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The Mind and Body Benefits of Aromatherapy

From relieving pain to reducing stress, the scents from nature could help you feel better
Written by 
Nina Malkin

Many scented beauty and home products list “aromatherapy” on their labels. While they may make your hair or your bedroom smell nice, the benefits of the holistic therapy they boast are much greater. While scientists are still studying the effects of the ancient practice of aromatherapy—engaging your sense of smell through the use of essential oils naturally extracted from flowers, leaves, fruit, bark and roots—studies show that it has true healing benefits for both physical and emotional concerns.


Breathing in the scent of essential oils activates the brain’s limbic system, which, among other functions, controls your emotions. The properties of these oils also stimulate your central nervous system, which monitors your internal organs and transmits signals to your glands and muscles. Different oils deliver different benefits, and they are carefully chosen depending on the concerns you have. Some can help lift your mood, reduce anxiety, relax or energize you. Others can improve concentration, relieve pain, boost your sex drive and more. 

Whether you’re interested in experiencing aromatherapy during a professional session or would like to learn how to use essential oils at home, a treatment may be delivered by:

  • Inhalation: An essential oil can be released into the air so that it can be easily and safely breathed in; essential oils are usually too potent to be sniffed as is. This can be done using tools such as an aromatherapy lamp, nebulizer or diffuser, or by simply diluting oil in a room spritzer solution.
     
  • Topical application: You may experience the application of essential oils during therapies such as massage, reflexology, acupuncture or Reiki. Too powerful to be applied directly to the skin, essential oils are often mixed with a carrier oil before being applied. At home, they can also be added sparingly to bathwater or lotion to safeguard against irritation.


Commonly Used Essential Oils

There are many options to consider, but here are some popular ones:

  • Bergamot is a citrus-scented oil that helps lower stress and anxiety levels.
     
  • Cedarwood has a woody fragrance. While its scent can help you relax, it can also aid in respiratory problems.
     
  • Chamomile, often consumed in tea, is known for its calming effects. But this essential oil can also help lift your mood.
     
  • Eucalyptus has cooling qualities and is used as a natural decongestant in those who suffer from respiratory ailments.
     
  • Jasmine is a sweet-smelling essential oil used to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as boost libido.
     
  • Lavender, soothing and calming, is often used for relaxation and to ease insomnia.
     
  • Lemon not only increases energy and focus, but boosts your immune system and promotes healthy digestion.
     
  • Peppermint is energizing and refreshing, and it can improve concentration and help relieve headaches and nausea.
     
  • Rosemary is a stimulating essential oil that can boost mental activity and sharpen your focus. It’s also used to ease pain and cramping.
     
  • Sandalwood can help release tension and increase your sex drive.
     
  • Tea tree oil can have an uplifting effect and help calm your mind.

An aromatherapy expert can help you figure what treatment may be best for you. (Search the directory of the Aromatherapy Registration Council to find a certified aromatherapist near you.) A qualified practitioner will interview you about your health conditions and concerns to guide you toward the right essential oils for your needs.

Reference(s) 
Aromatherapy Registration Council
Dartmouth Medical School
National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
National Cancer Institute
National Institutes of Health
NYU Langone Medical Center
School of Public Health, UC Berkeley
University of Maryland Medical Center
About the author 
Nina Malkin is a novelist and journalist who has written about beauty and wellness for publications such as Elle, In Style and The Los Angeles Times Magazine.