At the outset it is important to state that research on the effectiveness of aromatherapy — the therapeutic use of essential oils extracted from plants, is fairly limited. "Despite this, some studies have shown that aromatherapy might have health benefits like relief from anxiety and depression and improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions,' says Mala Dhar, an aromatherapist based in Kolkata.
Explaining the science/composition of essential oils used in aromatherapy, she elaborates, "Essential oils used in aromatherapy are typically extracted from various parts of plants and then distilled. The highly concentrated oils may be inhaled directly or indirectly or applied to the skin through massage, lotions or bath salts."
Dhar says that aromatherapy is thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system — the part of the brain that controls emotions.
Speaking about the safety of the essential oils she says, "Many essential oils have been shown to be safe when used as directed. However, essential oils used in aromatherapy are largely unregulated. When these oils are applied to the skin, side effects may arise and these include allergic reactions, skin irritations and sun sensitivity. Moreover, further research is needed to determine how essential oils might affect children and how the oils might affect women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and how the oils might interact with medications and other treatments. Therefore if you are considering aromatherapy, consult your health care provider and a trained aromatherapist about the possible risks and benefits." Dhar also states that the quality of essential oils in the market varies greatly, from pure essential oils to those diluted with less expensive ingredients. "And because there is no regulation, the label may not even list everything that is in the bottle that you are buying. That is why essential oils should not be ingested," she cautions.
Essential oils have become very popular in the last several years and these oils are heavily marketed. "Therefore it might seem as though essential oils can cure anything," says Rita Sharma, who owns a small retail outlet of essential oils, scented candles and potpourri. "However, it is better to think of essential oils as a helpful addition to a healthy lifestyle. There oils are not magic potions but lifestyle enhancers," she observes.
Citing some specific benefits of essentials oils Sharma says, "Lavender oil is generally safe, accessible and inexpensive. It is considered a safe and helpful therapy to ease anxious feelings in some people. On the other hand peppermint oil can ease headaches. Peppermint essential oil and ginger essential oil, for example, are often used for digestive discomfort, including nausea. Some people try essential oils to cure uneasiness arising from pregnancy, chemotherapy and indigestion. However, this should be done under medical supervision and guidance."
Sharing some essential tips in terms of buying purse essential oils, Sharma reveals, "You must look at the label first. It should include the Latin name of the plant, information on purity or other ingredients added to it and the country in which the plant was grown. Always purchase products from a well-known and reputable aromatherapy company that has been around for several years."
She says that it is advisable to choose dark-colored, glass containers. "Pure essential oils are highly concentrated. They can dissolve plastic bottles over time, tainting the oil. Most companies package essential oils in small brown or blue glass bottles to protect the quality. Also avoid fragrance oils. Fragrance or perfume oils are made from essential oils combined with chemicals or entirely from chemicals. These oils are not suitable for aromatherapy. Instead, look for bottles that contain a single essential oil in its purest form (which means 100% essential oil with no other fillers). Last but not the least also compare prices. Essential oils range in price, depending on how involved harvesting and production are. Within a line, there should be a wide variety of prices. For instance, rose absolute or sandalwood oils will be more expensive, while sweet orange oil will be on the less expensive end. If you find a rock-bottom price for an expensive essential oil, it probably is not pure," Sharma elaborates.