As a scientist whose PhD involved natural product synthesis and pharmacology (that’s where you get chemicals out of nature (plants, bacteria, marine sponges etc.) in the hopes that they’ll become, or lead to the development, of a useful drug one day), I find alternative medicine very interesting. While a LOT of it is hokum, designed to trap innocent people into buying very expensive water and/or urine, there are definitely a lot of untapped treasures in there awaiting proper evaluation.
One of the things I’ve been getting into is aromatherapy (you may have guessed from my obsession with stuff that smells good). While I don’t believe a word of the claims about energy centres, strengthening immune systems and of course, that word that always marks a scam, detoxification – there is actually some evidence on essential oils having effects on mood (some researchers use the term aromachology to specify the research-based application of scent’s psychological effects, but to me, that’s splitting hairs).
There’s some (weak) evidence that lavender and lemon oils in particular are good for stress relief and elevating mood. While it’s doubtful that they’ll work as well as properly prescribed antidepressants or therapy for clinical depression or anxiety, they’re definitely healthier than binge-eating a whole block of chocolate when you’re having one of those days (I need to keep reminding myself of that).
|My usual coping mechanism.|
I’ve been using the electric oil burner I picked up at Spa and Beauty Expo to burn essential oils. I’ve been loving Endota Spa‘s lavender-heavy Spirit* blend for destressing, and sometimes just straight up Lavendin Grosso oil from the Sydney Essential Oil Company (lavandin is a lavender hybrid).
Some inhaled essential oils are also useful for breathing problems. Eucalyptus and peppermint oils (such as in Endota Spa‘s essential oil blend Breathe* and Sydney Essential Oil Company‘s blend, also aptly named Breathe) clear mucus and reduce irritation, thanks to their high components of eucalyptol and menthol respectively.
There are a few more essential oils which have scientifically researched properties – for example, tea tree oil is antiseptic. However, anything that genuinely works will have side effects, regardless of whether it’s natural or synthetic. While essential oils may sound natural and safe, always research possible risks before use. For example, lemon oil will make your skin more sensitive to sunburn if you apply it straight on the skin, peppermint and eucalyptus can slow breathing to a dangerous extent in young children, and most essential oils are skin irritants, and poisonous if you eat them.
RS Herz, Aromatherapy facts and fictions: a scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behavior, Int J Neuroscience 2009, 119, 263.
S Inouye, T Takizawa and H Yamaguchi, Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their major constituents against respiratory tract pathogens by gaseous contact, J Antimicrob Chemother 2001, 47, 565.
UR Juergens, U Dethlefsen, G Steinkamp, A Gillissen, R Repges and H Vetter, Anti-inflammatory activity of 1.8-cineol (eucalyptol) in bronchial asthma: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, Respiratory Medicine 2003, 97, 250.
Products marked * provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.