Do Essential Oils Really Work? And Why?
How to Know if Aromatherapy Is Working
Aromatherapy is a type of alternative or holistic medicine that utilizes essential oils. The perfumes released from the oils not only smell good, they can have a positive impact on your mental health and overall well-being, useful as supplemental therapies for everything from nausea to sleep deprivation to dementia care. Ensure that your aromatherapy is as effective as it can be by learning how to assess and adjust the oils and treatments involved.
Assessing Your Current Therapy
Research your oil’s uses.Essential oils are concentrated extracts derived from medicinal plants. Each essential oil has unique active ingredients that have specific therapeutic effects with benefits for the body and/or mind. Make sure that you are using the right one(s) for your needs by looking into their particular purposes.
- A list of the most common essential oils and their uses is available here:
- The most reliable way to do research is to purchase or check out an authoritative reference book on essential oils. Try one that’s written by a certified aromatherapist or professional researcher, such as The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy or Aromatherapy for Every Day.
- If you’re not using the correct oil, find the right one by searching for an essential oil that corresponds with your needs; for example, “essential oil for arthritis.”
Assess your oil’s therapeutic results.If you’re using aromatherapy to address a specific mental or physical condition, analyze its efficacy by keeping a log to track its effectiveness at treating your symptoms.
- Be sure to give your aromatherapy treatment a fair trial by using it for at least a week to see if the results vary. Keep notes for each day’s use(s) to analyze if there’s an overall benefit.
- For instance, if you’re using lavender to help address anxiety, take notes about the degree to which it’s making you feel calmer and for how long its effects are lasting. If you’re using gardenia to alleviate the symptoms associated with menopause, take note if it’s helping with your agitation, headaches, and/or hot flashes.
Consider any side effects.Usually, if administered correctly, aromatherapy has minimal side effects. However, you should be alert to anything that may compromise your experience or undermine the efficacy of a treatment or its effectiveness.
- Some of the rare side effects people have recorded include rashes or other skin irritations, asthma, and headaches.
- Essential oils may also interact negatively with certain medications, like pentobarbital or amphetamine. Be sure to check with your doctor if you’re using aromatherapy in conjunction with any prescriptions.
Make sure you’re using the best method for your needs.There are a variety of ways to administer aromatherapy, such as body oils, bath salts, or vaporizers. Some may be more effective than others at addressing your needs.
- For instance, if you’re using aromatherapy to alleviate muscle aches, you should be using a topical application like massage oils. If you’re going for mental, cognitive, or emotional benefits, vapor methods like a diffuser will be the most effective.
- Keep in mind that many popular products, like candles and beauty products, that advertise themselves as aromatherapy often contain synthetic fragrances and/or are probably not efficacious treatments. For aromatherapy tools to be effective, they need to include a natural essential oil derived from plants.
Comparing Delivery Methods
Try topical applications.The most common delivery methods for aromatherapy are topical applications of solutions, such as compresses or massage oils, that include small amounts of essential oils. Mix a few drops of essential oil into a carrier liquid like water or mild cold-pressed oils, and apply it to your skin.
- The general guidelines for mixing topical solutions is that you should add 1-3 drops of essential oil for each teaspoon of your carrier liquid. Never exceed a 5% concentration of essential oils in your mix. Then, you can either rub your solution directly onto your skin or pour it over a clean towel to apply as a compress.
- If you’re using an oil for your carrier liquid, it’s best to use ones that aren’t strongly scented, such as jojoba, grapeseed, or avocado oil.
- If you’re using water, be sure to shake your solution before using it since oil and water do not stay mixed.
- If you don’t want to mix your own, there are plenty of products that offer pre-made topical solutions, such as massage oils, lotions, and body sprays. Be sure that they have at least a 1% concentration of actual essential oil.
- This delivery method allows you to inhale the essential oil’s perfume. It is also a useful treatment for acute skin conditions, like minor cuts and burns, since essential oils have antimicrobial properties.
- Because essential oils can be hazardous to your health or easily cause skin irritations when they’re applied incorrectly or in too great of concentrations, there are some risks associated with topical application methods.
Use a vapor method.Use a diffuser or steam bath to vaporize the oil so that you can breathe it in. These applications allow you to inhale essential oil vapors into your nostrils, which can directly stimulate the targeted neural receptors in your brain.
- Electronic diffusers offer a high-tech tool for the vapor method. Once you fill their reservoirs with essential oil, they will facilitate the timed release of its vapors for you to inhale. You can generally program their running time to last anywhere from 5-12 hours.
- For a shorter, DIY vapor delivery method, add 1-2 drops of essential oil to a steaming bowl of recently boiled water. Keep your eyes shut tight, and drape a towel over your head and the edges of a bowl to form a loose tent. Breathe in the steam as long as it lasts.
- Vapor methods are among the safest and most direct ways to deliver aromatherapy.
Try an inhalation patch.This sticky patch comes with a pouch that is already filled with essential oils. Apply the sticky side to your skin according to the instructions on the package. This adhesive back-side will prevent the oil from leaking through while the opposite, porous side slowly releases essential oil vapors over the course of the day as they’re activated by your body heat.
- Since this method only exposes you to the vapor without letting the oil penetrate your skin, it’s considered among the safest and most effective delivery systems for aromatherapy.
- Aromatherapy patches are available from a number of companies, such as Bioesse, Wyndmere Aromatherapy, and Natural Patches of Vermont. The kinds of oils available and duration of their release will vary by company, with the effects lasting anywhere from 6 to 24 hours.
Keep a log to compare each method.You can figure out which application works best for you by keeping notes that record the pros and cons of each. Try each method at least three times to be sure that your observations are consistent. Once you’ve tried each, use your log to determine which type of aromatherapy suits your needs the best.
- When assessing the pros and cons of each delivery method, take both their practical logistics and therapeutic outcomes into consideration.
- For instance, if you’re taking notes in your log about the inhalation patch, you might list “easy to use, long-lasting, non-messy, and very effective at reducing agitation” as the pros and “expensive, limited options, and not effective as a sleeping aid” as the cons.
- When making your final decision, be sure to weigh the effectiveness, convenience, and cost of the various delivery methods. If you find two are similarly effective, go for the one that’s cheaper or more convenient.
Adjusting Your Therapy
Try a different oil.Many essential oils have overlapping therapeutic uses. If one is not working for you, try another that’s designated for the same purpose but might have slightly different active ingredients.
- For instance, if you’ve been using bergamot oil to lift your mood and alleviate depression, you might try using camomile instead.
- Keep in mind that the quality of your essential oil might also play a role in its effectiveness, so you might just want to try a different brand. The plant content, production process, and packaging can all affect quality. In general, quality products will list the scientific name and origin of the plant, include a statement of purity, and not be offered at a significantly discounted price.
Change your delivery method.If topical solutions are not having the desired effect(s), try an inhalation patch instead to see if it makes a difference. If you are having adverse side-effects from a particular delivery method, switch to one that will minimize them.
Adjust your dosing.You can do this either by altering the amount of essential oil used or the duration of your exposure to it.
- For instance, if you’re using a topical application with a 1% concentration of essential oil, you might consider increasing the concentration to 3% if the lower dose is having no effect.
- If you’re using a steam bath to inhale oil vapors, you might consider switching to a diffuser or inhalation patch that will release those vapors more slowly over a longer period of time.
Consult with a clinical aromatherapist.Clinical aromatherapists hold Masters of Science degrees in aromatherapy. Make an appointment with one to get their recommendations about the most effective treatments for your needs.
- Never ingest essential oils or apply them to your body in an undiluted form unless you are told to do so by a medical doctor.
- Aromatherapy is not a substitute for doctor's advice or prescribed medicines.
- Read all warnings accompanying aromatherapy products; do not misuse them. In particular, be alert to possible effects if used in conjunction with prescribed medicines. Always talk to your health professional first.
- It’s generally recommended that pregnant women should avoid using essential oils since it is unknown what effect(s) they may have on fetuses.
Video: Dangers of Essential Oils: Top 10 Essential Oil Mistakes to Avoid
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