Why do essential oils work?

Aromatherapy is thought to stimulate the smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions. Many essential oils have been shown to be safe when used as directed. Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for therapeutic benefits. Aromatherapy has been used for centuries.

When inhaled, the aromatic molecules of essential oils travel from the olfactory nerves directly to the brain and especially affect the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. Different factors can affect the absorption of essential oils through the skin. If you first massage the area, it will increase circulation in that area, thus causing an increase in the absorption of essential oils. Heat will also increase circulation and therefore improve absorption.

Some food recipes require essential oil such as orange, but always monitor the dosage and follow the instructions closely. California dermatologist Bailey has seen rashes on her eyelids from droplets of essential oils emitted by diffusers, around mouths by mouthwashes or lip balms infused with peppermint oil, and dime-sized blisters on her toes from using undiluted tea tree oil for fungus on the toes. But using rosemary oil also has some additional benefits, such as improving brain function, promoting hair growth, reducing pain and stress, improving mood, and reducing joint inflammation. Essential oils can have a positive impact on your health and well-being as long as you use them safely.

But thanks to a growing number of studies showing how they work, hospitals and clinics are increasingly using oils to relieve stress, pain and nausea, and even to prevent pressure ulcers. Undiluted essential oils are very potent, and direct skin contact with certain oils can lead to inflammation and a severe rash that requires medical intervention. The active chemicals in essential oils are absorbed just like the ingredients in common pharmaceutical products, such as hormone replacement therapy cream and nicotine patches. Oral ingestion of essential oils is NOT recommended for the general public because a wealth of knowledge and experience about essential oils is needed for safe practice.

A range of essential oils have been found to have varying degrees of antimicrobial activity and are believed to have antiviral, nematicidal, antifungal, insecticidal and antioxidant properties. The results on the other possible benefits of essential oils, such as mood elevators or pain relievers, are more varied. Currently, there is no evidence-supported research showing any disease that can be cured through the use of essential oils or the practice of aromatherapy. In 1997, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defined an essential oil as a “product obtained from vegetable raw materials, either by distillation with water or steam, or from the epicarp of citrus fruits by a mechanical process or by dry distillation.

An aromatherapist is not the same as a massage therapist, although a massage therapist can use aromatherapy oils. The quality of essential oils on the market varies greatly, from pure essential oils to those diluted with less expensive ingredients. And since the FDA doesn't test oils for safety before selling them, it's critical that consumers opt for a trusted brand.