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Other Names:

Aroma, Aroma Therapy, Aroma Treatment, Aromaterapia, Aromathérapie, Aromatic Oils, Aromatic Therapy, Essential Oils, Huiles Aromatiques, Huiles Essentielles, Traitement par les Essences de Plantes.

AROMATHERAPY Overview Information

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils as treatment. Essential oils are the fragrant (aromatic) oils of plants.

Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist, was the first to use the term “aromatherapy” when he published a book on the subject in 1937. He is often referred to as the “Grandfather” of aromatherapy.

In aromatherapy, the essential oils are usually vaporized by heating the oil or by applying the oil in a hot bath. In other cases, the oil is applied directly to the skin — during massage, for example — or to a specific area such as the scalp or a painful joint. Much less commonly, essential oils are taken by mouth. However, some practitioners of aromatherapy argue that taking essential oils by mouth or applying them directly to the skin is not actually a part of aromatherapy.

By mouth, aromatherapy is used to treat depression and anxiety and to promote relaxation.

By inhalation, aromatherapy is used for trouble sleeping (insomnia), stress, pain, anxiety, depression, dementia, agitation, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting after surgery, nausea and vomiting due to cancer medicines, migraine and other headaches, and many other uses. It is also used to promote a general feeling of well-being and to increase sexual desire (as an aphrodisiac).

By direct application to the skin, aromatherapy is used for hair loss (alopecia), pain, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other uses.

How does it work?

Smelling fragrant chemicals in plant essential oils is thought to affect the brain. Depending on the essential oil used, these effects may include feelings of relaxation, stress relief, calming, and other effects.

Inhaled aromas are thought to act much more quickly than applying essential oils to the skin or taking them by mouth.

But there is not enough scientific information to know how essential oils might work for specific medical conditions.

AROMATHERAPY Uses & Effectiveness What is this?

Possibly Effective for:

  • Hair loss, when applied to the scalp. Rosemary oil in combination with the essential oils from thyme, lavender, and cedarwood seems to improve hair growth by 44% after 7 months of treatment.

Possibly Ineffective for:

Insufficient Evidence for:

  • Agitation. Research results don’t agree about the effectiveness of lavender oil aromatherapy for treating agitation. In one study, nightly use of lavender oil in a bedside diffuser for 3 weeks reduced agitation in people with various types of dementia. However, continuous use of lavender oil on a pad attached to a person’s shirt had no effect on agitation in a small group of people with advanced dementia.
  • Anxiety. Developing evidence that suggests using bergamot oil as aromatherapy does not help reduce anxiety in people who are receiving radiation treatments for cancer or some other condition.
  • Depression. In mild-to-moderate depression, tincture of lavender appears to be slightly less effective than the prescription drug imipramine (Tofranil). Lavender might actually make imipramine work a little better.
  • Migraine headache. Some research suggests that rubbing 2 or 3 drops of lavender oil on the upper lip, so that the vapor is inhaled, might reduce migraine pain and nausea, and help stop the headache spreading.
  • Promoting a feeling of well-being. Preliminary clinical research suggests that adding 3 mL of a 20% lavender oil and 80% grapeseed oil mixture to daily baths produces some improvement in mood, compared with baths containing grapeseed oil alone.
  • Sleeplessness (insomnia). Some research suggests using lavender oil in a vaporizer overnight or on a gauze pad left beside the bed, might help some people with mild insomnia.
  • Nausea and vomiting due to surgery.
  • Nausea and vomiting due to cancer medicines.
  • Stress relief.
  • Pain.
  • Dementia.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Headache.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) .
  • Promoting relaxation.
  • Increasing sexual desire (as an aphrodisiac) .
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate aromatherapy for these uses.

AROMATHERAPY Side Effects & Safety

Aromatherapy seems to be safe for most adults when used by inhalation. Applying aromatherapy oils to warm bath water or vaporizing the fragrance through heating is not associated with significant side effects.

Applying aromatherapy oils to the skin in moderate amounts seems to be safe, but can sometimes cause skin irritation, depending on the oil being used. Aromatherapy oils should not be applied to large portions of the skin, in excessive amounts, or to broken skin. In some cases, this can result in severe side effects such as seizures and kidney problems.

Aromatherapy oils are not usually taken by mouth. Although this can sometimes be done safely, swallowing too much of the oil can be UNSAFE. Taking undiluted oil or taking too much of a diluted oil by mouth can sometimes cause severe side effects including seizures and life-threatening kidney problems.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of aromatherapy during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

AROMATHERAPY Interactions What is this?

Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination

  • Sedative medications (CNS depressants) interacts with AROMATHERAPY

    Some aromatherapies can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are called sedatives. Using some aromatherapies along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness.
    Some sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien), and many others.

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Conditions of Use and Important Information: This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor or health care professional before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your health care plan or treatment and to determine what course of therapy is right for you.

This copyrighted material is provided by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version. Information from this source is evidence-based and objective, and without commercial influence. For professional medical information on natural medicines, see Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Professional Version. © Therapeutic Research Faculty 2009.

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