What Is Aromatherapy, and How Does It Work?


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know about essential oils and all the buzz they have been creating lately. From your friend telling me that she has finally found a cure for her insomnia to your coworker going gaga over this alternate therapy that’s a great stress buster, essential oils are everywhere these days. You must have come across people swearing by the benefits of aromatherapy and how it has helped cure their health issues and improve their overall being. But, what is this all craze about? What is aromatherapy? Does it work? If so, how does it work? Let’s find out!

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the name given to the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefits. It is considered a holistic healing method with a wide range of physical and psychological benefits. Backed by several thousand years of usage, aromatherapy is considered a unique alternative treatment method because it is a combination of both art and science. It requires the knowledge of various plants’ scientific properties to figure out their usages, whereas combining different oils to prepare a therapeutic blend and determine their correct ways of application is an art dependent upon the knowledge of an aromatherapist. 

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

Aromatherapy essentially works in three ways:

1. Inhalation

The safest method of using essential oils, inhalation works by activating certain olfactory epithelium receptors in the nose. The receptors then send messages to the brain and activate the limbic system.

The limbic system plays a role in several essential body functions, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, memory, and stress. It is also involved in maintaining the hormonal balance in the body. Due to these multiple roles of the limbic system, the inhalation of essential oils is believed to have holistic effects on the body. 

2. Topical Application

The topical application of essential oils helps heal skin conditions, relieve pain, and improve skin health, in general. Still, it can also help improve blood circulation and optimize the cell renewal process by penetrating deep into the skin. The molecules of essential oils are small enough to easily penetrate through the skin and blood vessels lying beneath it and enter the bloodstream. This way, these specialized oils travel throughout the body, delivering anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and/or antiviral benefits.

3. Ingestion

Some essential oils can be ingested in small amounts in various ways. However, this should be done under professional supervision, as not all essential oils are safe for consumption. Even the ones that are safe should be taken in minute amounts only.

Ingestion, when done the right way, is particularly helpful for respiratory illnesses or infections. 

Does Aromatherapy Work?

As mentioned above, the use of essential oils to cure various ailments and improve one’s emotional well-being dates back to thousands of years. As a result, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding the effectiveness of aromatherapy. However, there is a lack of evidence on the scientific front, primarily due to a lack of research. Science ignored aromatherapy for a very long time until it created a buzz all over the world. Researchers were then forced to study the therapeutic properties of essential oils and the efficacy of aromatherapy. Although most studies provided either inconclusive or unfavourable results, researchers continue to explore aromatherapy because there have been a few findings that hint towards the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. However, scientists still have a lot to do to confirm (or refute) the anecdotal claims because most of the research studies have not entered the clinical trials stage yet. Until then, continue to take advantage of essential oils with the help of expert aromatherapists because if used the right way, essential oils do not cause any negative effects. 

Image Credits

Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash