Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work?

Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work?

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What you should know about the use of essential oils

Essential oils are recommended for numerous complaints and are said to help, for example, against headaches, poor sleep and sore throats. But do these oils actually work or is the effect a placebo? An expert summarized the current study situation.

"Essential oils don't work for everyone, but it doesn't hurt to try them as long as they're safe to use," said Harpreet Gujral, director of integrative medicine at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. The specialist explains what to look out for when using essential oils.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are plant extracts that are produced by steaming or pressing different parts of plants. The flowers, leaves, bark or fruit of a plant are often used. A bottle of oil often contains the extracts of several pounds of a plant. The effects of the oils often go beyond odor formation, reports Gujral.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy uses the effects of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. "This form of therapy has been used for centuries," emphasizes the expert. The effect unfolds when the smell molecules of the oils are absorbed by the olfactory nerves when inhaled and thus have a direct effect on the brain. In particular, the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, is influenced. In addition, the oils can also be absorbed through the skin. This could help relax muscles, for example.

Has the effect of essential oils been proven?

Many people see the oils as natural remedies. According to Harpreet Gujral, however, the number of studies in this area is rather thin. However, there is some promising research that shows the effectiveness of different oils. For example, a research team at Johns Hopkins University found that certain essential oils are better at killing bacteria that cause Lyme disease than antibiotics.

In addition, further studies showed that the use of essential oils can be beneficial for many ailments, including

  • Anxiety,
  • Depressions,
  • Nausea,
  • Insomnia,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • dry mouth.

Pay attention to quality

As the expert for integrative medicine reports, the quality of the available products fluctuates very strongly. From pure essential oil with expensive or inexpensive ingredients to dilutions with additives not listed, everything is available. Gujral therefore advises against using it internally.

Oils can have different effects on different people

When using diffusers, it should be noted that the oils can have different effects on different people. "Spreading in a public area or household with multiple members can affect people differently," said Gujral. For example, peppermint can help with a headache, but a small child under 30 months of age can be excited by peppermint. In addition, some people respond to peppermint vapors with a faster heartbeat, the expert warns.

Safe methods of using essential oils

According to Gujral, there are safer methods of using essential oils. This includes, for example, absorbent materials that are soaked in the oil. Then you could smell it if necessary. An essential oil can also be mixed with a carrier oil. Olive, jojoba or coconut oil, for example, are suitable as carrier oil. In addition, there are aroma sticks in which an absorbent wick is surrounded by a plastic coating. This can be opened if necessary, which releases the smells.

Allergic reactions to essential oils

Gujral points out that a small number of people experience allergic reactions or irritation to essential oils. This is more likely to occur in people who already have eczema or have a history of reactions to topical products. Some oils seem to be problematic here. These include oils

  • Oregano,
  • Cinnamon bark,
  • Jasmine,
  • Lemongrass,
  • Ylang-ylang,
  • Chamomile,
  • Bergamot.

When in direct contact with the skin, dilution with a carrier oil is the best way to avoid an undesirable skin reaction. "If you get a red, itchy rash or hives after applying essential oils, see a doctor," Gujral recommends.

Which oil helps with which complaints?

There are dozens of essential oils, all with different scents and chemical compositions. Which essential oils work best depends on what symptoms are to be alleviated. Gujral introduces some common oils:

  • Lavender oil is often used to relieve stress and anxiety and promote good sleep.
  • Tea tree oil is said to promote wound healing and is often used for acne, athlete's foot and insect bites.
  • peppermint oil can help with tension headaches. In addition, there are indications that capsule form can relieve irritable bowel syndrome.
  • lemon oil is considered a mood enhancer and is also often used in homemade cleaning agents.

This is how high-quality products can be distinguished from inferior ones

Finally, the expert gives some tips on how to recognize high-quality products when buying. For example, the label should contain the Latin name of the plant and information about the purity and other ingredients added. The country in which the plant was grown should also be listed.

The oil should be offered in dark colored glass containers and not in plastic containers. One should be taken aback by the term "fragrance oil" or "perfume oil". Here essential oils were probably made in combination with chemicals or entirely from chemicals. The manufacturer should also be checked? Is he known Did he specialize in oils? How long has the company been around?

Prices also provide information

Real essential oils vary in price depending on the variety. While rose or sandalwood oils are more expensive to manufacture, orange oils can be produced comparatively cheaply. Those who shop at the lowest price are more likely to use an impure oil.


Essential oils can lift mood and well-being. In some people, they even alleviate the symptoms of various ailments. And "even if they only improve your mood, it can also have a positive impact on your health and well-being," says Harpreet Gujral.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Johns Hopkins Medicine: Aromatherapy: Do Essential Oils Really Work? (Accessed: 12.12.2019),

Video: Do Essential Oils Work or Are You Being Scammed? (August 2022).