Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and wellbeing, and humans have been using it for thousands of years. Every time we use essential oils in a massage, in the bath or in an oil diffuser, we are practising a form of aromatherapy. Much has been written about aromatherapy benefits, including by aromatherapy educator Salvatore Battaglia in his book, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy.
Here is our guide to how essential oils are used and the most popular types of oils used in aromatherapy and their benefits.
Benefits of essential oils
As humans, our sense of smell is the only sense of the five connected to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that influences behaviour, emotions and memory. Every time we inhale an essential oil, the limbic system is activated, and the brain responds by sending chemical messengers linked to our nervous system, which initiates an emotional response.
Depending on the oil used, the benefits of aromatherapy can include:
- General well being — because of the way that essential oils interact with the brain, they are known to enhance physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Headaches and nausea — some essential oils can help manage and relieve nausea and headaches.
- Inflammation —other essential oils are beneficial in easing and reducing inflammation.
- Joint and muscle pain —many essential oils naturally have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
- Sleep and relaxation — a range of essential oils can promote and improve sleep and relaxation.
- Skincare — essential oils are known to have a range of skin benefits, including balancing oils and treating acne to reduce wrinkles and dark circles. Some are also used to treat psoriasis, eczema, pigmentation and scarring.
- Household cleaning — some essential oils can be used for cleaning because of their disinfecting, antiseptic, and deodorising properties.
How essential oils are used
Essential oils can be dispersed throughout the air from various devices, including essential oil diffusers, electric vaporisers, mini personal diffusers and even aromatherapy car diffusers.
Not only does this enhance your environment by creating a beautiful smell, but they also ensure we safely receive the benefits of essential oils through inhalation.
When applied to the skin, some essential oils can ease muscle and joint pain and promote healthy skin. This is because once applied to the skin, the oil is absorbed into our skin and enters our bloodstream. They also affect our skin cells and the underlying muscles they are applied to.
However, as essential oils are highly concentrated, they should always be diluted if applied directly to the skin. As a general guide, it is recommended that you use a two to four per cent dilution for body application and a one to two percent dilution for facial application.
Essential oils can also be used topically by:
- Adding a dilution to a glass roller bottle and applying to your pulse points (wrists, temples, the soles of your feet or behind your ears).
- Adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil to a warm bath.
- Adding a few drops to your daily moisturiser to boost its existing benefits.
- Buying products that include them!
Some of the benefits of aromatherapy candles include:
- Natural lighting — You don’t have to be a hopeless romantic to appreciate the warm, soft glow of candlelight. It can also have health benefits as studies have shown that artificial light and viewing our devices at night can restrict our melatonin, make our brain more alert, and reduce our sleep.
- Decoration — Scented candles can enhance a room’s atmosphere and mood and also create nostalgia. For example, if you own a Hamptons-style home, an ocean scented candle can complement your styling choice. If you love camping, a eucalyptus-scented candle can trigger wonderful memories.
If you love the use of oil with your massage, professional massage therapists will typically use a combination of a carrier oil and an essential oil. Some of the benefits of aromatherapy massage treatment combined with specific essential oils include:
- Calming the nervous system, enabling the body to work at an optimal level and repair itself.
- Assisting with depression, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anxiety, grief, muscular pain, digestive issues, fatigue and hormone imbalances.
- Affecting the emotions and mind via the limbic system in the brain which can help to induce deep calm, increase concentration, uplift an individual’s mood or increase happy feelings.
Most popular types of essential oils
As the name implies, this essential oil comes from the wood of the Cedar tree. Its aroma is typically described as woodsy and slightly smoky. Some of the cedar wood essential oil aromatherapy benefits include:
Pain and inflammation — cedar wood oil is commonly used for treating inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema.
- Hair issues — this includes hair loss and enhancing longer, thicker hair. Studies have also shown that it can be an effective treatment for alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disease causing bald patches and potentially total baldness.
- Concentration — it can help your brain focus due to its sesquiterpenes, a hydrocarbon group that is found in essential oils and help improve the oxygenation of brain cells.
- Sleep — Lavender and chamomile are the most popular essential oils for assisting with sleep, however, studies have shown that cedar wood oil can also have sedative effects.
This beautiful citrusy-sweet and refreshing essence provides an aroma that is similar to that of lemons, oranges and florals combined. It was traditionally used in Italian folk medicine to treat fevers, diseases, infections and various skin conditions. These days, the bergamot essential oil benefits in aromatherapy include:
- Reducing symptoms of nervous tension, depression, anxiety and negative emotions.
- Reducing fevers and fighting infections due to its antiseptic properties.
- Stimulating the digestive system and soothing skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
- Being an excellent insect repellent and deodoriser.
Ginger essential oils carry an aroma that is refreshingly earthy, warm and somewhat spicy. In terms of ginger aromatherapy oil benefits:
- When combined with a carrier oil and applied topically, it can ease aching muscles, joints and arthritis.
- It can improve sluggish circulation and strengthen the immune system.
- It can be beneficial to those who have troubled digestive systems.
- It can assist with nausea, headaches, migraines and travel sickness.
This essential oil has a fresh yet rich, warm and somewhat balsamic pine needle aroma. In terms of juniper berry aromatherapy benefits it can:
- Soothe and strengthen the nerves.
- Ease certain health complaints such as rheumatism, gout, arthritis, kidney stones, urine retention and urinary tract infections.
- Assist with balancing oily skin types and unclog pores.
- Be an effective natural remedy for dandruff, dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis.
With its refreshing, light and citrusy tang, lemon essential oil aromatherapy benefits include:
- Treating oily skin because it reduces sebum production, so it is a great anti-acne aid because of its astringent properties.
- Cleansing greasy hair and lifting dead skin cells to enhance shine and volume.
- Assisting with treating wounds and cuts and easing painful cold sores and insect bites because of its powerful antiseptic properties.
- Relieving and soothing migraines and headaches.
- Boosting mental alertness, improving decision making and clearing the mind.
- Acting as a natural degreaser because of its disinfecting properties, so great for cleaning kitchens (particularly Lemon Myrtle essential oil).
Has an incredible sweet and floral aroma with an intriguing hint of spice. The ylang ylang essential benefits in aromatherapy include:
- Reducing stress and anxiousness due to its balancing and calming properties, often producing a sense of euphoria.
- Assisting with sleep as it is believed to quieten and soothe the brain and central nervous system.
- Relieving extreme mood swings.
Also known as Cinnamon Bark essential oil, it has a sweet, spicy and somewhat musky aroma. The cinnamon oil aromatherapy benefits include:
- Stimulating and energising the mind.
- Providing a pick-me-up for those experiencing feelings of depression, weakness or exhaustion.
- Easing sore and tender areas and reducing inflammation when used in massage.
- Being a natural remedy for various health concerns from colds and coughs to constipation.
- Helping to clean home surfaces and floors by suppressing the growth of fungi and bacteria.
There are a variety of rose oils used in aromatherapy, including:
Rose Geranium Cape Essential Oil
This oil has an incredibly balanced aroma that is floral and musky. Rose oil aromatherapy benefits include:
- Helping ease stress, anxiety, stress and depression whilst encouraging calmness, balance and uplifted spirits.
- Assisting with balancing hormones, including easing the symptoms of PMS.
- Helping ease haemorrhoids, fluid retention and breast engorgement.
- Healing wounds, burns and ulcers.
- Balancing dry and oily skin.
- Easing skin complaints like shingles and eczema.
Rosehip oil is the preferred carrier oil for diluting essential oils and is highly valued in the skincare industry and used in cosmetic and personal care applications, including lotions, creams, body wash, body butters, soaps, bath products, skincare and hair care products. Benefits of rosehip oil include:
- Treating dry skin, scars, inflamed skin conditions, burns, wrinkles and stretch marks due to its healing and regenerating properties.
- Reducing dry, itchy and irritated skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Lavender oil has a floral, sweet and herbaceous aroma and some of its benefits include:
- Assisting with stress, anxiety and sleep because of its sedative and anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) properties.
- Enhancing relaxation and calmness due to irritability and nervous tension.
- Assisting with respiratory problems.
- Reducing pain and enhancing blood circulation.
- Assisting with treating sensitive, dry and irritated skin, acne, eczema, scarring, psoriasis and wrinkles.
Peppermint essential oil has a uniquely sweet, fresh and incredibly minty aroma. Some of its benefits include:
- Alleviating migraines, headaches, sinus congestion, hay fever and cold and flu symptoms.
- Soothing emotional and mental fatigue and “brain fog” and enhancing focus and attentiveness.
- Treating abrasions, minor wounds, cuts, insect bites and abrasions.
- Being a great multipurpose cleaner because of its disinfecting and antiseptic properties.
- Being an excellent natural rodent deterrent and insect repellant, particularly with mice, spiders, bees, wasps and mosquitoes.
Tea tree oil has an incredibly earthy, fresh and pleasantly “clean” aroma and has been medicinally used by Indigenous Australians for millennia. Some of its benefits include:
- Helping ease inflammation and heal wounds, particularly when used in personal care products such as creams, lotions, washes, gels, cosmetic products and shampoos.
- Assisting with burns, acne, insect bites, sunburn, blisters, chickenpox, eczema, athlete’s foot and cold stores.
- Helping with dandruff and head lice.
- Boosting respiratory function, including things like asthma, sinusitis, whooping cough and bronchitis.
- Being a great kitchen and bathroom cleaner due to its antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
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- Dale Stevenson, 2021, The Benefits of Scented Candles, Fragrance Innovation
- 2021, Aromatherapy Massage, Essential Restorative Massage