Aromatherapy Information and health benefit, medical uses, research
May 20 2016 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine. Aromatherapy has some benefits which are listed below. Common herbs used in aromatherapy include jasmine, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lavender, marjoram, peppermint,  rosemary, sage, and others.


Claims made about the benefits of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy has been promoted to reduce pain and anxiety, bring both energy and relaxation and even make the immune system stronger. Many scientific researchers say that aromatherapy offers no benefit with pain, stress levels, immune response or healing. The benefits are most likely weak compared to other forms of therapy, but some people do notice benefits.

Aromatherapy treatment
In my opinion, aromatherapy can sometimes be helpful in a mild, gentle way in reducing stress, helping with mood, improving alertness, or helping to relax or induce sleep. However, one has to be sensitive to aromatherapy essential oil treatment, and not too many people may be sensitive enough to notice a clear benefit.
It appears that lemon odor may improve mood.


Alertness and Energy
To stay alert behind the wheel on long road trips, skip the coffee and try sniffing peppermint or cinnamon. Researchers from West Virginia have found that getting a whiff of pleasant odors periodically while driving increases alertness, reduces fatigue, and even lowers drivers' anxiety and frustration. By stimulating the nervous system, peppermint and cinnamon odors enhance motivation and performance, increase alertness, and decrease fatigue among athletes and clerical office workers. To test the effects of these odors on drivers, researchers had 25 college undergrads sniff peppermint, cinnamon, or a non-odor control for 30 seconds every 15 minutes during simulated driving conditions. In general, prolonged driving led to increased anger and fatigue, and decreased vigor, they report. However, with the peppermint scent, fatigue, anxiety, and driver frustration ratings fell significantly, while driver alertness ratings rose impressively. Smelling cinnamon also made drivers more alert and lowered their levels of frustration. Ratings of "workload" associated with driving also fell with periodic whiffs of cinnamon. There are many natural dietary supplements that work well to enhance alertness and energy.


Anxiety and stress
The scent of plants like lemon, mango, lavender can reduce stress in certain people. A study, published in the 2009 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found certain fragrances alter gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that can reduce stress levels. Akio Nakamura of the Technical Research Center at the T. Hasegawa Co. in Kawasaki, Japan, says that people have inhaled the scent of certain plants since ancient times to help reduce stress, fight inflammation and depression and induce sleep. Linalool is one of the most widely used substances used to soothe away emotional stress. Akio Nakamura exposed lab rats to stressful conditions while inhaling and not inhaling linalool. Linalool returned stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes to near-normal levels. Inhaling linalool also reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that go into overdrive in stressful situations.


Evaluating the effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing levels of anxiety in palliative care patients: results of a pilot study.
Complement Ther Clin Practice. 2006. Thames Valley University, Slough, UK.
Results of the pilot study of the four counties randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of aromatherapy massage with 1% Santalum album (Sandalwood) (group A) when compared with massage with Sweet Almond Carrier oil, (group B) or Sandalwood oil via an aromastone (group C), in reducing levels of anxiety in palliative care. The aims of the pilot study were to evaluate the effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing anxiety in patients receiving palliative care in four counties. The results were not substantial enough to generate coherent statistics. Therefore no assumptions could be drawn from these results due to the inconsistencies that were bound to occur in such a small sample. However, the results do seem to support the notion that Sandalwood oil is effective in reducing anxiety.

Aromatherapy and Arthritis
The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and life satisfaction of arthritis patients.
Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and feelings of satisfaction in life of arthritis patients. This study used a quasi-experimental design with a non-equivalent control group, pre-and post-test. The sample consisted of 40 patients, enrolled in the Rheumatics Center, Kangnam St. Mary's Hospital, South Korea. The essential oils used were lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint blended in proportions of 2:1:2:1:1. They were mixed with a carrier oil composed of almond (45%), apricot (45%), and jojoba oil (10%) and they were diluted to 1.5% after blending. Aromatherapy significantly decreased both the pain score and the depression score of the experimental group compared with the control group. However, aromatherapy didn't increase the feeling of satisfaction in life of the experimental group compared with the control group. The result of this study clearly shows that aromatherapy has major effects on decreasing pain and depression levels. Based on our experiment's findings, we suggest that aromatherapy can be a useful nursing intervention for arthritis patients.


Aromatherapy and Cancer
Combined modality treatment of aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology relieves fatigue in patients with cancer.
J Palliat Med. 2004.
Fatigue is one of the most distressful symptoms experienced by patients with advanced cancer. Aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology are popular health care modality treatments in Japan, however, the effectiveness of each treatment for cancer-related fatigue has not been fully established. To investigate the effectiveness of combined modality treatment consisting of aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology against fatigue, an open study was performed in 20 terminally ill patients with cancer. After a patch test was performed, patients received aromatherapy that was accompanied with footsoak in warm water containing lavender essential oil for 3 minutes, followed by reflexology treatment with jojoba oil containing lavender for 10 min. Combined modality treatment consisting of aromatherapy, footsoak, and reflexology appears to be effective for alleviating fatigue in terminally ill cancer patients. To confirm safety and effectiveness of this combined modality treatment, further investigation including randomized treatment assignment is warranted.


Effect of aromatherapy massage for the relief of constipation in the elderly.
Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005.
The purpose of this study was to verify the effect of aromatherapy massage on constipation in the elderly. This study for 10 day, employed a randomized control group pretest-posttest design. The experimental group received abdominal massage using essential oils with Rosemary, Lemon, and Peppermint, and the control group received a placebo massage. The average number of bowel movements in the experimental group was higher than that of the control group. The effect of aromatherapy lasted 2 weeks after treatment, while the placebo effect lasted 7~10 days after treatment. The finding of this study showed that aromatherapy helps relieve constipation in the elderly.


Aromatherapy, Immune System, and Massage
Immunological and Psychological Benefits of Aromatherapy Massage.
Evidence Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005.
This preliminary investigation compares peripheral blood cell counts including red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), neutrophils, peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs), CD4(+), CD8(+) and CD16(+) lymphocytes, CD4(+)/CD8(+) ratio, hematocrit, humoral parameters including serum interferon-gamma and interleukin-6, salivary secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychological measures including the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) questionnaire and the Self-rating Depression Scale (SDS) between recipients of carrier oil massage and aromatherapy massage, which includes sweet almond oil, lavender oil, cypress oil and sweet marjoram oil. Though both STAI and SDS showed a significant reduction after treatment with aromatherapy and carrier massage, no difference between the aromatherapy and control massage was observed for STAI and SDS. Aromatherapy, in contrast to control massage, did not significantly reduce RBC count or hematocrit. However, aromatherapy massage showed a significan) increase in PBLs, possibly due to an increase in CD8(+) and CD16(+) lymphocytes, which had significantly increased post-treatment. Consequently, the CD4(+)/CD8(+) ratio decreased significantly. The paucity of such differences after carrier oil massage suggests that aromatherapy massage could be beneficial in disease states that require augmentation of CD8(+) lymphocytes.


Aromatherapy and Menopause
Aromatherapy for outpatients with menopausal symptoms in obstetrics and gynecology.
J Altern Complementary Med. 2005.
To introduce Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) into a hospital department of obstetrics and gynecology with the goal of achieving integrative medicine, the authors investigated the effectiveness of aromatherapy for outpatients with menopausal symptoms. The department of obstetrics and gynecology, St. Marianna University Hospital, Kawasaki, Japan. Participants in the aromatherapy trial received a 30 minute aromatherapy session performed by an aromatherapist that included a consultation, massage, and home care guidance. After they carried out approximately 1 month of home care, they received a second aromatherapy session. This investigation shows that aromatherapy could be effective as an alternative medicine method for menopause symptoms in the setting of a hospital obstetrics and gynecology department.


Aromatherapy for menstrual cramps
Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2006.
The purpose of this study was to explore the effect of aromatherapy on menstrual cramps and symptoms of dysmenorrhea.  The study was a randomized placebo-controlled trial. The subjects were 67 female college students who rated their menstrual cramps to be greater than 6 on a 10-point visual analogue scale, who had no systemic or reproductive diseases, and who did not use contraceptive drugs. Subjects were randomized into three groups: (1) an experimental group who received aromatherapy, (2) a placebo group, and (3) a control group. Aromatherapy was applied topically to the experimental group in the form of an abdominal massage using two drops of lavender (Lavandula officinalis), one drop of clary sage (Salvia sclarea), and one drop of rose (Rosa centifolia) in 5 cc of almond oil. The placebo group received the same treatment but with almond oil only, and the control group received no treatment. The menstrual cramps were significantly lowered in the aromatherapy group than in the other two groups at both post-test time points (first and second day of menstruation after treatment). These findings suggest that aromatherapy using topically applied lavender, clary sage, and rose is effective in decreasing the severity of menstrual cramps. Aromatherapy can be offered as part of the nursing care to women experiencing menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea.


Pregnancy, during labor, delivery
Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2014 Nov. Comparison of the effect of aromatherapy with Jasminum officinale and Salvia officinale on pain severity and labor outcome in nulliparous women. Comparing the effects of aromatherapy with jasmine and salvia on pain severity and labor outcome in nulliparous women. The results of the present study indicated that aromatherapy with sage had beneficial effects on pain relief, shortened the labor stages, and had no negative impact on the baby's APGAR score.


Aromatherapy and Seizure
Use of aromatherapy (with or without hypnosis) in the treatment of intractable epilepsy--a two-year follow-up study.
Seizure. 2003.
We have been trying the effect of aromatherapy (with or without hypnosis) in patients with intractable epilepsy who ask for it. This is a report of the first 100 patients to try the treatment, followed up for at least two years after the treatment ended. It is important to remember that this was a treatment for people who had asked for it and for whom time and a therapist was available. It was not a controlled trial but was carried out when we could and at a time when we were experimenting with the best way of using it. Results must therefore be treated with caution and with due regard to other therapeutic factors that may be implicated in the results, both good and bad. We assume that the result (with over a third of the patients using aromatherapy with or without hypnosis becoming seizure free for at least a year) as being the best that could be achieved and likely to be less in a properly controlled trial. Of the three treatments tried (aromatherapy on its own, aromatherapy plus hypnosis and hypnosis without aromatherapy), aromatherapy plus hypnosis seems to have had the best and most lasting effect (a third of patients still seizure free at two years), but was the most labor intensive and needed medical therapist input. Aromatherapy itself might be best reserved as a short-term treatment for people going through a bad time with their seizures. A fuller and more lasting effect may be obtained with aromatherapy plus hypnosis, but this needs a patient who is prepared to put much time and personal effort into the treatment.


Skin allergy
Use of aromatherapy products and increased risk of hand dermatitis in massage therapists.
Arch Dermatol. 20046.
The prevalence of hand dermatitis in massage therapists is high. Significant independent risk factors include use of aromatherapy products in massage oils, creams, or lotions and history of atopic dermatitis.


Jasmine and lavender may be helpful.
An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women.
Chronobiol Int. 2005. Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
Aromatherapy may be a method for modifying sleep and mood. However, whether olfactory exposure to essential oils affects night-time objective sleep remains untested. Previous studies also demonstrate superior olfactory abilities in women. Therefore, this study investigated the effects of an olfactory stimulus on subsequent sleep and assessed gender differences in such effects. Thirty-one young healthy sleepers (16 men and 15 women, aged 18 to 30 yr completed 3 consecutive overnight sessions in a sleep laboratory: one adaptation, one stimulus, and one control night (the latter 2 nights in counterbalanced order). Subjects received an intermittent presentation (first 2 min of each 10 min interval) of an olfactory (lavender oil) or a control (distilled water) stimulus between 23:10 and 23:40 h. Standard polysomnographic sleep and self-rated sleepiness and mood data were collected. Lavender increased the percentage of deep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) in men and women. All subjects reported higher vigor the morning after lavender exposure, corroborating the restorative SWS increase. Lavender also increased stage 2 (light) sleep, and decreased rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and the amount of time to reach wake after first falling asleep (wake after sleep onset latency) in women, with opposite effects in men. Thus, lavender serves as a mild sedative and has practical applications as a novel method for promoting deep sleep in young men and women and for producing gender-dependent sleep effects.


Aromatherapy product - massage oil
There are quite a number of aromatherapy oils that are available. I have listed a few of the popular aromatherapy oil products.

Bergamot aromatherapy

Cedarwood aromatherapy




Frankincense aromatherapy

Jasmine aromatherapy

Lemon aromatherapy may improve mood.

Lemongrass aromatherapy
Lippia multiflora essential oil has monoterpene alcohols


Orange aromatherapy

Patchouli aromatherapy

Peppermint oil



Tea tree oil aromatherapy

To learn more about perfume and fragrance, click on the links

Wound Care
Odor can be one of the most distressing symptoms of certain infectious wounds. Traditional dressings and creams often have little effect on odor, but the use of essential oils has proved effective in a palliative care setting.

Impotence, erectile dysfunction
Does aromatherapy essential oils help with sexual enhancement?
   They may in a mild way in those who are very sensitive to smell.