For thousands of years, people have used aromatherapy as the go-to treatment for their ailments. And despite the impressive developments achieved by Western medicine, aromatherapy (also referred to as essential oil therapy) still plays a significant role in nurturing physical and psychological well-being.
What Is Aromatherapy?
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the practice “uses natural plant extracts, such as essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils, in a variety of ways to heal the body, mind, and spirit.” In practice, it’s a healing approach that uses the power of plants, either topically or via inhalation.
The great thing about aromatherapy is that there are multiple ways to incorporate it into your daily wellness routine. You can opt for inhalation — via diffusers, sprays, inhalers — or topical application — via bathing salts, body oils, or specially designed masks that deliver hot or cold therapy to relieve pain. It’s also possible to employ aromatherapy internally by ingesting diluted essential oil blends. However, this is not recommended practice and is best reserved for qualified therapists.
What Are the Benefits of Aromatherapy?
There are millennia of anecdotal evidence of aromatherapy’s effectiveness. Plus, the practice has also been extensively studied by scientists. And that means there is plenty of science-backed data describing the benefits of this form of treatment, meaning that it can be safely used as a primary or secondary option for addressing specific ailments.
Benefit #1: Stress Relief
If you’ve never used aromatherapy before, the best way to enjoy its benefits is to employ it to relieve stress and anxiety without relying on medication.
According to a scientific review conducted in 2014, aroma inhalation has some beneficial effects on stress management, making it an excellent addition to anyone’s wellness routine. Lavender oil is particularly useful for reducing stress levels, with a “significant” positive effect on stress management. And the best part is that it can provide benefits both via inhalation and topical application.
So, if you’re looking for ways to naturally relieve everyday anxiety, you might want to put a few drops of lavender in your diffuser, take a hot lavender-scented bath, or invest in a soothing lavender-scented lotion to use as a step in your self-care routine. Alternatively, if lavender is not your favorite scent, you could experiment with rosemary, lemon, bergamot orange, patchouli, jasmine, sandalwood, or ylang-ylang.
Benefit #2: Sleep Improvement
The second most prominent benefit of aromatherapy is that it can be a great way to make it easier to fall asleep or get better quality rest. And this is mainly because of the stress-relieving power of essential oils.
One small study even got as far as pinpointing the exact ways in which aromatherapy improved sleep. It found that smelling lavender oil before bed increased the percentage of deep sleep and improved wakefulness the morning after exposure to the scent.
So, if you’re suffering from sleep disturbance or want higher quality rest at night, consider surrounding yourself with scents like chamomile, valerian, sandalwood, or vetiver.
Of course, don’t forget that there are other sleep-promoting behavioral changes you should employ as well, like having a wind-down routine, doing some stretching before bed, and ensuring that the furniture in your bedroom isn’t causing unwanted effects — like, for example, fiberglass in mattresses causing skin irritation and breathing difficulties.
Benefit #3: Digestion
An overlooked benefit of aromatherapy is that it can aid digestion and relieve nausea — especially when using peppermint and ginger.
According to a scientific paper published in 2018, peppermint oil can promote muscle relaxation in the GI tract and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory outcomes. It can help manage IBS, dyspepsia, abdominal pain, and postoperative nausea. Ginger, on the other hand, is well-known for its nausea-decreasing effects. Plus, it speeds up digestion, making it an excellent preventative method for avoiding gastrointestinal problems.
The one thing to keep in mind about using aromatherapy to aid digestion is, of course, that the potency of smells can be great. However, both plant extracts mentioned have a particularly strong effect when ingested, especially in tea or capsule form.
Benefit #4: Memory & Cognitive Performance Boost
One of the more surprising benefits of aromatherapy is that it can be a powerful memory aid and even promote cognitive performance boosts via the “Proust Effect.”
In the simplest of terms, the Proust Effect is a phenomenon where certain scents trigger memory recall, which can be used to make studying easier and more productive. According to anecdotal experience, the best way to employ aromatherapy in this manner is to smell energizing essential oils — like peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, or lemon.
However, it could be argued that consistently exposing yourself to any chosen scent while doing a particular activity (like smelling coffee essential oil while solving math problems) creates a connection between the scent and the activity. This can positively impact memory recall and also be a stimulating experience, making it easier to focus on the task ahead.
Benefit #5: Pain Management
In some cases, aromatherapy can be a great way to relieve or manage pain — especially when combined with conventional treatments.
For example, a systematic review published in 2016 found that smelling or topically applying essential oils could be of help when dealing with:
- Chronic pain — especially when combined with other pain-management methods like massage and acupressure
- Menstrual pain
- Post-surgery and C-Section pain
The same review also discovered that aromatherapy could be beneficial to cancer patients, mainly by decreasing anxiety and depression, promoting sleep, and somewhat lowering pain levels.
Benefit #6: Antibacterial Power & Immunity Boost
Lastly, when exploring the benefits of aromatherapy that you could easily enjoy in your day-to-day life, it’s important to remember that some essential oils have antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal powers. And adding them to a diffuser or topically applying them could be the perfect way to prevent or treat infections.
For example, thieves oil — consisting of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary — is a blend that can fight microbes (making it a great way to purify the air in your home) and could even boost the immune system and promote respiratory health.
Similarly, tea tree oil has antibacterial and antifungal benefits. It is often added to over-the-counter skincare products to help combat acne, dandruff, and mild fungal infections.
Or, for an overall positive (yet somewhat smelly) effect, you could use garlic. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it has anti-inflammatory properties, making it perfect for those suffering from arthritis. It can lower blood pressure. It can be used to treat fungal infections. And it can even boost immunity when ingested.
There you have it, some of the most prominent benefits of aromatherapy.
The great thing about this practice is that you can easily incorporate it into your day-to-day routine, whether by buying a few vials of essential oils and smelling them, using a diffuser, investing in a pillow or room spray for a calming effect, or topically applying the blends for a more targeted effect. Any of these uses can deliver the benefits. But, what’s most important about aromatherapy is that it can be a pleasant and calming experience, making it a superb habit to take up if you want to do something easy to boost your sense of well-being.