What Science Says About Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, Without the BS

Reading certain sources, one would be forgiven for getting the impression that essential oil aromatherapy is a mystical cure-all created by ancient wizards that the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry has for some reason neglected to exploit for its own gain.

Essential Oils—Miracle Panacea or Stinky Flower Juice?

Prevent heart disease! Strengthen your immune system! Become better in bed!

The list of incredible benefits goes on and on. I use the word “incredible” here in the most literal sense—that is, lacking in credibility of any kind.

You will notice a few common characteristics of the websites that make these sorts of claims:

1.Complete absence of scientific research to support their statements.

2.Frequent use of words such as “wellness”, “holistic”, and “natural”.

3.Use of the Papyrus font.

4.Dizzying flash animations, likely featuring the taijitu (“yin yang”) or other esoteric symbols.

5.An online store which, of course, happens to offer…essential oils!

 

If you see this font…run!

Here at MIU COLOR, we also offer essential oils and a range of aromatherapy diffusers. But we aren’t in the businesses of selling pseudoscientific “healing tools”, we’re in the business of selling stylish, affordable, and functional products that our customers want to buy.

So in the interest of clarity and honesty, we did a review of the available medical science literature to give you the most accurate, no-BS picture we could of essential oil aromatherapy.


 

What Has Not Been Shown

One of the greatest difficulties in discussing the science of aromatherapy is that, well, there just isn’t very much of it. Very few clinical trials have been conducted on the subject, and many of the studies that have been done are somewhat limited in scope.

However, we can identify a few common claims about aromatherapy and essential oils which have notbeen demonstrated in clinical trials. That’s not to say that these claims are necessarily 100% untrue, but it does mean that anyone promulgating them is doing so without a foundation of scientific evidence.

If you encounter any of these claims about essential oil therapy, you should at the very least take them with a big ol’ grain of Himalayan pink salt:

Illness prevention/longevity

In fact, in a study done at Ohio State University, no physiological effects of essential oils was found. No pain reduction, heart rate or blood pressure change, or increased healing times.1  

Anything related to bodily processes such as digestion, organ function, healthy growth, hair loss, etc.

Has not been shown or even tested for in clinical trials.

Improved sexual function

No, no no.

Aromatherapy—you’re doing it wrong.

What Has Been Shown

Despite the prevalence of unscientific claims about aromatherapy and essential oils, a few beneficial effects have indeed been observed in scientific studies.

A few caveats though; for one, both the number of studies and the number of participants in each study are very small, making them of limited scientific value. Also, when we study something like human emotion, many factors can be in play, including the placebo effect.

That being said, here are the benefits of aromatherapy that, yes, are backed up by some science:

Mood improvement

The same OSU study mentioned above found that lemon oil aromatherapy was associated with improved mood in test subjects. A study from the Mie University School of Medicine in Japan indicated that citrus fragrances reduced stress and curbed depression. The immunosuppression often associated with stress was restored in the subjects, and they required fewer antidepressants to regulate their mood1, 2

Reduced anxiety

The University of Vienna conducted a study in which some patients waiting for dental treatment were unknowingly exposed to an orange oil fragrance. In this study, only the female subjects showed a reduced anxiety. However, a second study was conducted several years later with orange oil and lavender oil, and this time the researchers found a marked reduction of anxiety in members of both genders. 3,4

Sedation and better sleep

Lavender oil has demonstrated sedative effects in multiple studies, which may explain why many users report improved relaxation and better sleep. More research should be done regarding sleep specifically. Interestingly, rosemary showed the opposite effect: it acted as a stimulant for subjects. 5, 6, 7, 8

 

Lavender oil—results may vary.

Conclusion

It’s safe to say that, no, essential oils/aromatherapy are not magical healing tools that replace the need for modern medicine. However, there are real, tangible benefits of aromatherapy that have been scientifically demonstrated.

And there’s another benefit of essential oils that rarely gets mentioned, despite being so obvious: they smell dang good! Regardless of potential health effects, who doesn’t want their environment to be more fragrant?

At MIU COLOR, we don’t need to promote bad or non-existent science to promote our aromatherapy diffusers and essential oils. We think our diffusers are useful and look beautiful as decorative pieces, and their humidifying function works great even without using essential oils. More importantly, thousands of our customers agree.

Our wood grain diffuser.

Do you have an opinion about essential oil aromatherapy or would you like to learn more? Leave us a comment below.

Disclaimer: The article above is for informational purposes only. It should not be substituted for medical advice or treatment. MIU COLOR bears no responsibility for the personal medical or health of our readers. Always consult a physician or health care professional for qualified medical advice.

 

Citations

1. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Graham JE, Malarkey WB, Porter K, Lemeshow S, Glaser R. Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune functionPsychoneuroendocrinology. 2008.

2. Komori T, Fujiwara R, Tanida M, Nomura J, Yokoyama MM. Effects of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive statesNeuroimmunomodulation. 1995.

3. Lehrner J, Eckersberger C, Walla P, Pötsch G, Deecke L. Ambient odor of orange in a dental office reduces anxiety and improves mood in female patientsPhysiol Behav. 2000.

4. Lehrner J, Marwinski G, Lehr S, Johren P, Deecke L. Ambient odor of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental officePhysiol Behav. 2005.

5. Ludvigson H. Wayne, Rottman Theresa R. Effects of ambient odors of lavender and cloves on cognition, memory, affect and moodChem Senses. 1989.

6. Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L, Jäger W, Dietrich H, Plank C. Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalationZ Naturforsch C. 1991.

7. Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, McAdam V, Galamaga R, Galamaga M. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci. 1998.

8. Moss M, Cook J, Wesnes K, Duckett P. Aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils differentially affect cognition and mood in healthy adultsInt J Neurosci. 2003.