Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work?
Everyone has heard about aromatherapy, but do you actually know what it is? Do you know how it works? And do you know what essential oils are?
There is a lot of mystery surrounding aromatherapy and essential oils, despite the fact they’ve been around for years.
The biggest mystery of them all is whether or not the whole thing works or whether it’s simply something which smells very nice and make you feel relaxed as a result.
It’s perfectly normal to be sceptical about something which has no firm and unchallengeable evidence to back it up, but more and more healthcare professionals are starting to come around to the possible advantages that essential oil use can bring.
There are countless studies which have been attempted in order to either prove or refute the power of essential oils, but whilst none of them have categorically stated that essential oils and aromatherapy aren’t beneficial, we can’t seem to tie down just how beneficial they are either.
Despite all the confusion, many studies have shown that certain essential oils have benefits for health and wellbeing when used in a certain way, and in a safe and careful way.
One of the biggest benefits shown in studies is antibacterial benefits of certain essential oils, which could help to manage certain health issues.
Before we get into the real debate over do essential oils really work, we need to pinpoint exactly what they are.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are derived from plants and flowers.
These are natural oils which occur within the plant or the flower and they oil is extracted using a variety of different methods.
The most common type of extraction is steam, which ensures that the oil remains in its purest state and isn’t altered in any way during the extraction method of choice.
There are countless different oils out there, but some of the most common are:
- Lavender oil
- Rose oil
- Lemon oil
- Ylang Ylang oil
- Bergamot oil
- Tea Tree oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Rosemary oil
- Peppermint Oil
- Jasmine oil
- Spearmint oil
- Frankincense oil
- Chamomile oil
- Patchouli oil
- Marjoram oil
- Sweet Orange oil
- Grapefruit oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Clary Sage oil
- Clove oil
- Cedar Wood oil
- Lime oil
- Lemon oil
- Sweet Basil oil
- Juniper oil
- Rose Geranium oil
- Elemi oil
- Sweet Ginger oil
- Citronella oil
- Wintergreen oil
- Pine oil
The list goes on.
Each type of oil has specific ailments which it is known to help with, and these vary between type, according to the specific properties contained within it.
When extracted from the plant or flower the oil is known as the “essence”, hence the name, essential oil.
Aromatherapy is the method of using the essential oils in order to bring about a pleasant feeling or relief from a specific ailment.
For instance, peppermint is renowned for boosting energy but also in order to aid digestion issues.
Lavender is ideal for stress relief and helping with sleep issues, whilst chamomile oil is known for its relaxation properties and to boost mood.
The list goes on here too, with lemon known to help with headaches, and tea tree thought to help boost the immune system.
In order to use essential oils you need to dilute the oil with something called a carrier oil.
The reason is because many oils are extremely potent when used neat, and can cause problems with skin or other issues (if you are considering using essential oils for massage).
Two of the most popular carrier oils are coconut oil and olive oil, and that means you’re not only getting the benefits of the essential oil, but the benefits of the carrier oil too.
The most common ways to use essential oils are via inhalation or used topically on the skin.
You should never ingest essential oils. The most common way is to inhale the oil, usually via a diffuser.
For instance, lavender is known to help with anxiety and when used via a diffuser, the scents make their way into the brain’s limbic system, therefore affecting mood.
Studies have shown that this part of the brain is linked with emotions and long-time memory, with the oil affecting the situation at source.
Now we know what essential oils are and how to use them, let’s explore the question of “do essential oils really work?”
Do Essential Oils Really Work?
Nobody can tell you 100% that essential oils do or don’t work, but many studies have gone into their benefits and come out with some seriously impressive results.
It seems that one of the most common uses for essential oils is for anxiety and stress.
We mentioned lavender as one of the essential oils for this, but there are several others you could think about using too.
Studies have shown some very positive benefits associated with anxiety and stress and essential oil use, either through inhalation or via massage.
When you use essential oils in conjunction with massage, this also gives you the health benefits of the massage at the same time.
Although most agree that the benefits aren’t long-lasting they will give you relief for a short time during and after the massage, and with regular use, the problem could be managed at source.
There are other benefits of essential oils aside from relaxation and stress/anxiety relief however.
Peppermint oil in particular has been found to be useful in helping with chronic headaches, but it is also known for its digestive health properties too.
By using this on a regular basis, many people find that they find relief from their symptoms, however you should only ever use this after discussion with your doctor.
Digestive symptoms can be due to a variety of different conditions and it is important to get a firm diagnosis and advice before moving forward with any type of holistic therapy and essential oil use.
Insomnia is a condition which is thought to be helped by the use of essential oils, especially lavender oil.
This can either be used via a diffuser and inhaled, a couple of drops placed into a warm bath before bed, or it can be rubbed onto the soles of the feet.
All methods have shown some benefit in terms of helping those affected by sleep problems nod off a little easier and perhaps stay asleep until morning, rather than continually waking up.
Many essential oils also contain antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits. Two of the most common are peppermint and tea tree oil.
We all know tea tree oil for use in regular health store products, especially for fighting pimples and acne too.
The antibacterial element is what helps in this regard, and although tea tree oil needs to be diluted down with a carrier oil before topical use on the skin it is thought to be extremely beneficial in helping to fight infection and bacteria in small areas.
Are There Any Side Effects?
The problem with essential oils is that they aren’t thought to be 100% safe for everyone and that means it’s vital you have a chat with your doctor before you start to use any type of aromatherapy practice or essential oil.
For the most part, there are few contraindications, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any!
Whilst all essential oils should be used with caution, lavender, tea tree oil, ylang ylang, and peppermint are known to be the ones which have the most reactions associated with them.
If you use these sparingly and carefully however, you should side-step any issues.
The main side effects of essential oils are:
- A rash in the area the oil was applied
- Respiratory problems, e.g. asthma attacks for those already suffering from the condition
- An increase in headaches
- An allergic type of reaction, whether used topically or inhaled
Without a doubt, the most common side effect noticed overall is a rash, and this is a generally mild problem which should clear up after you stop using the oil.
However, if you do notice a rash, make sure you stop using it straightaway and you seek medical advice, especially if it worsens.
If you are using cinnamon oil, you should also heed caution.
This particular oil is very rich in phenol content, which is known to cause irritation to the skin.
As a result, you should certainly combine this with a carrier oil before using it in any way.
The biggest no when using essential oils is to consume it orally.
Whilst you will hear of people making teas with essential oil, e.g. peppermint tea, these are not made directly from the oil itself and ingesting an essential oil could cause severe problems.
These oils are naturally derived from a plant or flower and whilst you might think that means they’re gentle and nature-based, that doesn’t mean they’re not extremely potent!
Ingesting an essential oil puts you at risk of burning of the throat and digestive tract – not something you want to invite into your life!
If you are advised to ingest any type of essential oil by a trained aromatherapist, this will be under strict supervision and it will certainly be extremely diluted down.
For this reason, you should never consume essential oils yourself and you should stick with the main methods of inhalation via a diffuser or simply breathing in the vapours, or by using it topically on the skin, certainly diluted with a carrier oil.
Just because something comes from Mother Nature, that doesn’t mean it is completely safe.
Essential oils are very powerful, which is why they have so many reputed health benefits.
In order to get the best from them, you need to use them in a safe and careful way.
Always respect nature and it will give you the benefits you seek!
Main Points to Bear in Mind
There is no way to tell you that essential oils work 100% of the time and for everyone who tries them, but the research results have certainly shown some very advantageous points.
Some people use essential oils and don’t seem to find much benefit from them, whilst others use them all the time.
What you should remember is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer here, so one person could gain fantastic results from aromatherapy and essential oils, whilst another might struggle to see the worth.
It’s also down to finding the right essential oil for you.
There are many different oil and all have different properties.
As a result, they all have specific things which they are thought to be useful for.
If you choose an oil which isn’t directly associated with the ailment you want to improve, you’re not going to find the greatest benefit from it!
As as result, research is key.
By understanding the different properties of the various oils, you’ll have a much greater chance of finding the perfect fit for your specific ailments.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s also vital that you speak to your doctor before using essential oils, especially if you have any specific medical problems or conditions, or if you’re taking regular medications.
It’s impossible to say whether a specific oil will interfere with a specific medication, and only a trained medical professional will be able to give you that advice.
For the most part however, more and more medical professionals are opening up to the idea of essential oils and their benefits.
Many health care practices now offer aromatherapy sessions, including for pregnant women, patients who are undergoing chemotherapy, and those who are suffering from anxiety and depression.
This is all undertaken by a trained aromatherapist however, so always ensure that if you do have a condition, you go down the supervised route first of all.
So, do essential oils really work?
We’re still waiting for the 100% yes on that one, but studies rarely give us a conclusive yes or no anyway!
With that in mind, we would have to say that yes, essential oils are very beneficial for a range of different health ailments and concerns, when used in the right way and under the direct supervision of a trained professional.
By ensuring that you choose the right oil and you use it in the right way, you give yourself the best chance of attaining those health benefits essential oils are known for, in a very natural and pleasant-scented way!