What Is Aromatherapy?

If you need improvement in health problems from anxiety to poor sleep, you may want to consider aromatherapy. In this kind of treatment, you use extracts from plants called essential oils, by either breathing them through your nose or putting them on your skin. Some people put the oils on their skin when they get a massage or take a bath.

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are made from flower, herb, and tree parts, like bark, roots, peels, and petals. The cells that give a plant its fragrant smell are its "essence." When an essence is extracted from a plant, it becomes an essential oil.

It takes a lot of plant product to make essential oils. More than 200 pounds of lavender flowers are used to make just 1 pound of lavender essential oil.

Not all products made with plant essence are essential oils. True essential oils aren't blended with other chemicals or fragrances. They're made using a specific process that doesn't change the chemistry of the plant.

Lemon, chamomile, lavender, cedarwood, and bergamot are a few of the essential oils used regularly in aromatherapy.

How Aromatherapy Works

Experts think aromatherapy activates areas in your nose called smell receptors, which send messages through your nervous system to your brain.

The oils may activate certain areas of your brain, like your limbic system, which plays a role in your emotions. They could also have an impact on your hypothalamus, which may respond to the oil by creating feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin.

Some experts think that when you put essential oils on your skin, they cause a response in your skin and other parts of your body, like your joints.

What Is Aromatherapy Used For?

You shouldn't use aromatherapy instead of your regular medical treatment. But for some conditions, research shows that aromatherapy can have health benefits. It may:

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Is It Safe?

Aromatherapy is generally safe. Essential oils can cause side effects, though. Some can irritate your eyes, skin, or mucous membranes in your nose. They can also cause mild allergic reactions.

If you drink some essential oils they can hurt your kidneys or liver. It's rare that people take essential oils by mouth, and you shouldn't do it unless your doctor says it's OK.

If you're new to aromatherapy, work with an aromatherapist or your doctor. And keep in mind that essential oils aren't regulated by the FDA, which means that unlike drugs, the agency doesn't check to see if they're safe or work the way they're supposed to.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on January 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health: "Aromatherapy."

Mayo Clinic: "What are the benefits of aromatherapy?"

National Cancer Institute: "Aromatherapy and Essential Oils."

University of Minnesota: "How Do Essential Oils Work?"

FDA: "Aromatherapy."

Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine: "Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review."

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