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Aromatherapy: Health Benefits, How to Use & Contraindications

Updated in October 2023

Aromatherapy is a complimentary therapy that uses smalls and particulates released by essential oils to stimulate different parts of the brain. It can be used to aid the treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia, asthma or colds. 

Essential oils that are used for aromatherapy can also be applied directly on the skin or added to moisturizers and lotions to treat muscular pain, infections, skin problems or joint pain.

Aromatherapy products are marketed for therapeutic use, and as such, the FDA regulates these products to ensure they meet safety and effectiveness requirements before being sold to the public. However, there is no official stance on the effectiveness of aromatherapy from the FDA or any major medical association in the US. Therefore, it should not replace prescribed medical treatment from your doctor, and should solely be utilized as an integrative or complementary therapy. 

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Possible health benefits

Aromatherapy can be recommended to aid the treatment of diverse health conditions, such as: 

  • Anxiety, depression or stress
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Physical or mental fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased memory
  • Insomnia or lack of energy
  • Chronic pain or peripheral neuropathy
  • Headache or migraine
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Rheumatism
  • Wounds or skin infections
  • Decreased libido
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Poor digestion or nausea
  • Dizziness

In addition, aromatherapy can help ro relieve the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer treatment, and it can be incorporated into a palliative care plan. 

How to use essential oils

Some of the most commonly used essential oils used in aromatherapy are: 

1. Essential oils for anxiety

Essential oils that can be used to complement the treatment for anxiety include: 

  • Lavender 
  • Ylang ylang
  • Jasmine
  • Basil
  • Frankincense 
  • Bergamot
  • Lemongrass 
  • Sandalwood
  • Patchouli 

When inhaled, these oils stimulate the brain to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which promote a calming and relaxing effect. Check-out other herbs for anxiety that you can use to incorporate into your treatment plan.

2. Essential oils for respiratory problems 

To perform aromatherapy for respiratory problems, you can use essential oil like eucalyptus, sandalwood or peppermint

When inhaled or vaporized, these essential oils can help with the treatment of colds, flus, sinusitis, asthma and bronchitis. 

3. Essential oils for weight loss

Essential oils that can be used for weight loss include lemon, cinnamon, peppermint, ginger, lemon grass or rosemary. These help to improve digestion, well-being and energy levels, which can enhance physical performance. 

In addition, these essential oils can be used to reduce anxiety, which is related to increased hunger in some cases. 

4. Essential oils for insomnia

Essential oils for insomnia (like chamomile, lavender, bergamot, peppermint, marjoram, ceder or sandalwood) can help to soothe and relax the body to improve sleep. 

5. Essential oils for skin infections

One of the most recommended essential oils to complement the treatment of skin wounds, acne and fungal infections (like athlete’s foot or yeast infections) is tea tree oil. It contains antiseptic, healing, antifungal and antibacterial properties. 

Eucalyptus and citronella essential oils can also help to heal skin wounds, cuts or scratches. 

6. Essential oils for rheumatism

Essential oils that can aid in the treatment of rheumatism, muscular pain, joint pain or muscular tension include eucalyptus oil, lavender, ginger or turmeric. These oils contain anti-inflammatory properties that may help to relieve related symptoms. 

How to perform aromatherapy

One of the main and most beneficial ways to use essential oils is to inhale their scents. However, they can also be used in other ways, depending on the health condition being addressed and the person’s lifestyle. 

1. Inhalation

Inhalation is the most holistic way to obtain all the effects and benefits of essential oil. This action allows for molecules to easily reach the limbic system in the brain, which stimulates different functions in the body. 

To perform inhalation appropriately, you should start off with light inhalations and gradually increase the number and intensity as following: 

  • Short inhalations: 3 to 7 consecutive inhalations, several times per day 
  • Moderate inhalations: 10 to 15 consecutive inhalations, several times per day 
  • Long inhalations: 10 to 15 minutes of consecutive inhalations, several times per day 

Be sure to breathe in the oil directly from the bottle. You should breathe deeply, hold it for 2 to 3 seconds, and then exhale. 

It is best to pick an essential oil that is certified organic to prevent inhaling pesticides and other chemicals that can be harmful.

2. Diffuser

With this technique, add 2 or 3 drops of your chosen essential oil into a diffuser device. It will release a cloudy smoke and disperse the aroma throughout the room. 

A more cost-effective solution is to place drops in a cup of hot water, and as the water evaporates, the aroma will be dispersed through the air. 

3. Evaporation

Evaporation consists of apply drops of essential oil on cotton balls, gauze or a clean cloth and allowing the oil to evaporate on its own and release its aroma.

This is a great way to regulate the intensity of the aroma, as the closer you are to the cotton ball or cloth, the more intense the smell. This is also a great method to use in a work environment, as the objects can be placed in a cup on your desk. 

4. Sprays

Sprays help to spread the aroma in all the rooms you desire. You can add a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and add water. Before using the spray, be sure to shake it to ensure the oil mixes with the water. 

This  is a great way to purify the environment of a room, or to concentrate the aromas in just one area of the house. 

5. Vaporization 

This technique is used especially for the treatment of respiratory problems or colds as it allows for the aroma to enter the respiratory system directly. The essential oils are released through vapor, which also hydrates and soothes the respiratory tract. 

To use this method, pour boiling water into a bowl and add drops of the essential oil of your choice. Inhale the vapor released from the bowl, and if possibl, cover your head and the bowl with a towel to concentrate the water vapor. Vaporization should not be utilized by children under 7 years old. 

6. Massage

Massage is the perfect way to apply essential oils on the skin, particularly to treat muscular pain, infections, skin issues or joint pain. Add some drops of essential oil to a vegetable oil (like rice oil, sesame oil or coconut oil). You should not apply essential oils directly on the skin, as they can cause skin irritation or reactions. 

Ideally, you should only mix a maximum of 5 oils to ensure the molecules within the oils remain intact and can be absorbed into the skin. 

7. Baths

Baths can mix the benefits of vaporization (as a bath permits inhalation of the vapor and aromas) as well as massage (due to the direct skin contact). Therefore, baths can be prepared in nearly all cases. 

To prepare an aromatherapy bath, fill the bath with warm water and add drops of essential oil until your intended aroma is achieved. 

8. Aromatherapy necklace

An aromatherapy necklace consists of a small pendant made of metal, porcelain, wood or crystals in which you can pour 1 to 3 drops of essential oil into. 

These necklaces permit the inhalation of essential oils in the air your breathe, and can be used for a maximum of 2 hours per day. You can also purchase an aromatherapy bracelet, which is used similarly for the same amount of time. 

Contraindications for aromatherapy

Aromatherapy should not be used by children, pregnant women or breastfeeding women unless approved by a doctor. 

Aromatherapy should be used cautiously by people with a history of epilepsy, high blood pressure, and asthma. Those with allergic rhinitis should be weary of flare-ups or respiratory reactions. 

Essential oils should be used with caution on the skin, particularly in people with eczema or psoriasis. 

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