved as ingredients in food and fragrances, recognized safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
However, ingesting large amounts of essential oils is not recommended.
There have been some cases in which skin irritation may occur when the essential oils are in contact with the skin for too long. Sun sensitivity may occur if citrus oils are applied to the skin before going out in the sun.
A Note from GR8NESS
While aromatherapy might not have scientific evidence to back its claims, there’s no doubt that a scent is a powerful tool. There is a valid reason why researchers are looking into how does aromatherapy work and also the potential benefits for so many health conditions. Think about how you feel when you catch the whiff of a scent you love, or how your memories are triggered by the smell of comfort foods, or how the smell of freshly cut grass can make you spend more time outdoors. In the meantime, the scent of lavender in your living room is still probably very soothing, whether it helps with more than that or not.