Aromatherapy: What, How and Which Ones?

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Sometimes it's called essential oil therapy. Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils medicinally to improve the health of the body, mind, and spirit. It enhances both physical and emotional health.
Although many claims have been made relating to the benefits of aromatherapy, most research has focused on its use to manage depression, anxiety, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, nausea, and pain. Some studies suggest that olfactory (sense of smell) stimulation related to aromatherapy can result in immediate reduction in pain, as well as changing physiological parameters such as pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, and brain activity.

How does it work?

Essential oils used in aromatherapy are typically extracted from various parts of plants and then distilled. The highly concentrated oils may be inhaled directly or indirectly or applied to the skin through massage, lotions or bath salts.
Aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions.
Even though aromatherapy is commonly used and has been practiced for centuries, few high quality empirical reviews have examined its effectiveness in reducing pain.
Some studies have shown that aromatherapy might have health benefits, including:
  • Relief from anxiety and depression
  • Improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions
  • Improved sleep
  • Boost mood
  • Enhance Memory
Smaller studies suggest that aromatherapy with lavender oil may help:
  • Reduce pain for people with osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Improve quality of life for people with dementia
  • Reduce pain for people with kidney stones

Our Top 15 Plants

Use it: For better sleep
The OG best essential oil for relaxation, research shows lavender can help people sleep better and wake up more refreshed. And according to the National Sleep Foundation, lavender has been shown to reduce anxiety, making it clutch for nights when racing thoughts are keeping you awake.
Bonus perks: Lavender is associated with lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature.
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Clary Sage
Use it: To reduce blood pressure
In a July 2013 study, women who smelled clary sage experienced reduced blood pressure and breathing rates; they were also able to relax during a stressful medical exam.
Bonus perks: It may help with memory and attention.

Use it: To wake up
Research shows that breathing in peppermint can make people feel more alert and can boost their memory.
Bonus perks: It may reduce both fatigue and chocolate cravings.

Use it: To decrease anxiety
A study found that women who sniffed it during labor (a.k.a. arguably the most nail-biting experience of a woman's life!) were less anxious.
Bonus perk: It may help with PTSD, according to one study.
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Use it: To enhance brainpower
Breathing in rosemary can improve speed and accuracy during demanding mental tasks, per a 2012 study. Other research found its scent left people feeling refreshed and mentally stimulated.
Bonus perks: It may help boost energy and reduce fatigue.

Use it: To boost focus
It may stoke the area of the brain that governs alertness. For example, research found that drivers were more focused and less flustered after breathing in cinnamon-oil scents.
Bonus perks: It increases concentration and reduces frustration.

Use it: To improve mood
When life give you lemons, sniff! Research shows oil from the fruit's peel may enhance mood. In a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2008, for instance, researchers found that inhaling the aroma of lemon essential oil was more effective in improving mood than aromatherapy involving the use of lavender essential oil. 
Bonus perks: It may ease anxiety and stress.

Use it: To stop sniffling
Combat congestion with eucalyptus oil; it reacts with mucous membranes, reducing mucus. But be aware: Eucalyptus oil is strong, so you only need one or two drops. 
Bonus perks: It promotes mental clarity and soothes headaches for some people.
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Use it: To achieve maximum chill
In one small study, women who inhaled bergamot had lower levels of saliva cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone). The scent also helped patients in a mental health treatment center feel most positive, according to a 2017 study
Bonus perks: It may boost your mood.
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Use it: To curb worry
People in one study who were exposed to lemongrass essential oil immediately saw anxiety and tension level slashed, and they recovered more quickly from a stress-inducing situation compared to those who didn't inhale the scent.
Bonus perks: It helps keeps insects away.
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Ylang Ylang
Use it: To chill out
One study found that people had a lower heart rate and blood pressure after using ylang ylang.
Bonus perks: It can soothe inflammation.

Use it: To lift your mood
Research has found that sandalwood can help improve depressive symptoms in people during a massage.
Bonus perks: It can help improve focus.

Use it: To sleep better
Roman chamomile has been found to help people sleep better when it’s applied during a massage.
Bonus perks: It calms nerves.

Use it: To boost your mood
People who were exposed to jasmine in one study reported feeling more positive and upbeat afterward.
Bonus perks: It may have an aphrodisiac effect.

Use it: To chill out
One rat study found that grapefruit essential oil helped lower blood pressure in rats. The theory is that limonene, the active ingredient in grapefruit oil, did the trick.
Bonus perks: It can help balance your mood.

Worth Noting

When oils are applied to the skin, side effects may include allergic reactions, skin irritation and sun sensitivity. In addition, further research is needed to determine how essential oils might affect children and how the oils might affect women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, as well as how the oils might interact with medications and other treatments.
If you're considering aromatherapy, consult your doctor and a trained aromatherapist about the possible risks and benefits.
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