Aromatherapy works because essential oils enter your body either by absorption or inhalation. The chemical components of the essential oils then affect your body.
How Does Aromatherapy Work by Inhalation?
When your body's olfactory system processes smell, signals go to two parts of your brain:
The effect of scents on the limbic system is why freshly baked cookies remind you of your grandmother who was always baking cookies. Conversely, if you associate a scent with an unpleasant event, that smell can cause you to experience feelings related to that event.
The limbic system has a direct connection to areas of the brain that control functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, memory, and hormone balance. This connection means that aromatherapy fragrance can have both emotional effects and physical effects. See emotions and essential oils for more information about the emotional effects of aromatherapy.
How Does Aromatherapy Work by Absorption?
When you inhale oils, the mucous membranes in your respiratory tract and lungs absorb molecules from the oils. These molecules can then travel into your bloodstream.
Applying essential oils to your skin, usually combined with aromatherapy carrier oils to make an aromatherapy massage oil, allows the skin to absorb essential oil into the body. Although there's some disagreement about exactly how much essential oil the skin can absorb, most sources agree the absorbed oils move into the lymphatic system and bloodstream, where they can affect the physical body.
Chemically, essential oils consist mostly of two chemical families: terpenes and phenylpropanes, according to Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy. The various types of terpenes and phenylpropane derivatives can have many beneficial effects, including:
Functionally, these chemical families are broken down into groups, including:
The bottom line in answering the question of how does aromatherapy work is that essential oils have chemical components that affect the body. Currently, the effects aren't fully understood, but more research is happening to provide more information.
To get the most benefit from essential oils, be sure to follow some basic aromatherapy safety tips and understand the guidelines and cautions for taking essential oils internally. See additional information for:
True essential oils processed from plants have many benefits, including the ability to help you relax, relieve pain, and protect you from viruses and bacteria.
Fragrance (or perfume) oils contain artificially created scents and don't have any health benefits. If you want any real benefit, you need to use essential oils. Also, because makers of fragrance oils don't have to list all the ingredients on the label, if you have sensitivities, you are much more likely to react negatively to fragrance oils than to authentic, genuine essential oils.
In the United States, poor regulation of the essential oil industry means that a product labeled as essential oil may contain artificial ingredients. For this reason, if you want the benefits of essential oils, it's important for you to buy from an essential oil company that guarantees the quality and purity of its oils.
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