How Does Aromatherapy Produce Health Benefits?

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils have been designated as forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by national organizations that regulate Public Health around the globe. Because of this distinction, it is occasionally presumed that there is no scientific basis behind the use of essential oils for health reasons. In some countries such as France, Essential Oils can only be prescribed for ingestion by a licensed practicing physician. Obviously, this is not the case in the United States where essential oils are unregulated and not classified as a nutritional supplement. In the United States, any entrepreneur can use the term aromatherapy on any given product for any given reason. Given the diversity of approaches to the utilization and administration of essential oils around the globe, it is not surprising that many consumers and practitioners adopt a subjective approach to the use of aromatherapy and essential oils for a variety of reasons.

The Tried and True application of Essential Oils

There are two scientifically backed ways in which essential oils can produce health benefits that are considered ‘mainstream’ by both branches of health care! The accepted models for the scientific application of aromatherapy are thru the sense of smell via the olfactory system and via the dermal application of essential oils to the skin.

The Olfactory Delivery Method

Respiration is the clinical term for an inward breath. When using essential oils we often get lost in a fragrance and never pause to note that along with the pleasant aroma, we are pulling in nutrients that will detoxify our bodies, provide our muscles with fuel, aid digestion and allow us to speak and vocalize the pleasures associated with scent. The sense of smell and taste are chemically based and lend themselves to a biological based view of the brain and psychology. This is an often overlooked factor in discussions about aromatherapy and natural health philosophy.

Popular olfactory delivery methods are diverse. Aromatherapy patches for various emotional aliments are now found at specialty retailers and on ebay. Diffusers for the home are also widely available. I am a fan of cleaning products that incorporate essential oils such as Thymes and Caldrea. Essential Oils can be used in bath and body preparations, laundry and cleaning supplies, make up and even in plastics so that our noses are saved from the unpleasant smells of industry.

The Dermal Application Method

Dermal or topical application of essential oils is typically accomplished by diluting the essence in a carrier oil, such as grape seed, almond, apricot, or coconut oil. Due to the fact that essential oils are unregulated in the United States and the fact that there is no universal standard for determining the ‘purity’ of essential oils without a given context, knowing how many drops of an essential oil should or must be used to achieve a certain result is typically defined by private industry rather than health care in most of the Western world.

Contraindications for the undiluted use of essential oils are common and are typically limited to citrus oils and to exotic derivatives such as Mugwort and Wormwood. These essential oils are typically utilized by aromatherapy experts and certified practioners and again, the quality of the training of these practitioners varies.

Massage is perhaps the most popular and well known method of dermal application. Essential oils can also be applied directly to some kinds of infection sites and wounds. One of the highlights of aromatherapy history is descriptive of this. René-Maurice Gattefossé was a French chemist who developed gangrene after a horrible burn accident. He successfully treated his wounds using lavender oil in the 1920’s. While no pictures of his hands before and after the incident have been published, the story remains a popular tale.

A Note of Caution

At present, American research on the ingestion of essential oils is not available to a wide audience and presumably limited to private industry that as yet, has not subjected the research to the peer review publishing process. Any thorough search of the English speaking web will reveal a complete lack of agreement about almost every detail regarding the oral administration of essential oils. As the American Wall Street scandals and housing bubble of the early 2000’s have demonstrated, reputation alone is no reason to not thoroughly research any organization or company that you choose to invest in. This is also true of health issues. If you choose to follow the recommendations of a company that promotes oral ingestion of essential oils remember the old adage: Buyer Beware!