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What is Aromatherapy?

Updated: Apr 7

If we breakdown the word aromatherapy, it can mean any use of aroma (or scents) to provide therapeutic properties.  The scent of an apple pie baking in the oven might signal your brain into a comforting nostalgic place in your childhood when you spent time with your grandma baking apple pies bringing you to a place of peace and happiness.  Or maybe a pine and berry scented candle burning during the Christmas season might help you to feel cheerful and get in the holiday spirit. 

This is a photo of Aromatherapy by Sunny Brews Apothecary.

Aromatherapy by definition; however, is part of a larger field called phytotherapy (plant therapy).  It is the skilled use of essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils for holistic healing.  They are used for their properties to help support the mind, body, and spirit to return the body to a state of equilibrium, to be in balance. (Reference:  Annette Davis, NAHA President).

My definition in short is: “Aromatherapy is the science and art of using plant extracts (essential oils, hydrosols, carrier oils) to help balance the mind, body, and soul.” It extends far beyond pleasant scents and delves into the realm of holistic healing, addressing both the body and mind in a natural way. 

Aromatherapy is Art and Science

Considered both an art and science, aromatherapy brings the best of both worlds together.  Let’s break down the aspects of art and science in aromatherapy:

  1. Science

    1. Chemistry:  Aromatherapy relies on the chemical constituents of essential oils. The constituents have various therapeutic properties and understanding these chemical constituents is crucial.

    2. Biology:  The impact of aromatherapy on the human body involves biological processes.  For example, inhaling certain aromas can stimulate the olfactory system, influencing the brain and potentially affecting mood and emotions.

    3. Research:  Scientific studies are conducted to investigate the effects of specific essential oils on health.  Researchers explore the potential benefits and mechanisms behind aromatherapy.

  2. Art

    1. Personalization:  Aromatherapy often involves a personalized approach.  Practitioners customize specific blends of essential oils based on an individual's preferences, needs, and health conditions.

    2. Creativity:  It is a creative process when finding the right combination of scents to create a synergy that is more powerful than separate essential oils. 

    3. Intuition:  Sometimes an aromatherapist’s intuition helps steer the aromatherapy blend in a specific direction.  Taking into consideration the whole person instead of the specific issue may give different direction to that blend. 

This is a photo of aromatherapy blends in glass vials.

In summary, aromatherapy is rooted in scientific principles such as chemistry and biology, but also incorporates an artistic element in terms of personalization, creativity, and intuitive practices. 

Why Use Aromatherapy – Benefits of Aromatherapy

The effectiveness of aromatherapy can vary among individuals, and the field continues to evolve as more research is conducted to better understand its mechanisms and applications.  Great research is being done with amazing results.

There are those that unfortunately give the field a bad name by promoting unsafe uses and making false claims.  What’s scary about this is the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) could step in and make using aromatherapy very difficult for all, including those that follow protocol. This is why education and accurate information is so important to know the difference.  This is the moment to pat yourself on the back for your due diligence in reading this post.

In most cases aromatherapy is used as a supportive modality.  In no way should it be used as a substitution for medicine or emergencies.  For example, essential oils are not going to cure your high blood pressure.  They may play a supportive role in helping to reduce your stress levels by calming you into a peaceful state of mind which in turn provides a supportive environment to help monitor your high blood pressure. 

Some therapeutic benefits of Aromatherapy are:

  1. Stress Relief:  This is one of the primary reasons individuals turn to aromatherapy for its proven ability to help alleviate stress and anxiety.  In general, essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, and bergamot have natural calming properties that may induce a sense of relaxation, promoting a peaceful state of mind.  Inhaling these oils can trigger the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, fostering a positive mood and reducing stress levels. (Kerr, Debra, et al.)

  2. Improved Sleep Quality:  Quality of sleep diminishes as our lives become busier and filled with static and blue light from cell phones, tablets, and other electronics.  Aromatherapy offers a natural solution to help promote better sleep.  Essentials oils like lavender and vetiver have been researched with promising results of creating a conducive environment for a restful night’s sleep.  Diffusing these oils or using a linen spray at bedtime can positively impact sleep patterns, contributing to overall health and well-being. (“AromaPsychology – Tisserand Institute”)

  3. Mood Enhancement:  Aromatherapy has the power to influence emotions and uplift mood.  Citrus scents like grapefruit, bergamot, and lemon are known for their invigorating properties.  Inhaling these refreshing oils can stimulate the release of endorphins (our feel-good hormones) leaving you with an uplifted sense of well-being.

  4. Pain Management:  Aromatherapy plays an important role in pain management with massage.  Herbal infused oils like arnica, St John’s Wort, Calendula and essential oils like peppermint and laurel leaf have an affinity for pain providing analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. (“AromaPsychology - Tisserand Institute”)

  5. Cognitive Function: One of the amazing benefits of Aromatherapy is cognitive support.  Using essential oils like rosemary and peppermint has been shown to enhance focus, concentration, and memory.  Diffusing these oils or using a personal inhaler while at work can help you stay focused.

  6. Immune System Support:  No, aromatherapy is NOT going to cure the flu.  Aromatherapy may offer support in strengthening your immune system to help support your overall health.  Essential oils like eucalyptus and thyme can be powerful in this area.

  7. Skincare:  There are so many wonderful plant extracts that help support healthy skin.  Hydrosols (the water-based portion of steam distilling essential oils) are wonderful for the skin.  Many times, you only need a couple products to maintain beautiful skin.


This is a field of lavender in bloom.

Methods of Applications in Aromatherapy

The two primary methods of application in aromatherapy are inhalation and topical application.  Internal use of essential oils is not recommended nor needed in most aromatherapy practices.  Do not ingest essential oils without the professional knowledge of an aromatherapist specifically trained in ingesting essential oils (look for the future blog post on this).

  1. Inhalation

    1. Activates the olfactory system which influences the central nervous system and may induce relaxation or stimulation.

    2. Effective for respiratory conditions (stuffy nose) and therapeutic conditions (sleep support, cognitive support)

  2. Topical Applications

    1. When essential oils are used with a carrier (sesame oil, lotion base) they may help support localized areas with relief (bug bite, sore muscles) topically.

    2. Different parts of the body have different absorption rates and should be taken into consideration. 


Where to Learn More About Aromatherapy

One of the best places to start your journey is the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Their mission is: “NAHA's mission is to advance the knowledge of the medicinal use of aromatic plants and essential oils to its fullest extent and to support aromatherapy as a truly holistic professional art and science.” 

As I was studying Clinical Aromatherapy, I became a student member.  Once I earned my certification in Clinical Aromatherapy, I became a Level 2 member of NAHA.  They are a great organization that provides a great amount of information.

I hope after reading this post you have a better understanding of Aromatherapy and what it has to offer. 

Does Aromatherapy Interest You?

I better bring this blog post to an end, or I could continue writing for days.  There is so much to learn and talk about when it comes to Aromatherapy. This post is an introduction to Aromatherapy.  I am working on a post that will discuss where to learn more about aromatherapy, covering blogs and online learning.  Does aromatherapy interest you? If you have questions, please comment below. Or reach out to Sunny Brews Apothecary.



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