Aromatherapy: The Transformative Scents of Nature
Lemon and lime. Rosemary and thyme. Cedar and eucalyptus. Sandalwood and spearmint. Ahhhh! The plant world is awash in perfume.
Plants are nature’s pharmacy. Leaves, stems, roots, bark, petals, pods—just about every part of a plant can have healing properties. One of the most pleasant—and powerful—ways to benefit from the protective properties of plants is through their volatile essences, which are called essential oils.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the pure concentrates of plant essences. The essences themselves are special cells in plants that help protect and preserve the plant’s health and that are attractants for pollinating insects.
Over the centuries, humans discovered that these essences can work for us in much the same way they work for plants—providing protection and fostering well-being.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using pure, natural essential plant oils to foster emotional and physical homeostasis—physical and emotional equilibrium, where our bodies work the way they were designed to for vibrant health.
The term “aromatherapy” was coined by French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse back in the 1920's to describe the practice of using essential oils from plants for health and healing.* But the use of plant essential oils goes back into history and crosses cultures.
The Benefits of Essential Oils
Aromatherapy is enjoying a renaissance as more people choose natural options for well-being.
Essentials oils can be used in varied ways: infused in creams and carrier oils and then applied to the skin or added to a bath, gently inhaled from the bottle, distributed throughout a room using a diffuser, added to candles and soaps, and more.
Our sense of smell (called olfactory perception) is one of our most primal, core senses—our most powerful emotional connection to the world. Smells quickly activate our limbic system, which is involved in memory storage and regulating emotion and mood. That’s why inhaling the scents of essential oils is so potentially transformative. Among dozens of other effects they can help to:
• Life your spirits
• Improve your mood
• Calm you
• Energize you
• Increase your focus and concentration
• Stimulate memory and encourage memory recall
While no definitive health claims can be made for essential oils, there have been many studies showing the therapeutic effects of essential oils, and their effects are varied and wide-ranging.* The following examples are among hundreds of recent clinical and academic studies that are revealing the potentially therapeutics effects of essential oils:
• A 1995 study by Alan Hirsch, MD, found that inhaling certain aromas helped people lose weight over a six-month period.
• New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center used lavender, vanilla and
heliotropin essential oils to help reduce anxiety and enhance relaxation in patients
• The Mayo Clinic reports on studies that show aromatherapy improves the quality
of life for those with chronic health issues and helps lift depression and relieve
• Some studies have even showed that essential oils may have anti-cancer
As scientists continue to reveal the therapeutic value of essential oils and find uses for their botanical-chemical compounds, aromatherapy is sure to expand in reach and be officially recognized for its therapeutic value in healthcare. Until that day, millions of people will continue to value and use essential oils to enhance the harmony of their physical, emotional and even spiritual well-being.
How to Safely Use Essential Oils
Essential oils and their effects are powerful, so they must be used wisely.
• Get a good manual or book about essential oils so you can easily look up their range of
uses, but make sure that book also includes a thorough discussion of precautions and
contraindications. Some oils can be hazardous if not used correctly.
• Never ingest essential oils. Some can cause stomach upset or irritate the lining of the
throat or other mucus membranes and tissues. A few can be deadly!
• Do not use essential oils on infants or children age 8 or younger. Even for older children,
proceed cautiously. Essential oils should be highly diluted for use on children’s skin—double the amount of carrier oil you would normally use for adults. Some oils, even if only inhaled, can be potentially unsafe for children, such as peppermint oil, which may cause swelling of the throat or epiglottis that can result in severe breathing difficulties.
• Do not apply any undiluted essential oil to your skin. Essential oils are highly concentrated, and many are skin irritants or may cause an allergic reaction. Always conduct a skin patch test first. Most oils must be diluted in a carrier oil before use on the scalp, hair or skin, or in baths. A few oils, such as cassia, should never be applied to the skin, even in a diluted form.
• Some essential oils, such as many citrus oils, even if diluted can make your skin
photosensitive, so do not expose your skin to strong sunlight or use a tanning booth.
• Do not use essential oils if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. People with certain health
conditions—including those on blood thinners or with high blood pressure, asthma, epilepsy
or seizure disorder, kidney or liver dysfunction, and other conditions—should not use
certain essential oils unless under the care of a certified aromatherapist or medical
professional. Always check the contraindications before you use any essential oil.
• Keep essential oils away from your eyes and mucous membranes.
• Keep essential oils and carrier oils away from open flames.
Essential oils are a wonderful natural option for improving the quality of your and your family’s lives. Treat essential oils with respect and use them wisely, and you can reap their benefits in too many ways to count!
* Although the use of essential oils as therapeutic agents goes back far into history and modern research has demonstrated some of their potentially positive biological effects, the FDA does not recognize most essential oils as "therapeutic agents." Health claims cannot be made for any substances other than FDA-approved drugs. The material provided here is for informational and educational purposes. We make no explicit claims that essential oils prevent, treat, mitigate or cure disease. This information is not intended to be complete, nor can its accuracy be fully guaranteed. If you have a health condition, please seek the advice of a qualified medical professional.
** For one study of the effect of essential oils on various lines of cancer cells, see “Anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities of essential oils and their biological constituents.” A. Torres Salazar, J. Hoheisel, M. Youns, and M. Wink. International Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, vol. 49, no. 1 (2011): 93-95.
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