Research on the effectiveness of aromatherapy — the therapeutic use of essential oils extracted from plants — is limited.
However, some studies have shown that aromatherapy might have health benefits, including:
- Relief from anxiety and depression
- Improved quality of life, particularly for people with chronic health conditions
- Improved sleep
Smaller studies suggest that aromatherapy with lavender oil may help:
- Reduce pain for people with osteoarthritis of the knee
- Improve quality of life for people with dementia
- Reduce pain for people with kidney stones
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. Some essential oil manufacturers have oils that can be taken internally, but research on the safety and efficacy of this method is extremely limited.
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.
Many essential oils have been shown to be safe when used as directed. However, essential oils used in aromatherapy aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
When oils are applied to the skin, side effects may include allergic reactions, skin irritation and sun sensitivity. In addition, 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, as well as how the oils might interact with medications and other treatments.
If you're considering aromatherapy, consult your doctor and a trained aromatherapist about the possible risks and benefits.
June 06, 2020
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the latest health information.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more Expert Answers
- Ernst E. Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Simkin P, et al. Nonpharmacological approaches to management of labor pain. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Aromatherapy. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm127054.htm. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Lakhan SE, et al. The effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain Research and Treatment . In press. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Aromatherapy and essential oils (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/aromatherapy-pdq#section/all. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Aromatherapy. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/health-wellness/professional.aspx?productid=1174. Accessed Jan. 7, 2017.
- Sánchez-Vidaña DI, et al. The effectiveness of aromatherapy for depressive symptoms: A systematic review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In press. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Bystritsky A. Complementary and alternative treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders: Herbs and medications. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 4, 2017.
- Hwang E. The effects of aromatherapy on sleep improvement: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2015;21:61.
- Johnson JR, et al. The effectiveness of nurse-delivered aromatherapy in an acute care setting. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2016;25;164.
- AskMayoExpert. Aromatherapy. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
- Nasiri A, et al. Effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil on pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 2016;25:75.
- Press-Sandler O, et al. Aromatherapy for the treatment of patients with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia: A descriptive analysis of RCTs. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2016;22:422.
- Sapmaz HI, et al. The effect of lavender oil in patients with renal colic: A prospective controlled study using objective and subjective outcomes measurements. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2015;21:617.
- Bauer B (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 6, 2017.