The use of essential oils in aromatherapy leads them to be defined as an element of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, known within the healthcare industry as CAM. These treatments are not part of mainstream ideas of healthcare, but instead provide alternative options for patients with various illnesses or conditions who wish to explore other methods of treatment. Alternative medicine can be used on its own instead of a conventional treatment to cure a condition, or complementary medicine should be used alongside usual medicine to support a patient’s wellbeing and recovery.
In regards to the use of essential oils specifically, aromatherapy is the key method by which these ingredients are incorporated into complementary therapy. While there is little research supporting its use as an entire healing treatment – suggesting that aromatherapy on its own cannot cure major conditions – it is often recommended as a therapy which can support traditional medicine. For example, the Center for Spirituality at the University of Minnesota, which gathers research studies published in this area, explains the benefits of essential oils on the ‘emotional brain’. The Center describes how research has shown that during inhalation of oils through aromatherapy, the odour molecules travel through the noise and interact with the limbic system – connecting with the receptors in the brain. The limbic system is directly linked to areas of the brain that control aspects of the human body including hormone balance, stress, heart rate and breathing.
Therefore, the use of essential oils during aromatherapy can benefit a patient as side effects of serious illnesses can be calmed or lessened by breathing in the oil’s odour molecules. It is well known that some oils have sedative properties, with lavender being one of the most renowned for this, and therefore aromatherapy, as part of alternative medicine, can ease side effects such as restlessness or irritability. This aspect of aromatherapy is especially pertinent for people suffering from emotional disorders such as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), where using oils such as grapefruit can contribute to a general feeling of uplift and well-being, which may help a sufferer. Furthermore, conditions such as anxiety may also benefit from aromatherapy as an alternative or complementary medicine, either to be used alongside standard medical treatment or attempted as a standalone option. Oils such as orange, patchouli and rose all have calming properties which work during their connection with the emotional brain following aromatherapy.
Furthermore, some essential oils have properties which lend them well to being directly applied to the skin through diluted carrier oil, acting as alternative medicine. Dilution is necessary when using oils topically, as due to the concentrated nature of essential oilsskin can become irritated if theyare not mixed with a carrier oil or base cream. When dilution has been carried out, oils can be applied through a compress, in a bath, or through a massage. Skin wounds can benefit from being treated with antiseptic oils such as lemon, and followed with a treatment of anti-inflammatory oil such as chamomile. Oils can also be used for common skin disorders such as acne (tea tree is highly recommended) and as part of a cleansing skin care regime.
Therefore, while evidence cannot be given to show essential oils as being able to completely heal serious illness or disease, it is evident that they can ease symptoms or side effects, and therefore provide an efficient and helpful form of complementary medicine. This has even been supported by the National Cancer Institute, which asserts that cancer patients can use aromatherapy to ‘improve their quality of life, such as reducing stress and anxiety’. It is obviously not suggested that aromatherapy should ever be used in an attempt to cure cancer, but exploring it as a method of lifting mood and easing side effects is a valid option. The support essential oils can bring to a sufferer is something that should be considered as a way of providing relief of stress and anxiety via the limbic system.
It seems then that the ancient ritual of using natural ingredients to encourage health and well-being is something that should not be overlooked in our modern age. Although contemporary and mainstream medicines are vigorously tested to prove their benefits, alternative and complementary treatments can be used alongside these in order to support and aid recovery. As explained within this article, patients can not only treat minor skin conditions using diluted oils, but those suffering from serious illnesses can find relief in aromatherapy as anxiety and stress are reduced. Therefore, essential oils, which can be purchased from specialist herbal shops, should be considered as a valid form of complementary medicine, and are worth exploring as an option to support healing.