Probably the most commonplace use of essential oils is in aromatherapy. No longer found only in new-age spas and in hippie hideouts between a neon lava lamp and psychedelic tapestry, essential oil diffusers have become rather mainstream. In a culture greatly interested in self-care, aromatherapy is a great way to both relax and make a space smell nice. Oil diffusers today can be found in homes, schools, offices, the steam room at the gym, and many other public spaces.
The market for essential oils continues to grow and is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2022.1 For good reasons. Aromatherapy (direct inhalation) is the quickest and most effective way to absorb terpenes, which explains why a breath of fresh fo;rest air can be so refreshing. Inhaling terpene vapors can have an immediate impact on the body and mind. Within seconds, these vapors affect our senses and have profound impacts on our bodies.
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, aromatherapy, also referred to as essential oil therapy, can be defined as the “…art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process.”2
Aromatherapy is said to have originated long ago in ancient times with the Chinese and the Greeks; however, the modern term of aromatherapy originated from a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1937. Gattefosse used lavender oil to cure a burn he sustained while working in his parents’ cosmetic firm. This inspired a lifetime of work studying the use and benefit of essential oils.
The use of aromatic plants in medicine dates back to texts published in 2800 BC in China. These works outlined the power of plants, herbs, and spices and even included the stimulating effects of orange and the healing qualities of ginger. Later, in Ancient Egypt, the first collection of medical knowledge included the benefits of aromatic plants and their extracts on the body – both internally and externally – as well as on the mind and soul. Plants were regularly burned as an offering to the gods and oil extractions were used to embalm their royalty after they have died.
Aromatic herbs are well-known for their impact on the mind and some believe it is the herbs’ various scents and not their chemical composition that exert these mind-enhancing effects. Aromatherapy is a warm, embracing therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, reduce the effects of stress and restore lost balance to the mind and body. Because the olfactory receptors are connected to the limbic system and affect emotion, it stands to reason that aromatherapy can not only affect the mind and body, but also our emotional state as well.
A 2011 Yale Scientific article on aromatherapy written by Cynthia Deng states, “While there may be evidence for aromatherapy’s mood-altering effects, scientific proof for physiological improvements is lacking. Most of the evidence for reducing pain and decreasing healing times is anecdotal rather than scientifically grounded.” Later, Deng writes, “…few reliable scientific studies have been conducted, but a study from the Mie University School of Medicine found that patients with depression needed smaller doses of antidepressant medications after citrus fragrance treatment.”3
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with aromatherapy, and essential oils in general, is that there is little comprehensive and conclusive research on the topic. Public opinion varies wildly, and the jury is still out for many credible scientific authorities on whether the physiological effects many claim to boast are genuine or placebo. Also, the fact that there is no professional standardization in the U.S. and no license required to practice aromatherapy can create credibility issues. While aromatherapy is not incredibly technical or complicated, it just takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. In other words, anyone can claim they know what they’re doing, as there is no requisite or license to becoming an ‘aromatherapist.’ Also a lack of federal regulation on essential oil products can lead to consumers purchasing bunk products which are ineffective, inadequate, perishable which leave a negative impression in first-time users.
From her book, Aromatherapy for Sensual Living: Essential Oils for the Ecstatic Soul, Elana Millman writes, “Aromatherapy in lovemaking inspires us to slow down and enjoy the process of creation with our beloved. It takes time to smell, create, drop, and blend together. Slowness and anticipation of what’s to come is part of the fun. Savor the moment or, with luck, hours.” While the physiological effects of aromatherapy have yet to be verified, essential oils can affect our perception, boost our senses, and elicit feelings of euphoria, love, and warmth. Oils like jasmine and ylang-ylang are used as aphrodisiacs, so if you’d like to spice up your night, add 15 drops of each to your diffuser and savor the tender, intimate feelings which arise. Terpenes are a great way to transcend touch and include all of your senses by including smell and taste into your intimate experience. Inhalation is just one of the many avenues through which terpenes may be absorbed in the body to work their wonders. The hardest part of aromatherapy is simply deciding which essential oil or terpene isolate to diffuse. Click the hyperlink to find a comprehensive list of essential oils and terpene isolates, and their physiological benefits. Click here if you’re more interested in scents and combining certain essential oils or terpenes to create a flavorful and personalized scents.
Citations:1 - "Aromatherapy Market Size Worth $2.8 Billion By 2026." Grand View Research, Apr. 2019, www.grandviewresearch.com/press-release/global-aromatherapy-market.
2 - "What is Aromatherapy?" National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, NAHA, naha.org/ explore-aromatherapy/about-aromatherapy/what-is-aromatherapy.3 - Deng, Cynthia. "Aromatherapy: Exploring Olfaction." Yale Scientific, www.yalescientific.org/2011/11/ aromatherapy-exploring-olfaction/.