What is Aromatherapy
We’ve been using aromatherapy for thousands of years now. Even the citizens of Ancient China, Egypt and India would have been able to competently answer the question of what is aromatherapy because they practiced it! This dates aromatherapy back at least 5,000+ years.
If you’ve been wondering, what is aromatherapy anyway? And want to know more, this guide is for you. All your questions about aromatherapy and how it can benefit you are answered here.
- Aromatherapy explained
- A short history of aromatherapy
- How are essential oils made?
- The benefits of aromatherapy
- What essential oils should I use for aromatherapy?
- Roman Chamomile
- How to practice aromatherapy
- Research on the effectiveness of aromatherapy
- A systematic review of essential oils in aromatherapy
- Aromatherapy’s effectiveness as a pain-reliever
- Aromatherapy is a useful medical tool
- The effect of aromatherapy on anxiety in cancer patients
- Anti-anxiety effects of aromatherapy for everyone
- Essential oils and sleep quality
- Essential oils for migraines
- Important tips for aromatherapy treatments
- Why quality counts in aromatherapy
- FAQs About Aromatherapy
- What is aromatherapy?
- What is aromatherapy used for?
- What is aromatherapy massage?
- What is an aromatherapy diffuser?
- What is aromatherapy spa?
- Use aromatherapy to enhance your life
Aromatherapy is a type of holistic healing treatment that promotes health and well-being by using the natural extracts of plants. Sometimes referred to as essential oil therapy, aromatherapy relies on these oils to boost our health on a physical, emotional and mental level.
In ancient times, essential oils were used in both religious and medical settings, and modern research is confirming the many benefits they can provide. This means that they're becoming more widely used these days and thus, more accessible too.
When inhaled, the scent molecules in essential oils travel from your olfactory nerves to your brain. They impact the amygdala, which is the emotional center of our brains where our feelings are processed. Emotions are closely tied to memories, so scents often trigger emotions linked to certain memories, in turn releasing certain neurotransmitters or hormones that affect how we feel - like how a certain perfume reminds you of your first kiss and makes you feel romantic, or how the ocean breeze helps you feel fresh, free and relaxed. This is why these oils have such a remarkable effect on us emotionally and allow us to heal on more than one level at a time.
When absorbed by the skin in the case of topical use or aromatherapy massage, not only are we inhaling the scent, but the phytochemicals in the oils are absorbed directly through our skin into the bloodstream where they can have direct effects on the body and mind, such as soothing pain and inflammation, killing germs, making you feel energized and happy or helping you sleep.
A short history of aromatherapy
The distillation of essential oils from certain plants is officially attributed to 10th century Persia, but it’s likely that the practice is much older.
Fast forward to the 1500s and there is published information about essential oil distillation emerging. After that, we see French doctors in the 19th century recognizing the healing potential of essential oils.
Chemically-based treatments enjoyed much popularity around the world in the later parts of the 19th century. But the French and Germans still relied on plant-based treatments to a large degree.
René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist and perfumer, coined the term “aromatherapy” and used it as the title for a book he published in 1937. He did so in recognition of his successful treatment of serious burns using lavender.
His book explores the healing power of essential oils and their efficacy in treating certain medical conditions. It’s an extremely valuable resource because it gives us a description of what aromatherapy is from a licensed physician.
How are essential oils made?
Essential oils are compounds that are extracted from certain plants, capturing a plant’s scent, flavor and essence. These unique aromatic compounds are what give each essential oil its own characteristic make-up. They're most commonly extracted using steam and/or water distillation or by a mechanical method called cold pressing.
What is aromatherapy? In a nutshell, it’s the use of these products to effect change in our bodies, be it by adjusting your mood, easing certain kinds of physical discomfort, warding off illness or affecting your cognitive function.
The benefits of aromatherapy
When you can answer the question of what is aromatherapy, you’ll know that its benefits include:
- Pain management
- Enhancing your energy or sleep
- Reducing agitation, stress and anxiety
- Providing a safe alternative and/or complementary support for a range of health concerns
- Providing a safe alternative and/or complementary support for a range of health concerns
- Boosting your immune system and fighting off infection
The list of conditions that aromatherapy can help includes, but is not limited to:
- Aging skin
- Menstrual issues
- Respiratory issues
The benefits you’ll receive from aromatherapy vary from essential oil to oil. Do some homework before you purchase your oils so that you know which ones will meet your needs.
What essential oils should I use for aromatherapy?
There are over 100 different kinds of essential oils. Some have similar effects while others are very unique. Some are more irritating or toxic at low doses while others have a broad safety profile. It’s important to research essential oils before using them so you know how to use them safely and which ones will benefit you most.
Below are some of the most popular essential oils you can find.
Derived from the sweet-smelling plant of the same name, lavender essential oil promotes relaxation and a good sleep while soothing anxiety, depression and insomnia. It’s also excellent for allergies, fungal infections, eczema, menstrual cramps and nausea. Lavender is the most heavily researched essential oil.
With its bright and cheery scent, plenty of people swear by lemon essential oil as a natural way to fight exhaustion and deal with depression. It can also help clear skin and reduce inflammation, and it’s also a powerful antimicrobial that can kill harmful bacteria and viruses, making it great for cleaning while making you happy to do it!
When you use peppermint essential oil as part of an aromatherapy spa treatment or in a diffuser, you may find that it either relaxes or invigorates you. Peppermint oil is known to help relieve headaches and muscle pain, open up the sinuses and lungs to help you breathe, is great for skin and hair care and can even be used as a bug repellent.
Roman chamomile essential oil can help if you suffer from anxiety and depression. It has mild sedative properties which means it will calm your nerves and make you feel less anxious, and it’s known for improving sleep. Who knew it was also helpful for allergies, abdominal cramps and laboring moms?!
Eucalyptus essential oil is known for treating arthritis, asthma, nasal congestion, colds and other respiratory issues and skin ulcers, and it’s also an effective insect repellent and antimicrobial good for cleaning. Eucalyptus clears the air figuratively and literally, so it can help you to move past blocked emotions at the same time as helping with headaches. It can even help moisturize your skin!
With its fresh, clean scent, lemongrass essential oil has proved very effective in helping with digestive problems and blood pressure concerns. You can also put a few drops into your aromatherapy diffuser to help soothe anxiety, depression and stress, and even headaches and pain. Lemongrass is also on the list of powerful antimicrobials, making it another effective cleaning agent that smells amazing as well as a great-smelling skin and hair care product. It’s also a great insect repellent.
Basking in the scent of geranium could just make you feel like you’re in a flower garden in France, giving it relaxing effects. Because it has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, geranium essential oil can help with a variety of conditions. The list includes anxiety, depression and infection, as its most potent effects lie in its mood-boosting powers and antimicrobial effects.
If you’re suffering from undue fatigue, negative moods, nervous tension and stress, then rosemary essential oil may be just what you need. As part of an aromatherapy spa treatment, you may find that it improves your alertness, encourages clarity and insight, boosts your ability to concentrate and allows you to retain more information. Rosemary is also great for your skin as well as for your hair.
How to practice aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a therapy that works through your sense of smell, or, in the case of an aromatherapy massage, through a combination of skin absorption or scent. To begin, you could use:
- Aromatherapy diffusers
- Bath salts
- Body oils, creams and lotions for aromatherapy massages or simple topical application
- Clay masks
- Facial steamers
- Hot or cold compresses
You can use these methods alone or combine several to create an aromatherapy spa treatment, a certain ambience or new lifestyle routines by using single essential oils or by creating a blend of oils for a signature scent or preference.
Each essential oil has its own special set of effects, healing properties and uses. Combining them to create a synergistic blend can deliver even more benefits. Volant’s premade blends like Clean Air, Energy, Relax, Sleep and Spa all offer a myriad of benefits that give your body and brain a boost in different ways.
Or you could create your own recipes and learn more about what essential oils go well together. For example, combining eucalyptus with cedarwood essential oil, geranium, grapefruit, lavender and lemon creates a wonderful smelling tonic. Combine lemongrass and lavender to boost these oils’ benefits, and peppermint and rosemary work well together to boost your mental function.
Research on the effectiveness of aromatherapy
As interest in non-invasive, natural and environmentally-friendly medical treatments grows, scientists and researchers have begun researching aromatherapy more vigorously. Their findings have, by and large, supported what the people using this form of therapy have been reporting for thousands of years.
These are just some of the many studies on the subject:
A systematic review of essential oils in aromatherapy
Reports and studies in this systematic review resulted in the authors concluding that aromatherapy is a non-invasive, natural therapeutic option for humans. It also found that aromatherapy could not only be used as a preventative measure as well as in acute and chronic conditions, but that symptoms of diseases can be eradicated, and that the entire body is rejuvenated by the use of aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy’s effectiveness as a pain-reliever
A 2016 review found that adults, moms in labor and even infants can experience less pain with the help of aromatherapy or aromatherapy massage. Acute and surgical pain were most positively influenced by the essential oils while chronic and inflammatory pain showed a less pronounced effect. Many of the studies in this review used lavender essential oil.
Aromatherapy is a useful medical tool
In September of 2019, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs published a document on aromatherapy and essential oils. After examining the outcomes of numerous studies on how effective aromatherapy is when treating a range of conditions, the results of this review were overwhelmingly in favor of the efficacy of aromatherapy. In particular, aromatherapy was concluded useful for pain in dysmenorrhea, pain in labor/childbirth, reducing blood pressure in hypertension, for stress, depression and sleep, anxiety in patients undergoing medical procedures, and for treating athlete’s foot.
The effect of aromatherapy on anxiety in cancer patients
A 2022 research group reviewed the effects of essential oils on the well-being of cancer patients. The studies they reviewed showed that aromatherapy massage or aromatherapy with lavender essential oil is effective in soothing anxiety in cancer patients.
Anti-anxiety effects of aromatherapy for everyone
A 2020 meta-analysis reviewed studies that used aromatherapy for anxiety caused by varying conditions. The authors concluded that aromatherapy is an effective anti-anxiety treatment for anyone, no matter the cause of anxiety.
Essential oils and sleep quality
In 2021, another meta-analysis reviewed the effects of aromatherapy on sleep. The authors concluded that aromatherapy significantly improves sleep quality and can be used as an alternative non-drug therapy for insomnia.
Essential oils for migraines
Those who suffer from migraines often look for natural alternatives to reduce their use of acetaminophen, ibuprofen and other such drugs. A 2021 review of studies found that ten different essential oils, including peppermint and lavender among others, were effective against migraines by relaxing blood vessels, reducing sensitization to pain and reducing inflammation.
Important tips for aromatherapy treatments
Because aromatherapy is a complementary therapy, it’s a good idea to always discuss the effects of using it with your health care provider before you begin. In doing so, you can ensure that your essential oil therapy will help you in your quest for increased health and well-being.
There is also a wealth of information available online, as well as in ebooks and printed ones, that can help you when you’re just getting started answering the question of what is aromatherapy. There are also courses that you can participate in online by certified schools around the world.
Bear in mind from the outset that:
- You should never apply essential oils to your skin directly. Always use a carrier oil to dilute them, at a recommended ratio of 4 drops of essential oil per tablespoon (15 ml) of carrier oil. Failure to do this could result in a rash or another type of irritation because pure essential oils are very powerful.
- After you’ve diluted the essential oils you intend to use, doing a patch test before using them more liberally is the next step. While adverse reactions to oils are very rare, they are possible and this test ensures that you don’t have a reaction to them.
- Children and women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding should use essential oils with caution and only under the supervision of their doctors, doulas or midwives.
Why quality counts in aromatherapy
The extraordinary rise in popularity of essential oils means they're available just about everywhere, from your local pharmacy to your grocery store and online. This market is not regulated, so it’s important that you stick to reputable vendors.
Doing your homework on who you’re buying essential oils from ensures that you only ever use ethically sourced, sustainably produced, pure oils that do not contain harmful additives and synthetic ingredients. Volant’s essential oils are all 100% pure and organic and extracted for maximum potency with nothing added.
Find oils that contain only aromatic plant compounds and don’t have any additives or synthetic substances in them. Be sure you purchase a pure essential oil and not an extract.
Pure essential oils are those that have been altered the least by the extraction process. Select a chemical-free oil that has been grown without organically and extracted via mechanical cold pressing or steam distillation, depending on the type of oil and effect you’re looking for.
Research your vendor. Check out what other customers have to say about whoever you’re considering buying from and establish that they are who they say they are. This goes a long way to ensuring you’re getting the high-quality product you’re willing to pay for.
FAQs About Aromatherapy
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, is a holistic healing system. It uses natural plant extracts to promote our well-being and health. Aromatherapy is typically practiced through inhalation, aromatherapy massage or other topical use.
What is aromatherapy used for?
Depending on which essential oils you decide to use, aromatherapy can change your mood, energize you or relax you and help you sleep, spice up your life, treat anxiety, depression, and stress, reduce pain and inflammation, lower blood pressure, ward off infections, heal and rejuvenate the skin, help you meditate or focus, or just help make your life more natural, healthy and environmentally friendly while making you and your home smell great.
What is aromatherapy massage?
Aromatherapy massage is using essential oils in your massage oil and massaging it into your skin. The skin absorbs the essential oils’ active compounds this way while you also get to enjoy the inhalation benefits of its aroma.
What is an aromatherapy diffuser?
Aromatherapy diffusers break essential oils down into smaller molecules and disperse them into the air around you. Different types of aromatherapy diffusers include electric ultrasonic diffusers, nebulizing diffusers like a pressurized spray, heat diffusers such as candles or steam, and evaporative diffusers like reed diffusers.
What is aromatherapy spa?
An aromatherapy spa can refer to various aromatherapy treatments like a foot bath or treatment centers that focus therapies on essential oils and their scents and applications.
Use aromatherapy to enhance your life
When trying aromatherapy, always remember that you should pay attention to how each essential oil and every blend affects you on a physical, emotional and mental level.
It’s not just personal experience recommending the use of essential oils anymore. Trial after trial and study after study by researchers and scientists have found that essential oils can be very beneficial in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, stress, sleeplessness and low energy. Aromatherapy can even be used on children, and sometimes even on pets, when used safely and correctly.
You can safely start exploring whether aromatherapy massages, spa treatments and diffusers work for you. Pay attention to how you’re feeling before, during and after using aromatherapy and you’re sure to experience a difference while living a more natural, healthy lifestyle.