Exploring Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy goes far beyond using potpourri or burning a scented candle. It’s the use of essential oils created from the aromatic portions of a plant (such as the leaves, blossom, bark, or root) for psychological and physical well-being. The “aroma” of these essential oils is typically inhaled or applied to the skin.

How Does Aromatherapy Work?

It’s not entirely clear how aromatherapy works. Some experts believe our sense of smell plays a role, and other researchers think the molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.

The “smell” receptors in your nose communicate with the parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storage areas for emotions and memories. When you inhale essential oil molecules, some researchers believe they stimulate the parts of your brain that influence physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, scientists believe lavender stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work, which makes you relaxed.

Incorporating Essential Oils

Essential oils can be incorporated via a massage, your bath, or by burning it using an oil diffuser.

When applied to the skin, the oils are absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s very important to note, essential oils should never be applied to the skin in their undiluted form since they’re so powerful and concentrated. To apply essential oils to the skin, they’re typically diluted into a carrier such as a vegetable oil or lotion. Common carrier oils include sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil and grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. The choice of carrier oil depends on the therapeutic benefit you’re looking for.

Aromatherapy massage is a popular way of using essential oils because it works simultaneously in several ways. Your skin absorbs essential oils and you also breathe them in. Plus, you experience the physical therapy of the massage itself.

Diffusing essential oils is another great way to receive their therapeutic benefits. When we inhale essential oils, they go straight to our brain and are sent directly to other parts of the body to regulate and modulate, such as reducing stress, and improving focus and concentration.

If you like air fresheners in your car, you're inhaling massive amounts of xenoestrogens. An aromatherapy car diffuser is a safe, non-toxic way to incorporate scent and essential oils into your day. Add some lavendar oil, and let the aroma fill the car. Lavendar's great for relaxation and de-stressing, which will feel great after a long work day. You'll also probably notice it helps your kids chill out while in their car seats.

Are Essential Oils The Same As Perfume?

It’s important to look at the ingredient label when looking for true aromatherapy products. Perfume oils (aka: fragrance oils) are not the same as essential oils, as they contain synthetic chemicals and don’t provide the therapeutic benefits of essential oils.

Therapeutic Uses for Common Essential Oils

Each essential oil comes with its own therapeutic benefits. Some oils are used to promote physical healing, such as treating swelling or fungal infections. Other oils are used for emotional value, such as enhancing relaxation. Orange blossom oil, for example, contains a large amount of an active ingredient that’s thought to be calming.

Here are some common therapeutic uses for a few essential oils:



Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Supports the body's innate resistence to pathogens
(Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus radiate, Eucalyptus smithii)
Respiratory health
Lemon (Citrus limonum) energizing, soothing, mood
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinali) Mental stimulant, invigorating, soothes aching cramping muscles
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) Promotes a positive mood & focus, energizing, aids digestion
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) relaxing
Sage (Salvia officinalis)  
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Stress-relieving, sleep health, mood
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus)  


Aromatherapy can be used for health or beauty purposes, and isn't only limited to your home. Use it in your office, clinic, or even hospital room! 

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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