Does Aromatherapy Really Work?

A diffuser, candle, bottles of essential oils, and a blanket on a wood surface

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that uses essential oils, either mixed with a carrier oil and applied topically to the body or inhaled through the use of a diffuser, to promote health and well-being. Aromatherapy has been practiced for thousands of years in many parts of the world and is gaining popularity with more people as a simple way to improve mood and wellness.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

Inhaling the scent of essential oils stimulates the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that deals with sense of smell, emotions, and memory. The limbic system also plays a role in various physiological functions, including breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. 1 Because of this, inhaling the scents of essential oils may have an effect on emotional and physiological function.

Although more research needs to be conducted on the effectiveness of aromatherapy, multiple small studies have been carried out that suggest aromatherapy could help reduce anxiety, stress, boost relaxation, enhance sleep, and relieve headache pain. 2 3 4 5

How to Use Essential Oils

There are many different ways that you can use essential oils for aromatherapy. Diffusers are a convenient way to scent your home and enjoy the benefits of aromatherapy. You could also mix a few drops of your preferred essential oils with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil or grapeseed oil, and use it as a massage oil, bath oil, or dab it on your pulse points (insides of the wrists, beneath the jaw, and the temples).

When buying essential oils, make sure that you choose high-quality products. Because essential oils are unregulated, many low-quality synthetic products can advertise as ‘essential oils’. 6  When choosing your essential oils, make sure that you go for pure, organic products that are either steam-distilled or cold-pressed

Popular Essential Oils for Aromatherapy

  • Bergamot for stress relief
  • Chamomile for relaxation and improved sleep
  • Jasmine for improved mood
  • Lavender for relaxation, stress relief, and headache relief
  • Peppermint for energy and headache relief
  • Rose for improved mood and reduced anxiety
  • Sandalwood for focus
  • Tea Tree for energy and immunity
  • Ylang-ylang for headache relief and improved mood

Avoid the use of essential oils during pregnancy and do not use essential oils on babies or small children. 7 Some people with sensitive skin may experience a rash or other reaction to essential oils–always test a small amount first when applying topically. 8  People with reactive airways or asthma may also not tolerate strong smells. If you are unsure if essential oils are safe for you, speak to a naturopathic doctor or other healthcare practitioner before trying aromatherapy.


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