Essential Oils for Health

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile liquid plant materials, known as essential oils (EOs), and other scented compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person's mood or health.

The word "essential does not refer to nutritional value but to the volatile, aromatic components that are the "essence" of the plant.

Essential oils are said to be highly concentrated substances extracted from flowers, leaves, stalks, fruits, and roots, and also distilled from resins.

They are said to contain hormones, vitamins, antibiotics, and antiseptics and to represent the "life force," "spirit," or "soul" of the plant.


The oils in aromatherapy are administered in small quantities through inhalation, massage, or other applications to the skin, and occasionally a product is taken internally.

Methods of application include:

  • Aerial diffusion for environmental fragrancing or aerial disinfection.
  • Direct inhalation for respiratory disinfection, decongestion, and expectoration.
  • Topical applications for general massage, baths, compresses and therapeutic skin care.
  • Oral, rectal, vaginal interfaces for infection, congestion, parasites, perfumery for body fragrancing, and anointments.

Products include diffusers, lamps, pottery, candles, pendants, earrings, shampoos, skin creams, lotions, bath salts, and shower gels.


Some of the materials employed in include:

  • Essential oils: Fragrant oils extracted from plants chiefly through distillation (e.g. eucalyptus oil) or expression (grapefruit oil), or occasionally fragrant oils extracted from plant material by any solvent extraction.
  • Absolutes: Fragrant oils extracted primarily from flowers or delicate plant tissues through solvent or supercritical fluid extraction (e.g. rose absolute).
  • Phytoncides: Various volatile organic compounds (VOC) from plants that kill microbes.
  • Herbal distillates or hydrosols: The aqueous by-products of the distillation process (e.g. rosewater). There are many herbs that make herbal distillates and they have culinary uses, medicine uses and skin care uses.
  • Infusions: Aqueous extracts of various plant material (e.g. infusion of chamomile).
  • Carrier oils: Typically oily plant base triacylglycerides that dilute essential oils for use on the skin (e.g. sweet almond oil).

Aromatherapy is the treatment or prevention of disease by the use of essential oils with two basic mechanisms offered as explanation to the purported effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils.


The consensus among most medical professionals in the U.S.A. and England is that while pleasant scents can boosts relaxation and may have related benefits for patients, there is currently insufficient scientific proof of the effectiveness of aromatherapy in general.

Scientific research on the cause and effect is limited, although there are some pharmacological effects attributed to essential oils, such as:

  • Antibacterial: In-vitro testing has confirmed antibacterial effects in certain oils including rosemary, clove, lime, cinnamon, and tea tree oil.
  • Antiviral: Supported by in-vitro testing against herpes are tea tree oil, lemon grass, sandalwood, peppermint, ginger, thyme, and hyssop.
  • Anti fungal: Supported by in-vitro testing for lavender, thyme, clove, juniper, and tea tree oil.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Reported in in-vitro assays of clove, cinnamon, sage, eucalyptus, black cumin, and bay leaf.
  • Anxiolytic: Reported in animal models using oils of lavender, rose and angelica.

There are potential safety concerns with the use of essential oils. Because the oils are highly concentrated they can only be safely used in small amounts, measured in drops and kept out of the reach of children.

Many oils can irritate the skin unless diluted with a carrier oil such as sweet almond oil, olive oil, hazelnut oil, and rose hip seed oil. And a few cases have been reported of toxic reactions like liver damage and seizures, phototoxic reactions, and many oils have chemical components that are sensitizers (meaning that they will after a number of uses cause reactions on the skin, and more so in the rest of the body).

Just remember; essential oils are made up of chemicals, although they are not man-made (they are distilled), in the concentrations they are in; just the same, overexposure can cause reactions. Aromatherapy oils and scents can potentially have negative health consequences if used incorrectly or in an unwise combination with prescription-based pharmacology. If you have any concerns or doubts seek the advice of your personal doctor.

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