How Aromatherapy Can Improve Your Health
June is Aroma-Freaking-Therapy Month (didn't know that's a thing? Well, it is!) at Verefina, so I wanted to take some time to share with you some of the benefits of aromatherapy for your health.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy describes aromatherapy in this way:
Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.
So aromatherapy seeks to use essential oils to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and to help bring these three aspects of health into balance. For this post, I'll be focusing on how aromatherapy can help support physical and emotional health, but before I get into that, let's take a look at essential oils themselves and some of the methods used in aromatherapy.
Essential oils are extracted from many different parts of the plant, depending on the oil. For example, they can be derived from leaves (as is the case with eucalyptus and tea tree), seeds (fennel), fruit peels (orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit), flowers (rose, lavender), wood or bark (cedar or pine), grasses (lemongrass), roots (ginger), or resins (frankincense).
Methods of Aromatherapy
There are several methods of aromatherapy, including:
- Diffusion of one or more oils into the air with a diffuser.
- Inhaling oils from a cloth or directly from the bottle.
- Receiving a massage with essential oils.
- Adding several drops of one or more essential oils to a warm (not hot) bath.
- Rubbing diluted oils into the skin.
- Using essential oil infused skin care products, such as lotions or sprays, on the skin.
The importance of all of these methods is that they allow a person to inhale the scent of the essential oil(s). It is also really important to note that smelling perfumes, air fresheners made with artificial fragrances, or scented candles is NOT aromatherapy. Rather, "true aromatherapy uses extracts from the leaves, stems and other parts of aromatic herbs. These extracts, which are called essential oils, contain the essence of the herb" (source).
If you've ever had the experience of a certain smell triggering a strong memory for you, you know how powerful scents can be. While it is unclear exactly how aromatherapy works, we do know that the smell receptors in the nose communicate with the parts of the brain responsible for storing emotions and memories. Some researchers believe that when essential oil molecules are breathed in, they stimulate these parts of the brain and impact physical, emotional, and mental health. Essential oils also have a positive effect on the limbic system of the brain, which helps control emotional reactions and behaviors.
Essential oils also have a physiological effect on the body when applied topically. When essential oils are massaged into the skin, they are eventually absorbed into the blood stream (in addition to being inhaled), where they may interact with enzymes and hormones.
Now let's take a look at how aromatherapy can support physical and emotional health.
Skin and Hair Care Uses
Essential oils can be used in SO many ways to promote healthy skin and hair and to help heal minor cuts, scrapes, burns, and bites. Tea tree oil is one of the best known skin care oils in large part because of its antimicrobial, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties. These characteristics also make tea tree oil ideal for treating acne and for use in hand sanitizers.
Tea tree oil is excellent for treating dry, itchy scalp as well. And rosemary essential oil is known for promoting hair growth and health. Simply add a few drops of tea tree and/or rosemary oil to your shampoo, and wash as usual, or try this DIY Dry Shampoo recipe.
Management of Respiratory Symptoms
Many essential oils can be used to help ease uncomfortable symptoms caused by colds, flu, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. Eucalyptus and peppermint, for example, are well-known for their ability to help loosen phlegm and mucous (expectorant properties) from the respiratory passages.
Although it is probably best known for its calming and soothing properties, lavender essential oil is also useful for easing respiratory discomfort. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, lavender can “help alleviate respiratory problems like colds and flu, throat infections, cough, asthma, whooping cough, sinus congestion, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. It can be applied on your neck, chest, or back, or inhaled via steam inhalation or through a vaporizer."
Lemon essential oil is a natural detoxifier and has antibacterial and inflammation reduction properties. It's also high in vitamin C and stimulates salivation, keeping the throat moist. All of these properties make lemon essential oil useful for easing the pain of a sore throat.
All of these essential oils, plus tea tree, ravintsara, and bay leaf can be found in Breath Easy, a line of essential oil products designed to help keep respiratory passages clear and open. You can learn more about the Breath Easy line here.
Essential oils can help ease various types of pain, including headaches, joint pain, sore, aching muscles, and menstrual pain. Peppermint, spearmint, lavender, Roman chamomile, eucalyptus, rosemary, and clary sage oils are all useful for headaches. Our post on Essential Oils for Headache Relief explains how you can use essential oils to treat different types of headaches, including tension and sinus headaches.
The use of essential oils is linked to lower levels of inflammation and can therefore help ease joint pain. According to the Cleveland Clinic, bergamot, cinnamon, geranium, ginger, lavender, and lemongrass are excellent for addressing joint pain. Try diluting 10 to 12 drops (total) of one or more of these oils in one ounce of a carrier oil and gently massaging it into the affected area. You can also try Relieve & Repair, an essential oil blend formulated to help sooth sore muscles and aid the healing process.
Digestive Support and Nausea Relief
A number of essential oils, including peppermint, ginger, and chamomile can help ease nausea, indigestion, morning sickness, and stomach aches due to PMS. To help relieve these symptoms, add 12 drops of one of these oils to one ounce of a carrier oil, and rub over your abdomen. Be sure to test a small area of skin for reactions before using on larger areas if you've never used these oils before.
Emotional and Mental Actions
Eases Stress and Anxiety
Essential oils can be used to help ease stress and anxiousness. For example, lavender may stimulate certain brain cells in a similar way that some sedative medications do. Other essential oils have therapeutic uses too. One of my favorite combinations is lavender and peppermint. Lavender helps counter stress, while peppermint is energizing and invigorating. If peppermint is too strong, try spearmint. Spearmint and peppermint have similar properties, but spearmint has a more subtle scent.
Citrus essential oils are commonly used in aromatherapy, too. They tend to have an uplifting effect and are wonderful for improving your mood. Diffusing lemon essential oil, for example, has a positive impact on mood and can help counter depression. Grapefruit essential oil is thought to stimulate hormones that have uplifting effects on the brain; it therefore helps to induce positive feelings and to help ease stress and anxiety.
Aromatherapy can be a powerful tool for promoting relaxation. Lavender essential oil, for example, is believed to decrease activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system responsible for the "fight or flight" response. Researchers conducting a small study reported "significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature" in participants who were exposed to the scent of lavender oil.
Improves Sleep Quality
Since certain essential oils can help ease stress and promote relaxation, they can also help promote better sleep. People with insomnia, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and nighttime hot flashes can all benefit from calming essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, rose, vetiver, and ylang ylang. To improve your night's sleep, try diffusing essential oils in your bedroom about an hour before going to sleep.
Reduces Fatigue and Increases Alertness
A study including patients with depressed moods and mental fatigue found that aromatherapy with lavender and rosemary essential oils can positively affect mental alertness, competency on testing, and overall mood.
Eucalyptus and clove essential oils and, to a lesser extent, lemongrass, can help reduce drowsiness, while cinnamon, lemon, fennel, and angelica oils act as stimulants. Aromatherapy stimulants can be more beneficial than stimulants such as coffee because they provide a boost of energy without the adrenal rush that can strain the adrenal system.
From pain relief to a better night's sleep and more, aromatherapy can support your health in so many ways. How do you use essential oils? Tell us in the comments section!
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Hi, I'm Katie! I love writing for the Blog and working as a Verefina Communications Specialist! I discovered Verefina more than five years ago when I was searching for personal care products for myself and my family that did not contain harmful toxic ingredients. I was delighted to find that Verefina is truly committed to using only safe, healthful ingredients, and I absolutely LOVE working for this amazing company and sharing Verefina products with the world!