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Benefits and Safety of Essential Oil Therapy

Essential oils have been used for nearly 3,000 years to improve health, beauty, and well-being. Hippocrates claimed, “the key to good health rests on having a daily aromatic bath and scented massage.” 

Essential oils are made from natural plant-based fluids and often used in aromatherapy. 

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is one of the most popular forms of complementary therapy and uses essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils for holistic healing. Aromatherapy is thought to combine art and science in a variety of ways to heal the body, mind, and spirit. 

Aromatherapy works through your sense of smell and skin absorption. It can be used at home and incorporated into your daily routine by:

  • Applied topically—add to shower gel, shampoo, lotion, facial masks
  • Inhaled—body spray, pillow spray, bath salts, add essential oil to bathwater  
  • Steamed—facial steamers, hot compresses 
  • Burned—candle, diffusers 

Essential oils should never be used directly on the skin; they must be diluted with a carrier oil. Vegetable and herbal oil are the most common carrier oils used in creams, lotions, massage, facial oil, and gels. 

A skin patch test is recommended before applying essential oils on the skin to avoid a large allergic reaction. How to do an allergy test: 

  1. Dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil (6 drops of essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil) 
  2. Rub the mixture into a quarter size area on the forearm 
  3. If there is no allergic response (rash, hives) within 24 to 48 hours, it is safe to use 
  4. If there is a skin reaction (red, swollen, itchy), avoid skin application of that essential oil

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Potential Benefits of Essential Oil Therapy

Essential oils can support traditional treatment (meaning they should never replace medical advice or diagnosis from a licensed healthcare provider) of various conditions and possibly reduce: 

  • Nausea 
  • Pain 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Stress 
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia 
  • Headaches 
  • Menstrual pain 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Digestive problems 
  • Anger management 
  • Fear or grief 

Aromatherapists are professionals who use essential oils for detoxification, massage, and relaxation techniques. Aromatherapists do not treat medical conditions, but they should know about anatomy and physiology, holistic therapies, chemical blending techniques, and oil application methods. Their goal is to provide relaxation therapy.

A consultation with an aromatherapist will include an evaluation of your lifestyle, general health and well-being, and medical history. An Aromatherapist will develop an individualized treatment plan, including at-home treatment methods and essential oil massage sessions. The aromatherapist should discuss the essential oils that will be most effective in managing your symptoms. 

You can find an aromatherapist through the Aromatherapy Registration Council

Commonly Used Essential Oils 

Different oils have different effects and benefits. Essential oils can be used alone or as a combination of oils. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy lists the most popular essential oils and their potential uses. 

Are Essential Oils Safe? 

The safety of essential oils is dependent on multiple factors, including the quality of the essential oil, the type of essential oil, and how the essential oil is applied. Important points to remember 

  • Before using an essential oil, familiarize yourself with its purported uses, safety, and risk of allergies (if irritation occurs, discontinue use)
  • Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets 
  • Only use essential oils in a well-ventilated area; avoid contact with eyes 
  • Only use 100% genuine essential oils; avoid synthetic oils 
  • Dilute the essential oil with a carrier like a lotion or vegetable oil 
  • Angelica root, bergamot, and citrus oils (e.g., lemon, lime, bitter orange) should not be applied before going into the sun or a tanning booth since they increase skin sensitivity to the sun. Severe burns may occur.

Finding Quality Essential Oils 

The FDA does not regulate essential oils, so tips on finding pure essential oils include: 

  • Look at the label: there should be an ingredient list, purity information, and the country the plant was grown in
  • Look at the container: choose dark-colored, glass containers to protect the quality
  • Look at the company: purchase from well-known and reputable companies that have products in aromatherapy 

Bottom Line

Essential oils are used to enhance your health and well-being. The first step is to choose an essential oil that will provide the benefit you are looking for, then select the method of aromatherapy. You can easily incorporate essential oil therapy into your daily routine and start benefiting from the relaxation treatment. 

It is important to note that aromatherapy is meant to support your health. It is not a replacement for medical advice or diagnosis from your doctor or healthcare provider. Before starting aromatherapy, please consult with your healthcare provider first. 

Resources: 

Alliance of International Aromatherapists. Brief History of Aromatherapy. https://www.alliance-aromatherapists.org/aromatherapy. Published 2020. Accessed 7 August 2020.

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Most Commonly Used Essential Oils. https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/most-commonly-used-essential-oils/. Published 2020. Accessed 7 August 2020.

Halcon L. Are Essential Oils Safe? https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/aromatherapy/are-essential-oils-safe. Published 2016. Accessed 7 August 2020.

Therapy Directory. Aromatherapy. https://www.therapy-directory.org.uk/articles/aromatherapy.html#whatisaromatherapy. Accessed 7 August 2020.

Gujral H. Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/aromatherapy-do-essential-oils-really-work. Accessed 7 August 2020.

Published August 20th, 2020 by Dr. Miriam Opara, PharmD
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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