Aromatherapy isn’t a cure-all, but it does have some promising perks.
Imagine if a whiff of a particular scent—from lemon to lavender—could shift your mood, reduce stress levels, or provide you a dose of much-needed zen. This is the fundamental belief behind aromatherapy, an ever-growing wellness trend. While this practice has become more mainstream in recent years, it’s worthwhile to analyze its true benefits, drawbacks, and effectiveness. We spoke with experts to understand how smell impacts our overall health and well-being. Consider this your 101 guide to creating an aromatherapy ritual.
What is aromatherapy?
Nova Covington, a certified aromatherapist and the CEO of Goddess Garden, says aromatherapy uses plant-based botanicals that are distilled from the plant. In most cases, people diffuse essential oils, made from the oil of the botanical, to create various scent profiles in their home. In their best form, essential oils are pure, unadulterated botanical oils, highly concentrated extracts made from plants, leaves, citrus peels, and flower petals, she says.
Covington says we should think of aromatherapy as a holistic healing treatment that uses the natural goods from Mother Nature to promote vitality, happiness, and health.
Avid aromatherapy fans use their oils for a variety of purposes, but some popular wellness goals for the practice include:
- Improving mood
- Providing calmness
- Clearing sinuses
- Reducing stress
- Setting a tone of a room (think: relaxing or energetic)
- Scent diffusion alternative to candle-burning
The history of aromatherapy
Most cultures throughout history have used native plants for medicinal purposes, and aromatherapy grew from this knowledge, explains Kelly Fowler, an aromatherapy expert and an instructor at The Soma Institute. Generally, the Middle East is given credit for creating the distillation of essential oils, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that it became more widely used. Fowler explains this is largely due to a French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who coined the term ‘aromatherapy’ and brought it to the masses.
Does aromatherapy work, and is it safe?
Maybe you’ve had a friend claim she could solve any health issue with essential oils—and rightfully so, you were skeptical. After all, can simply sniffing something in the air have an impact? The answer is complicated: yes and no.
As The Mayo Clinic points out, some studies have suggested that aromatherapy can benefit our sleep patterns, help us cope with anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of life for those with chronic health conditions and pain. That said, if you have any worrisome symptoms, you should always discuss your concerns with a trained medical professional.
Plus, it’s worth noting that The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils, so paying attention to ingredients is very necessary. “Organic essential oils are distilled into an oil, but contamination from chemicals is widespread in non-organic products,” Covington warns. Read the back label and ask your dermatologist for advice when in doubt.
Be mindful of your specific skin profile or conditions when using essential oils directly on skin. As Covington recommends, it’s best to test an essential oil on your skin or in the bath. If you don’t experience irritation or inflammation, you can then apply it. Remember: Not all essential oils are safe for your skin, so check before dousing yourself in lemon, lavender, or any other variety. Fowler also says to be considerate of essential oil use if you’re on certain medications or have health concerns that could make you more sensitive.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
“One big drawback of aromatherapy is the idea that it’s a cure-all,” Fowler notes. “Some ardent DIY-ers may be inclined to reach for oils when they should be reaching out to health professionals.” So while aromatherapy shouldn’t be considered your only resource when dealing with specific issues, proper use of aromatherapy does provide many meaningful benefits.
1. It can help you relax.
2. It can help you sleep more soundly.
3. It can help you manage stress.
4.It can boost energy and focus.
5. It encourages deep, diaphragmatic breathing.
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