by Lillian Sindelar

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils medicinally. Essential oils are oils extracted from different parts of plants. These oils can be ingested, topically applied, inhaled in close contact, or can be diffused to fill a space. Aromatherapy involves an individual inhaling certain types of oils which are meant to have their own benefits. This can be done through diffusion, bathing in aromatic water, or being massaged with the oils. The practice primarily takes place for pain management and has been used in various parts of the world for centuries (Hamlin & Robertson). The exact conception of the practice is unknown but connections to ancient Egypt and Greece have been made. Egypt has been credited for being a pioneer in extracting oil from plants. In Greek mythology, there is a belief that perfume and fragrance are connected to the Gods. Traditionally, in many cultures, perfumes have been an indicator of wealth and wellness (“Aromatherapy History”). Today, to experience aromatherapy, people may pay for specific treatments, may add it into an existing treatment such as a massage, or can purchase the essential oils over the counter for use at home. The primary age group that participates in aromatherapy is middle-aged to elderly people.

Aromatherapy remains popular in nursing because it is a cheaper remedy than many other medical practices. Also, there are less risks to the patients involved. It has been used with patients with cancer to promote health. This would be less invasive than many other others. Among other things, research has been done to study the relationship between aromatherapy and sleep quality. It was found that the inhalation of oils was more successful (compared to massage therapy) in improving sleep. Interestingly, aromatherapy has been found to assist in mental and psychological wellness even more than sleep quality (Hwang 66). However, sleep quality was more significantly effected by aromatherapy as compared to physical pain (Anderson et al.). Specifically oils such as lavender and chamomile have strong findings (Hwang 62). The difficult part about drawing conclusions is that the the way aromatherapy is conducted (massage or inhalation) as well as the condition of the patient greatly determines how effective the treatment will be.

Conversely, aromatherapy has also been found to have little or no effects in other studies. In a study looking at agitation of elderly Alzheimer’s patients, it was found that aromatherapy was ineffective compared to pharmacological therapies and music therapies. This is an example of a diagnosis where subjects have deterioration of the brain and the circumstances may be too severe to fix in this way. They may need stronger methods of therapy to combat their symptoms (Millan- Calenti et al. 178). Aromatherapy is also practiced on people with Arthritis and other physical ailments. Many confounding variables may explain the results that come from aromatherapy studies. The problem in this particular example is that people with arthritis may feel relief after being massaged based on the physical contact without any real effects of the oils.

Even though aromatherapy has not been effective across the board, people still continue to engage in the practice. Inhaling certain scents does indeed cause a reaction in our brain. Biologically, essential oils are taken in through the olfactory system and trigger our brains. The messages reach the the limbic system (which is the part of our brain that controls emotions) and the hypothalamus. This is that part of our brain that helps our body stay in homeostasis and is linked to sleep and emotions as well. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are then released making people feel “better” ( Sanchez-Vidana et al. 2). So, in conclusion, there are reasons as to why aromatherapy would work for people.

In recent years, focusing on health and wellness has become a trend. Eating organic foods, using holistic medicine, and living a more natural life is more common. The use of essential oils doesn’t need to take place in a medical setting which attracts people to it. Even if you don’t have a more serous medical issue, its almost like an activity to try for the younger generation. Infusers are an item many people have either to aid in sleep or simply create a peacefulness in their homes. Most of the research supports aromatherapy as an appropriate way to improve mental and psychological health. However, the evidence for improving physical health is not well supported. There aren’t studies out there about massage treatments with and without the use of essential oils. This would display if aromatherapy was superior with the Cancer and Arthritis patients talked about above. Essentially, aromatherapy works; it just depends on your diagnosis, the way you receive aromatherapy and the severity of your symptoms.


“Aromatherapy History.” Aromatherapy – The Balance & Harmony of Body and Mind, 2010,

Anderson, AR. Et al. “Using complementary and alternative medicine to treat pain and agitation in Dementia: A review of randomized controlled trials from long-term care with potential use in critical care.” Critical Care Nursing Clinic of North America, vol. 29, no. 4, Dec. 2017, pp. 519-537. Pain Management.

Hamlin, Amy S. and T. Michelle Robertson. “Pain and Complementary Therapies.” Critical  Care Nursing Clinic of North America, vol. 29, no. 4, 2017, pp. 449-460. Elsevier Inc., doi: 10.1016/j.cnc.2017.08.005.(

Hwang, Eunhee. “The effects of aromatherapy on sleep improvement: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis.” The journal of alternative and complementary medicine, Vol. 21, no. 2, Feb. 2015, pp. 61-68. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc, . doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0113.

Millan-Callenti, Jose Carlos et al. “Optimal nonpharmacological management of agitation in Alzheimer’s disease: challenges and solutions.” Clinical Interventions in Aging, Vol. 11, 2016, pp. 175-184. Doi: 10.2147/CIA.S69484

Sanchez-Vidana, Dalinda Isabel, et al. “ The effectiveness of Aromatherapy for depressive symptoms: a systematic review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol. 2017, pp. 1-15. Hindawi Publishing Corporation,

19 thoughts on “Aromatherapy

  1. I liked how you noted specifically where the practice of aroma therapy most likely came from because usually that results in a cultural belief as a whole. From the origin we are able to see how the practice spread into modern use of aromatherapy and how people, even in medical fields, use it today (even if it isn’t for the best reasons).

  2. I found this post super interesting and was very glad I gave it a read! I know many people who use aromatherapy and it seems to be especially popular in this day and age. I myself have used it and have always wondered about the true effectiveness. I really liked reading about the history of it and I was not aware that it is often used in the nursing field. I also was interested to read abut the studies done with Alzheimer’s patients which showed no effects.

  3. A lot of my family members have infusers in their homes so i would say aromatherapy is definitely a big fad right now. I’ve even heard of jewelry being infused with essential oils. I would be interested to see if the necklaces or bracelets that claim to release the oils throughout the day actually do anything for the wearer.

    • I think aromatherapy is definitely a big fad right now! I never concerned it an extraordinary belief though! I think because it is so common and so many people use it i never really viewed it as anything harmful or bad. I have the stress relief lotion from bath and body works and one time it put me to bed so easily and i thought maybe it truly did work! but it could also be due to the fact i had a long day and was worn out, because now when i use it , my sleep schedule and stress level do not change

      • I have the exact same lotion! My roommate swears by the candles they sell that are the stress relief scent. Personally, I don’t see much of a difference but even if it is a placebo, If it works for her I don’t see any harm in it!

  4. Before reading your post, I had little idea as to what aromatherapy was. I have seen products at bath and body works, a mainstream store, being sold that are labeled as aroma therapy. I always assumed that it had to do with relaxation, so it was interesting to read that some people believe in its power to cure actual disease, even though there is no scientific proof. I like how you explained the possibility of confounding variables with the arthritis example, and it was interesting to learn about the neurological factors behind aromatherapy!

  5. Lillian, I was really interested in your topic that you chose. To be honest, I would not have thought aromatherapy to be an extraordinary belief. I think the reason behind that would be how common it is to this day and how you see it everywhere. From the research that you talked about it seems like aromatherapy helps more on the mentality of the individuals using it rather then completely curing any disease. Have you ever used any aromatherapy?

    • i agree! I never thought of aromatherapy as an extraordinary belief. I see it everyone! Especially at bath and body works. I even have a few products that say they are stress relievers, give energy, and are relaxing. To be honest i like the scents and the soothing feels it gives but i feel like any soap or lotion can have that affect on me , not just something that specially says ‘stress relief’. I do however like the notion that this can help with the mentality of the disease. Being that i do have a chronic illness that can cause severe pain at times, anything that is relaxing, soothing and calming can ease the pain

  6. Hi Lillian,
    I have heard people suggest that aromatherapy can improve pain or general physical health, but I have never head anyone explain the mechanism proposed for how scents would improve physical health. I was wondering if you came across any explanation for this in your research. It seems like in reality, there probably is not a mechanism, but I think it would be really interesting to hear how this is explained.

  7. Aromatherapy is actually something that I have tried before. Without doing much research into the effectiveness of the process, I purchased an oil diffuser and a few essential oils to try out. I really don’t think it has any effect on me, my health, or my mood. It’s only use really is to make my room smell good which could also be tackled with lighting a candle. It’s interesting how different studies have contrasting results about how effective aromatherapy is. However, it does make sense how it’s helpful with mental and psychological health, as it could be very relaxing or conditioned to be relaxing as you diffuse oil and unwind from your day.

  8. Lillian,
    I was excited to see your post topic on aromatherapy. I would be lying if I said I didn’t use aromatherapy body was or “stress relief” candles and things of that nature. My mom has made me a fan of them. something that stuck out to me was “Even though aromatherapy has not been effective across the board, people still continue to engage in the practice.” Why do you think this is? For me, I do think it helps in a certain way. The stress relief smell helps relax me, and while I may not know the neuroscience behind it, that is enough for me to continue using it.

  9. I like the idea of aromatherapy. It is something that I might be willing to try because, like you said in your essay, in causes a reaction in our brain. I think anything that causes a reaction in the brain could possibly be helpful to people because the brain is the source of all feeling and sensation. Then again, people who claim to have positive affects from aromatherapy could possibly be experiencing a placebo affect. But it is something I’d be willing to try.

  10. Aromatherapy is huge people love the idea and really want it to be a thing however I just don’t see sufficient scientific proof for me to do it. I personally don’t love the way most of the aromas i’ve smelled smell. My mom practices aromatherapy because she likes the smell of the incense and she also doesn’t see any harm in doing it. I agree with her! Thank you for your post I liked reading about it.

  11. I think pseudosciences involving medicine or treatments are especially interesting because there are usually studies that have shown the ineffectiveness of the healing solution, yet people still believe it works. Some people may believe because they have tried other things and nothing has worked for them in whatever ailment they may have. Others may want to believe because they want to take an alternative medicine route to healing. Either way, I think what most people are experiencing when they say it works for them is simply a placebo effect.

  12. Aromatherapy is interesting to me because those who like it LOVE it and will never give it up regardless of research that says it does almost nothing. Aromatherapy to me is just a nice way to take your mind off things and think about nice smells. All of us experience smell everyday but we tend to ignore it do to the lack of pleasant smells around us. I think we can all benefit from some placebo effect caused by aromatherapy or smell-good candles. It is just undeniably nice to smell a nice smell. Of course, I would never go as far as claiming smells can cure cancer.

  13. I myself have never really gotten into aromatherapy or essential oils, but I am a huge scent person. I love my perfumes. It is a super cool fact that in Greek mythology, scent is seen as a connection to God. I have not heard this before! I know a lot of people who swear by their essential oils, and others who feel there is no effect. It is interesting to read how it helps some but not others at all. I feel as if some of that has to do with maybe a placebo effect, too.

    • Abigail,
      I completely agree that there could be some placebo effect in this case. I know that sometimes people might experience positive immune benefits from reduced threat, and I know some scents are said to reduce stress. I wonder if any research has been done to see if aromatherapy could benefit health through the mediating factor of reduced stress.

  14. As a sucker for things like aromatherapy, I am very disappointed to learn that they don’t do much, but I think the reason so many people including myself fall for them is because they are marketed in a way that is very appealing to people, especially now a days when everyone is trying to find natural remedies to everything. I also think companies exaggerate the effectiveness of many of the ingredients, which leads to the general public believing in these remedies.

  15. This reminds me of the touch therapy we learned about in class. It seems that, yes this has no direct negative effects. It may make people too reliant on it in replacement of real treatment. It does seem like a good way to relax people with certain scents and oils. I wouldn’t mind trying this (for a reasonable price) for myself.

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