Living and Wellness Understanding the Benefits of Essential Oils By UPMC, May 10, 2018 You’ve seen them online and in stores. Your coworker raves about the way they help her relax and unwind. Essential oils are all the rage these days. But does the practice of aromatherapy, which is based on the idea that certain scents can influence health and well-being, have real benefits? What Is Aromatherapy? Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils, which are concentrated extracts are derived from the roots, seeds, leaves, or flowers of plants. Although this practice has been used therapeutically for some 6,000 years, it wasn’t until the 1920s that a French scientist began to study the effects of essential oils on burns, infections, and wounds. Aromatherapy became popular in the United States in the 1980s and is often used by massage therapists. Today, aromatherapy is downright trendy. Can Aromatherapy Benefit Health? Proponents claim that essential oils can do everything from aiding in relaxation and improving sleep to easing pain and warding off illness. Indeed, some research has uncovered some benefits of aromatherapy. A few studies suggest that certain essential oils (such as lavender, orange blossom, and neroli) appear to help ease anxiety, temporarily reduce blood pressure, encourage sleep, increase alertness, and ease pain. While it’s still unclear how essential oils work, some scientists believe that they may interact with the body’s hormones and other brain chemicals to help enhance relaxation or stimulation, depending upon scent. Safety Tips When Using Aromatherapy In general, essential oils appear to be safe when inhaled or applied topically. However, it’s important to keep in mind that aromatherapy practitioners aren’t specially licensed in the United States. To stay safe, follow these tips: Don’t eat or drink essential oils unless they are clearly marked safe to be consumed. Don’t use essential oils near your eyes or mouth, as they can irritate sensitive areas. Don’t use aromatherapy with children under age 5, or if you have a lung or skin condition. Your health professional may be able to tell you more about the potential benefits of essential oils and how to use them.