All About Aromatherapy: Harmonizing the Mind & Body (Updated April 2020)

When you think of aromatherapy, what do you think it is? Some may think that it’s something that people do at the spa, and some may think that it has something to do with good-smelling things that help make you feel better.

Others may have just a vague idea of what aromatherapy is, while others may not have heard about it that much. Here, you’ll learn more about what aromatherapy is and how essential oils can holistically benefit your health. 

So what exactly is aromatherapy? There isn’t actually a single, neat answer to that. There’s more to aromatherapy than lying down and filling the room with nice scents. It actually has different types and different ways of execution.

It can also benefit you in different ways, and it’s definitely worth delving a little more into.


aromatherapy historyThe roots of aromatherapy go deeper than might be expected into human history. Photo by Joanna Kosinska/


To understand aromatherapy, it’s important to look at its roots. There’s evidence that the practice has actually been around since ancient times, and it seems that it hasn’t really lost its footing in the world.

The ancient Egyptians get the credit for finding a way to distill the essence of plants like cedarwood and cinnamon. However, it may have been the Chinese who figured out that these essential oils can influence people’s moods. It’s also said that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used aromatherapy for healing.

Of course, none of these ancient civilizations called the practice “aromatherapy.” That honor goes to Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist who coined the term in 1937. Gattefosse discovered that lavender essential oil helped treat burns, and this discovery led him to be more curious about the effects of essential oils. Another Frenchman, a surgeon named Jean Valnet, used essential oils to help treat wounds sustained by soldiers in World War II.

In contemporary times, we no longer use essential oils to help cure wounds and injuries like these. However, that doesn’t mean that essential oils have lost the ability to help us with various issues.

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Essential oils and aromatherapy

Essential oils and aromatherapy go hand-in-hand like Han Solo and Chewbacca. Several plants and trees have beneficial chemical components that can be distilled into essential oils. These essential oils have a variety of properties that can help treat a variety of issues, like body pains, headaches, respiratory problems, and more.

Some essential oils can also help relieve stress and improve your mood, while other essential oils can sharpen your focus and improve your cognitive performance.

Can you practice aromatherapy without essential oils? Not really. Essential oils are the key component in aromatherapy, so much so that there are many types of aromatherapy, but each one features essential oils pretty heavily.

Aromatherapy is more than just the aroma, which is why fragrance oils are a poor substitute to essential oils. Aromatherapy also incorporates the benefits of essential oils, such as its relaxing and pain-relieving effects.

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Notable essential oils to use

Not every essential oil is made the same, and they each have particularities that set them apart from each other. Your choice of essential oils depends upon your needs and what you’d like aromatherapy to do for you. These are just some examples of essential oils and how they can affect you:

basil essential oil

If you’ve been suffering from migraines and headaches, basil is a great choice to include in your aromatherapy plans. It can also help you concentrate more, which makes it great for those times when you have a report due or a deadline is looming close.

bergamot essential oil

Bergamot is a great natural remedy to urinary and digestive problems. Of course, make sure that you’re not relying on bergamot essential oil alone to alleviate these issues. Consult with your doctor to make sure that you get the best treatment possible.

citronella essential oil

If you’ve been feeling sore, citronella is a good addition to a massage oil blend. Not only does it smell fresh and pleasant, it can also help relieve pain and soothe muscle spasms.

eucalyptus essential oil

If you need to find some clarity and relax your mind, eucalyptus is a must-have for aromatherapy sessions. Not only that, it can also help alleviate respiratory issues such as clogged airways and coughs.

Ylang ylang essential oil is quickly becoming one of the most popular essential oils, and for good reason. It has a gentle and pleasing floral smell that can relax you and alleviate stress. Because it has sedative effects, diffusing it can help you sleep better.

lemon essential oil

The fresh and clean smell of lemon essential oil is a good addition to aromatherapy blends. It can help you regain more energy, relieve stress, and even help you with asthma.

rosemary essential oil

Got a big test coming up? Rosemary essential oil can help improve your memory as well as reduce anxiety, making it a perfect choice when you’re nervous and stressed. It can also help manage pain and relieve respiratory issues.

tea tree essential oil

Include tea tree essential oil in your massage oil blend and not only will it be able to relax you, it will also be able to help you with skin problems. It’s also effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses.


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The different types of aromatherapy

There isn’t just one way to practice aromatherapy. There is a lot more to aromatherapy than just putting drops of your preferred essential oils into a diffuser and waiting for the effects to take hold. If you’re interested in exploring aromatherapy with the help of a seasoned professional, you can check out the Santa Barbara Herb Clinic.

Do you live in the Santa Barbara area? If you do, you can make an appointment for an aromatherapy session. However, if you live further away, you can have a phone or video consultation with Tram Pham, the clinic’s owner and lead practitioner.



aromatherapy diffusionDiffusion is perhaps the best-known aromatherapy technique. Photo by Oleg Zhilko/


Diffusion in aromatherapy takes many forms as well. There isn’t just one way to do it. One option is using an ultrasonic diffuser, which is easily available in department stores and online stores. This kind of diffuser is very popular, and it works by using water to create a fine mist of essential oil aromas. However, the drawback is that you need to use water, which can be inconvenient, and the machine also needs regular cleaning.

You can also opt for nebulizers, which don’t need water in order to work.

However, if you want an option that doesn’t use electricity, you can opt for candle diffusers. Candle diffusers need a small tea light, which then heats up a small amount of oil. The heat then releases the aroma of the oil.

Steam diffusion is also possible, and it’s a very simple procedure. Simply boil two cups or so of water, then pour the boiled water into a bowl. Add a few drops of your preferred essential oils, then inhale the steam. This is especially soothing when you’re suffering from a cold or the flu.



Inhalation is pretty simple -- you pop off the cap of the essential oil bottle, then you inhale the aroma of the essential oil right out of the bottle.

Of all the aromatherapy methods, this is perhaps the one that doesn’t require much to-do. Also, you can basically do it anywhere you’d like -- in the car, on the train or bus, on the sidewalk while waiting for the traffic light to change. You can also make your own essential oil blend and store them in a small essential oil bottle, which you can easily stash away in your bag or pocket.


Massage therapy

aromatherapy massageTake your massages to the next level with the use of essential oils. Photo via Pixabay.


This may be one of the most soothing and relaxing types of aromatherapy, and it entails the application of essential oils on the skin. However, it’s important to remember that essential oils should not be applied to the skin, at least not without utmost care and not in high amounts. In massage aromatherapy, it’s best to dilute the oils in carrier oils. There is a wide variety of carrier oils, and each one has its own health benefits as well.

Diluting essential oils in carrier oils is an important step in ensuring that massage aromatherapy is both safe and effective. Carrier oils make essential oils safer to apply directly onto skin. However, carrier oils also ensure that essential oils stay long enough on the skin in order to take effect. Essential oils are volatile substances, which means that they can evaporate quite quickly when they come into contact with air. Thus, putting undiluted essential oils directly on skin is not only potentially dangerous, it’s also far less effective.

The act of massaging the skin also increases the absorption of essential oils. This is because a massage can improve circulation, which in turn improves absorption. Some say that areas with more hair follicles and sweat glands, such as the head and palms, can absorb the essential oils more easily.

If you want to make sure that you’ve safely diluted your essential oils in a carrier oil, just remember that 5% dilution is generally safe for adults. A 5% dilution makes out to 30 drops of essential oils for every ounce of carrier oil. For a 1% dilution, add 6 drops of essential oils to 1 ounce of carrier oil.


Topical application

topical aromatherapyAromatherapy can take many surprising forms. Photo by Chris Jarvis/


The term “topical application” is pretty general, and can refer to a number of things. It can refer to aromatherapy massage, though it doesn’t only refer to massage. In general, when something is topically applied, it can refer to anything that can be applied onto skin.

Thus, that can mean things like soaps and lotions. As you may already know, essential oils don’t just belong in diffusers or massage oil blends. They can also be present in soaps, lotions, bath salts, balms, body creams, and shampoos. You can make your own bath soap using your preferred essential oils, and you can use this soap in hot showers to enjoy the aroma and the full benefits of essential oils. As a plus, you also come out clean and refreshed after this unconventional aromatherapy session.

Balms can also help you with skin issues, while lotions and creams can moisturize your skin. You can also add a few drops of tea tree or lavender oil to your shampoo, or you can make your own shampoo with these essential oils. The application of these products can help increase circulation as well, just like a massage.

There are many ways you can practice aromatherapy at home. Of course, you can also avail of professional aromatherapy services if you want to relax and unwind without having to clean up after yourself.

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Research has shown that aromatherapy can indeed benefit your health in a variety of ways. It’s not something that just makes you feel nice for a while, but has no real or tangible benefits. However, it’s not a magical cure-all that’s sure to get rid of whatever ailment you’re suffering from. What it can do, however, is supplement and support conventional treatment methods.


What to expect

These are some of the things you can expect to gain from aromatherapy:

  • Stress and anxiety relief
  • Mental clarity
  • Improved focus
  • Reduced nausea
  • Headache relief
  • Better sleep
  • Pain and muscle spasm relief
  • Relief from menstrual or menopausal problems
  • Digestive, urinary, and respiratory issues

Though many claims made in favor of aromatherapy have been backed up by evidence, some have not. However, supporters of aromatherapy still feel that aromatherapy can help them with certain issues, though science hasn’t proven those claims yet. In any case, doctors often say that if something makes you feel better and doesn’t negatively impact your health, you should keep doing it.

Thus, even though not all of aromatherapy’s benefits have been proven, you can still enjoy all of them. Just make sure that your doctor gives you the all-clear, especially if you have certain health problems or are taking certain medications.

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What not to expect

While aromatherapy can be extremely helpful, it cannot replace conventional treatments and medication. If you have to take medications for issues that aromatherapy can address, do not stop taking your meds in favor of aromatherapy.

You should also not expect aromatherapy to be completely safe and harmless. After all, aromatherapy heavily features essential oils, which can cause allergies and other adverse reactions. If you’ll be trying aromatherapy for the first time, make sure to pay attention to how your body responds to certain oils. This way, if you don’t react well to an oil or two, you’ll know to avoid them in the future. Just remember to stop using essential oils immediately if you find that you are not reacting to them well.

Read the Precautions section below to learn more about what you should watch out for during an aromatherapy session.


The science of aromatherapy

So how exactly does aromatherapy work, anyway? How does smelling something nice help you with various health problems and even improve your state of mind? Can any other scented substance affect us the way that essential oils can?

All these are great questions, not to mention the right ones to ask. How indeed can our sense of smell benefit our health? Well, we may be giving our noses the short end of the stick.


The olfactory system

aromatherapyOur sense of smell is more important and effective than one might think. Photo by Annie Spratt/


When we think about our sense of smell, we mostly think of our nose. However, the olfactory system is far more extensive than the average Joe or Jane may think. The olfactory system refers not only to the nose, but to the entire system of receptors, membranes, tissues, cartilaginous plates, and more. This system includes body parts that have a part in facilitating our sense of smell.

What makes up smells and aromas, anyway? Technically, smells are the result of perception, and are thus all in our heads. However, we do inhale molecules that interact with our olfactory system, which in turn sends signals to the brain. In a nutshell, this results in us perceiving smells.

These molecules also enter through our mouths, and they can make their way down our air passages and into our lungs. Thus, when we inhale the aroma of essential oils, these molecules can take effect not only in the olfactory system but in the respiratory system as well. In this way, inhaling the scent of essential oils can help with respiratory problems.


The limbic system

aromatherapyResearchers have found that aromatherapy can also affect the limbic system itself. Photo by Maranatha Pizarras/


Let’s go back to how the molecules we inhale interact with our brain. The brain reacts to these molecules when they reach various receptor sites, but let’s focus on one particular receptor site called the limbic system.

The limbic system is called the “emotional brain.” It’s a part of the brain that handles our emotions, instincts, and memories. It’s also made of important parts of the brain like the hypothalamus, thalamus, cingulate gyrus, and more.

Of course, that’s not all there is to the limbic system. It doesn’t just have control over the emotions and memories. It also actively interacts with the parts of the brain that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels, stress levels, and more.

Thus, when the molecules we inhale reach our limbic system, they can indirectly impact our emotions. This can explain how aromatherapy can help with various issues, such as stress and negative emotions.


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While essential oils are generally safe to use, there are some precautions you should take to make sure that you’ll be able to enjoy these oils with no problems. Essential oils are indeed natural substances if they’re 100% pure, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have adverse reactions to them. After all, people have adverse reactions to natural materials all the time, like poison ivy, pollen, and natural pathogens. Thus, it’s best to make sure that you’re on the safe side when using essential oils.

One important thing you have to remember about essential oils is that it’s not a good idea to ingest them, even in small amounts. While there are people who do ingest essential oils with no issues, they do so under the supervision of professionals. Even so, keep in mind that essential oils contain high concentration of natural compounds, some of which can cause liver or kidney problems. Other than that, your gastric acids can also interfere with the effects of the essential oils.

Essential oils also don’t react well to certain medications. Thus, if you’re taking medications to manage certain health conditions, consult your doctor first before you use essential oils.

There’s also a chance that you may be allergic to essential oils, or their strong smells may irritate you and have adverse effects on you. If you find that you’re allergic to or irritated by particular oils, stop using them immediately.

In terms of aromatherapy, you can consult with a professional aromatherapist to learn how to make the most of essential oils. An aromatherapist can also teach you how to safely apply and dilute these oils during aromatherapy. If you do consult an aromatherapist, make sure that you follow their instructions.


We did a side-by-side comparison with two of the world's biggest essential oil brands.

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Aromatherapy has roots that go deep into human history. Ancient civilizations discovered the effects of essential oils, and in the following centuries, people have improved, refined, and innovated aromatherapy techniques.

You can enjoy aromatherapy by diffusing essential oils, inhaling them, using them in massage oil blends, and applying them on certain areas of the body. Each of these types of aromatherapy can has a plethora of positive effects, and they’re well-suited for a variety of issues. Whether you just want to relax after a stressful week, or you want to address some health problems, there’s an aromatherapy technique that will do great for you.

Still not sure about aromatherapy? You’ll never know for sure if you like it if you never try. Aromatherapy doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can try one the simpler ways to practice it. Start your aromatherapy journey today with Aroma Foundry’s 100% pure and therapeutic grade essential oils!



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Fagjun Santos is an avid reader who eventually decided to try her hand at writing her own stuff. After spending her teen years writing what can be considered to be Vogon poetry, she now writes things that aren't a pain to read. Her favorite Aroma Foundry scent is peppermint, with lavender coming in a close second.

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  1. History
  2. Essential oils and aromatherapy
  3. The different types of aromatherapy
    1. Diffusion
    2. Inhalation
    3. Massage therapy
    4. Topical application
  4. Benefits
    1. What to expect
    2. What not to expect
  5. The science of aromatherapy
  6. Precautions
  7. Summary
  8. References