What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative medicine classified by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as an “alternative medical system.” It also goes by the name: essential oil therapy.
The name ‘aromatherapie’ was coined by French chemist and perfume-developer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1937. This name was used to differentiate the medical uses of essential oils from those used for perfume.
As defined by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, aromatherapy is the “art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”
The research into the effectiveness of aromatherapy is not particularly robust. A study highlighted by the NIH found limited benefit when exploring lavender and lemon scents — though there were reductions of stress hormones when using aromatherapy following stressors. Other studies have found mixed results on a number of symptoms including nausea-, pain-, stress-, and anxiety-relief.
In general, the research offers some promise. But, it is relatively inconclusive.
Is aromatherapy safe?
Essential oils are generally considered safe and do not need to be approved by the FDA. (For more regulatory information, see the FDA explanation of aromatherapy here.)
However, depending on the application method used, there can be unintended side effects. People with many allergies or anaphylaxis may want to avoid essential oils or a consult their lupus treatment team before trying any aromatherapy options.
The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy provides additional insights into essential oils to avoid for pregnant women and essential oils that are more likely to be skin irritants.