What is Aromatherapy?

You may have heard of aromatherapy, but do you know what it actually is? Do you know how it works? What is it used for?


If not, this article should answer all of the above and more!


What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy, also referred to as essential oil therapy, is used as part of holistic healing. It uses natural plant extracts and essential oils to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellbeing.


Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years. It was first used back in 3500 BC for medical and religious purposes. It was used extensively in Ancient Chinese and Indian medicine as well as in various balms and oils.


It wasn’t until the 19th century that medicine turned towards using more synthetic and chemical-based drugs to treat illness. But even then, the use of plant extracts in medicine still remained.


Perfume-makers began incorporating more essential oils into their formulations to add extra scent and medicinal benefits to their products. Scientists began looking at the potential antiseptic properties of certain plants, such as cinnamon, turmeric, clove, and oregano.


It wasn’t until 1937 that the term ‘aromatherapy’ was first noted by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. He worked in a laboratory and accidentally discovered the therapeutic effects of pure lavender 27 years prior in 1910.


He had a major accident in his lab and suffered severe burns. He treated these burns using the lavender oil in his lab and noticed that it was extremely effective in aiding the healing process.


Maurice went on to publish his findings and his work sparked a huge interest in the use of plant extract oils in medicine and therapy. More and more scientists started looking at the incredible healing properties of plant compounds.


After this, in the 1950s, military physicians used essential oils to treat soldiers and pharmacologists started studying the chemical properties of plant compounds to see how they could benefit humans in various mediations and treatments.


Fast forward to the 21st century and aromatherapy is extremely popular. It is recognized as its own branch of medicine and is widely studied by scientists, pharmacologists, perfumers, and more.


How Does Aromatherapy Work?

Aromatherapy works by activating the senses, in particular your sense of smell. It also works through skin absorption. There are several ways that it works, and these methods are often used in combination for optimal healing effects.

  • Diffusers and inhalers
  • Bath salts
  • Body oils, creams, lotions, and balms
  • Hot and cold compresses
  • Clay masks

Diffusers release vaporized oil droplets that you inhale. This activates your olfactory system and the associated areas of your brain. The inhaled molecules enter your body and go on to influence your limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for your emotions, breathing, hormonal balance, and memory. This is how aromatherapy can enhance health throughout the whole body.


Aromatherapy oils can also be applied directly to the skin to maximize absorption. Simply massaging the oils onto the skin can stimulate its absorption into your body through the pores in your skin. When the oils enter your body this way, they produce similar effects as those that are inhaled.


Note that essential oils should not be ingested or placed directly in the mouth. The oils may potentially damage the liver or kidneys if taken orally.


Benefits of Aromatherapy

Although aromatherapy doesn’t provide a cure for diseases, it can be extremely effective as part of a holistic treatment plan alongside additional medicinal treatments and therapies.


The main benefits of aromatherapy include

  • Reduced pain
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Better digestive health
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Reduced incidence and severity of headaches
  • Decreased pain during labor
  • Improved immune function
  • Reduced side effects of chemotherapy treatment

What Are the Main Essential Oils Used in Aromatherapy?

According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the most popular essential oils used in aromatherapy are the following. Most of the time, these essential oils will be used in combination to enhance their effects.

  • Clary sage
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Helichrysum
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Mandarin
  • Neroli
  • Patchouli
  • Peppermint
  • Roman chamomile
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree
  • Vetiver
  • Ylang ylang

What Are the Essential Oils Good For?

Essential oils provide several health benefits. Each oil has unique properties and effects on the body, which provides incredible health benefits when used in combination as part of a holistic treatment plan.


When essential oils are used in massage-based aromatherapy, they are mixed with a carrier oil to enable easy application onto the skin. Your skin is still able to absorb the aromatherapy oils, so you still get the benefits of the essential plant extractions.


If you’re getting a massage, you will also gain the physical and mental benefits that human touch can bring too, such as muscle relaxation, reduced muscle tightness, and increased serotonin and oxytocin.


Here is a breakdown of some of the most common essential oils that are used in aromatherapy, and how they can boost your physical or mental health.


  • Basil essential oil can enhance your concentration and may boost your mood to reduce symptoms of depression. It has been shown to reduce the incidence of migraines or headaches. Basil essential oil should not be taken during pregnancy.
  • Bergamot essential oil can improve your digestive health and urinary tract health. It is often used in combination with eucalyptus oil that can reduce skin problems.
  • Black pepper essential oil can be used to boost circulation and reduce muscle and joint aches. It is combined with ginger essential oil to decrease inflammation around the joints, which can reduce pain in those with arthritis and improve flexibility.
  • Clove essential oil is often used to treat tooth pain as it has natural analgesic (pain-killing) effects. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties, so may help to boost the immune system.
  • Eucalyptus essential oil is popular in many toiletry products and herbal remedies for congestion, colds, and other viral infections. It can help to clear the airways and enhance breathing abilities. Be careful with eucalyptus, as many people are allergic to it!
  • Lavender essential oil can improve sleep quality and enhance relaxation. It has been shown to reduce the severity of headaches and migraines and may be used as an antiseptic to treat small cuts or burns.
  • Rosemary essential oil is great for promoting hair growth, improving circulation and nerve function, and enhancing memory.
  • Tea tree essential oil is another one that is commonly incorporated into cosmetics and toiletry products. It is also used to treat acne and burns and may have antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
  • Thyme essential oil may be beneficial to reduce fatigue and stress.

Final Thoughts

It’s worth giving essential oils a go to experience their many physical, mental, and spiritual health benefits yourself. When you decide to start aromatherapy treatment, you must always consult a professional before you start using any essential oils.


Remember that aromatherapy is beneficial as part of a holistic treatment plan, and it is not made to replace any treatment plan that has been prescribed by a medical professional.