You spend a few minutes every evening before bed rubbing lavender oil on your skin for a better night’s sleep. Perhaps you are using tea tree oil in a diffuser to lessen the symptoms of a nasty head cold. You also might be considering using ginger oil to help with the pain of surgery. But does this really work? What’s the truth about aromatherapy and its effectiveness? Is it truly beneficial?

Legitimately Beneficial

Spending time relaxing, meditating, and massaging your skin and muscles with nice smelling plant oils is certainly pleasant. And indications suggest that doing these things is beneficial to your mental and emotional health. But just because it’s pleasant does that mean it’s “therapeutic”?

In a study that examined the effects of aromatherapy, published in 2012, it was reported that mixed evidence was found to support the claim that aromatherapy technically (scientifically) calms hypertension and anxiety, eases depression or pain, or lessens the symptoms of dementia. Even medical doctors can’t really be sure if essential oils have any direct health benefits, whether used through inhalation or topically. Most doctors will agree, however, that if their patient thinks they’re being helped – they are all for it.

Other Research Studies

This may be confusing if you’ve read the dozens of studies reporting the use of aromatherapy to improve one’s health.  Other research has found that ginger oil reduces nausea after surgery; lavender improves tolerance to pain; and lemon balm eased anxiety and agitation among those with dementia.

However, it is important to note that even the authors of the studies state the benefits may be due to many factors. For example, the calming effects of lemon balm on dementia patients might also be caused by the increased physical contact between the caregivers and patients. Another reason it works may be because of the “placebo effect”. If you believe something will help you relax or perk you up or ease your pain – it will.

The University of Vienna has research results which suggest that some essential oils can trigger your central nervous system to improve your sleep, increase your attention span, and sharpen your thinking.

Side Effects

Plant oils contain powerful organic compounds and may create some unwanted side effects if not used properly. In addition, allergic reactions such as skin rashes can result from certain lotions and skin balms. It’s important to remember that just because essential oils are natural does not mean they are risk free. Fortunately, reputable websites selling essential oils most times will post any existing side effects or warnings in the description of the specific essential oil.

Tests Technically Inconclusive

Used correctly, most essential oils and aromatherapy is safe and have no adverse reactions. Most people are not told to avoid aromatherapy, but to talk with their doctors before proceeding – especially pregnant women, children, and those with serious medical issues or sensitivities. The words ‘beneficial’ and ‘restorative’ are actual synonyms for the word ‘therapeutic’.  So, because a major part of the population believes that the use of essential oils has been restorative and beneficial in their lives, it only stands to reason that (at least as far as those people are concerned) the use of essential oils is therapeutic.

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