Aromatherapy

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What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a practice in which scented oils are inhaled through the nose or rubbed on the body during a massage.

Research in cancer patients has shown that aromatherapy may help relieve:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • nausea
  • high blood pressure

The oils used in aromatherapy, called "essential oils," are the highly concentrated extracts of flowers, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, bark, resin, or fruit rinds. Essential oils can be purchased in most health food stores.

Because of their high concentration level, essential oils must be diluted before they are rubbed onto the skin. Oils are usually diluted with a "base" or "carrier" oil, which is a vegetable oil processed from nuts, seeds, or trees that helps spread the essential oil over a larger area and protects the skin from a reaction.

What to expect in a typical aromatherapy session

  • An aromatherapy session often begins with an interview during which you will be asked questions about your personality, your interests, your general health, and your particular symptoms. Your responses will help the therapist decide what type of fragrance would best suit your needs.
  • After this discussion, the aromatherapist selects a blend of oils that he or she feels is suitable for you.
  • The aromatherapist will then apply the oils to your body, usually by massaging them into your skin.
  • Appointments may last up to 90 minutes.
  • You will probably be told not to shower for several hours afterwards, to allow more time for the oils to sink into your skin.

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy reports that commonly used oils can have the following benefits:

  • Headache relief: Peppermint
  • Immune system stimulation: Eucalyptus, rosemary, tea tree
  • Muscle tension relief: Chamomile, clary sage, eucalyptus, peppermint, ylang ylang
  • Indigestion relief: Peppermint
  • Relaxation: Ylang ylang, geranium, lavender, lemon, clary sage, and chamomile
  • Respiratory problem relief: Eucalyptus

Other ways to use aromatherapy:

  • Place a few drops of essential oil in a small oil burner to allow a soothing fragrance to fill the room.
  • Sprinkle 5-10 drops of oil in your bath.
  • Sprinkle 2-4 drops of oil on a tissue or a handkerchief, and hold it up to your nose. Keeping your eyes closed to avoid irritation, take 2-3 deep breaths through the nose.
  • Place 10-15 drops of oil in a 4-ounce spray-bottle of water. Shake the bottle and then spray fragrance around a room.

Aromatherapy practitioner requirements

Some countries require that practitioners have an aromatherapy license. But no training or licensing is required in the United States or the United Kingdom, so be wary of anyone claiming to be "certified in aromatherapy" in these countries. To find a qualified aromatherapist, look for these credentials:

  • Formal aromatherapy training from an established school. Ask the therapist where and for how many hours he or she was trained; established schools offer programs with 200 to 300 hours of training.
  • A state-issued license or certification in a hands-on field, such as massage. While people trained in aromatherapy usually receive a paper certificate or diploma at the completion of training, this is not the same as being a "certified" aromatherapy practitioner. Anyone applying oils to people topically should have a license for a hands-on therapy, such as massage. Seek a practitioner with a state-issued license or certification in massage therapy.

If you have trouble finding an aromatherapy practitioner, ask licensed massage therapists for recommendations. Aromatherapy practitioners can often be found at massage therapy centers.

Research on aromatherapy in people with cancer

In some studies of cancer patients, aromatherapy massage has been shown to help reduce anxiety, nausea, depression, and high blood pressure. However, other studies show no difference in patients' responses to massage with aromatherapy oils and massage without the oils.

Although unproven by scientific studies, people undergoing cancer treatment have reported that inhaled peppermint or ginger relieves the nausea sometimes caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

Important things to consider before trying aromatherapy:

  • Make sure you're using essential oil. The label should say "pure essential oil," not "blend" or "massage" oil. If the label isn't clear, don't purchase the oil.
  • Some essential oils are poisonous. You should NEVER TASTE OR SWALLOW any essential oil.
  • Pregnant women and children should not inhale essential oils or rub them on their skin.
  • Always do a skin test with new oils. When using an oil for the first time, it's important to do a skin test on a small area of skin.
    • Spread a little bit on your arm and put a bandage over it.
    • Wait 24 hours to make sure there is no skin reaction before trying it on a larger area.
    • If the area becomes red, swollen, or sore, do NOT use the oil again.
    • It's important to use oils that have been produced without chemicals, or "organic" oils. Oils made with chemicals can irritate the skin.
  • If you find that you are sensitive to different aromas, avoid essential oils.
  • Always check with your doctor before using aromatherapy.

Back to Types of Complementary Techniques

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