What Is Aromatherapy?

Plant essential oils are the core to aromatherapy

Aromatherapy essential oil in a bottle surrounded by leaves and flowers on a white canvas
Credits: "kerdkanno at Pixabay.com"
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Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils or other aromatic parts of plant to help improve physical and mental health through smell.[1] The ancient practice dates back as far as 6000 years in use in Ayurveda, Traditional East Asian Medicine, and Egyptian traditions.[1,2] The modern day practice most often uses essential oils, however teas, infusions, incense, and perfumes were used throughout the ages.  

Aromatherapy with essential oils is often used on the skin of the person in massage or in diffusers and vaporizers that disperse the scent throughout a room or environment.[2,3]  

 

Aromatherapy is Used for a Wide Range 

Aromatherapy has a wide range of applications including anxiety, pain, nausea, skin conditions, and neurological conditions.[1,4] Anxiety is one of the most common reasons for aromatherapy. Small studies show positive results in the use of essential oils for anxiety.[3,5] Aromatherapy massage at acupuncture points on the shoulder was shown to help reduce shoulder pain in stroke patients, [6]and self massage with an aromatherapy cream was shown to be helpful in reducing neck pain.[7]

 

Aromatherapy is Used in Skin Care

The origins of modern aromatherapy come from a story related to skin injury and healing.  Rene-Mairice Gattefosse ́, the scientist responsible for coining the phrase aromatherapy, had burned his hands in the laboratory and quickly dipped it into a bath of lavender essential oil.  His hand healed rapidly and without scars.[2] 

Essential oils have also been reported to be effective in acne, psoriasis, eczema, alopecia areata, and infections.[2,8,9] For example, tea tree oil gels have been found more effective than placebo[10] and as effective as benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne.[10] Additionally, a blend of essential oils was found to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of alopecia areata.[9]  

 

Aromatherapy Effects

Essential oils may work because of their chemical composition providing antiseptic, antimicrobial, or anti-itching properties.[2] For example, oils such as Helichrysm italicum (everlasting flower) are used for wound healing due to the high level of ketones in them.[2] Oils with higher alcohol content, such as tea tree, are often used in the treatment of acne.[2,12]

Some scientists theorize that inhalation of essential oils improves anxiety and depression by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.[11] However, this mechanism requires further exploration. 

Aromatherapy is practiced in many settings and throughout many traditional medical systems. Aromatherapy has the potential for treating a wide variety of conditions.  The essential oils should be selected specifically for their properties and healing effects.  And what’s more, it smells great and is super fun!

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* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.

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References

1.    Thomas DV. Aromatherapy: mythical, magical, or medicinal? Holist Nurs Pract.2002;16(5):8-16; PMID: 12465213.

2.    Stevensen CJ. Aromatherapy in dermatology. Clin Dermatol.1998;16(6):689-694; PMID: 9949913.

3.    Cooke B, Ernst E. Aromatherapy: a systematic review. Br J Gen Pract.2000;50(455):493-496; PMID: 10962794.

4.    Johnson JR, Rivard RL, Griffin KH, et al. The effectiveness of nurse-delivered aromatherapy in an acute care setting. Complement Ther Med.2016;25:164-169; PMID: 27062964.

5.    Perry R, Terry R, Watson LK, et al. Is lavender an anxiolytic drug? A systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Phytomedicine.2012;19(8-9):825-835; PMID: 22464012.

6.    Shin BC, Lee MS. Effects of aromatherapy acupressure on hemiplegic shoulder pain and motor power in stroke patients: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med.2007;13(2):247-251; PMID: 17388768.

7.    Ou MC, Lee YF, Li CC, et al. The effectiveness of essential oils for patients with neck pain: a randomized controlled study. J Altern Complement Med.2014;20(10):771-779; PMID: 25192562.

8.    Shenefelt PD. Complementary psychocutaneous therapies in dermatology. Dermatol Clin.2005;23(4):723-734; PMID: 16112450.

9.    Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. Arch Dermatol.1998;134(11):1349-1352; PMID: 9828867.

10.    Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoylperoxide in the treatment of acne. Med J Aust.1990;153(8):455-458; PMID: 2145499.

11.    Lv XN, Liu ZJ, Zhang HJ, et al. Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes. Curr Drug Targets.2013;14(8):872-879; PMID: 23531112.

12.    Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Bagherani N, et al. A review of applications of tea tree oil in dermatology. Int J Dermatol.2013;52(7):784-790; PMID: 22998411.

13.    Herz RS. The Role of Odor-Evoked Memory in Psychological and Physiological Health. Brain Sci.2016;6(3)PMID: 27447673.