What is Aromatherapy?

With trendy products like aromatherapy rollerballs, diffusers, and bath bombs popping up in stores, many people have been left wondering what is aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is the inhalation of fragrant essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Aromatherapy is also most widely used for anxiety, stress relief, and relaxation. While research still needs to be done, some studies point to levels of effectiveness of the use of aromatherapy for anxiety and other calming effects. According to Harpreet Gujral—program director of integrative medicine at Sibley Memorial Hospital—when essential oils are inhaled, “scent molecules from the volatile compounds travel from the olfactory nerves directly to the brain and impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.” 


Inhalation, local application, and lotions are the most common methods used in the delivery of aromatherapy.  Some of the most common aromatherapy devices include wax melters, diffusers, candles, and pure essential oils. More and more adaptations of aromatherapy are entering the market through new non-traditional product lines. One product category that’s currently integrating aromatherapy is the wax melt market. Wax melts are bite-sized pieces of wax that—upon being warmed—release fragrance molecules into the air. Some wax melt companies are now taking on the aromatherapy trend by making their wax melts with essential oils. Once heated, the essential oils release the volatile compounds. 


How aromatherapy essential oils are made

To understand the process of aromatherapy, you need to understand how aromatherapy essential oils are made. Aromatherapy oils or essential oils are obtained through the distillation of organic compounds like flowers, roots and other essential plants. Volatile oils are extracted from flowers, leaves, roots, and other parts of plants—which are then distilled into an essential oil. After that, the volatile oils are combined with a solvent, and ultimately, the solvent becomes infused with the botanical materials. The composition of the volatile compounds is what produces the effects we know as aromatherapy. The solution that remains at the end of the process is the essential oil liquid that’s then bottled or mixed with another form for fragrance delivery, like a candle or wax melt. 


How to choose the right product

When looking for products that you can use to deploy aromatherapy, make sure to look for products that include essential oils. In a recent article published by Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Dr. Gujral states that consumers should be wary when using essential oil diffusers, and advises against this method of application. When looking for a product to integrate aromatherapy into your life, we recommend choosing a product that has the essential oils already built-in, so you decrease overexposure or waste. Some traditional aromatherapy products—such as certain essential oil vials—can be messy and hard to measure out the appropriate amount of essential oils that you need to create the experience. Additionally, essential-oil vials can be expensive—running as much as $20 a bottle. We recommend that you choose a fragrance product that has 


Evidence that aromatherapy works

Several clinical studies point to the positive effects of using fragrance as a means to alter the mood. One study published in Phytotherapy Research examined the effects of using bergamot essential oils in a mental health treatment center (The Green House Center for Growth and  Learning) as a means to reduce anxiety for patients. Compared to the control group, researchers found that participants who were exposed to bergamot essential oils reported a 48.77% higher score of feeling “proud.” Furthermore, there is an entire study designated to record the relationship between psychology and fragrance that could help researchers further explore the relationship between aromatherapy and mood. Aromachology is the study of the relationship between psychology and fragrance. The focus is on “the temporary effects of stimuli that are mediated by the olfactory pathways.”  

To put it simply, it is the study of ways different fragrances affect your mood. While the idea of aromachology is relatively new, there are some studies that point to the use of fragrance to enhance or even alter your mood. There are several clinical studies that point to the positive effects of using fragrance as a means to affect mood.  In a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, researchers examined the effects of lavender essential-oil intake through steam distillation. During this six-week study, researchers compared the effects of lavender intake on generalized anxiety disorder. The control group—who also suffered from generalized anxiety order—was given their usual medication of 0.5 mg/daily lorazepam. Alleviation of anxiety and mood improvement were reported in 36 patients who received aromatherapy (Dunn). Furthermore, a survey in a long-stay neurology inpatient department showed further increased mood scores and reduced psychological distress following aromatherapy with lavender accompanied with tea tree and rosemary (Walsh). One of the most popular uses of aromatherapy is to relieve symptoms of anxiety. While research still needs to be done, some products that include lavender essential oils may be effective in combating anxiety. 


Given some of the feedback in aromatherapy research, it’s safe to say that there does seem to be evidence pointing to a relationship between fragrance and mood. We recommend creating a space with intentional fragrance in mind—whether it be using a citrus fragrance to put a pep in your step or lavender to unwind, creating an intentional space can certainly help motivate and propel your goals. 




 



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