When inhaled, the molecules in essential oils travel up the nose and interact with scent receptors, which stimulates the olfactory nerve that connects to the brain.
“The oil itself doesn’t go up into the brain, but it stimulates a response that typically affects different aspects of the brain and the central nervous system, specifically in regions called the limbic system. This system has a lot to do with arousal, memory, and processing emotions,” says Michelle Davila, ND, a naturopathic doctor with the integrative medicine department of Beaumont Health in Grosse Pointe and Royal Oak, Michigan.
However, one review, which evaluated several studies on the efficacy of lavender therapy in neurological disorders, found that longer-term follow-ups, larger studies, and more consistent clinical parameters are needed before its usage should be recommended for treatment of nervous system or psychological concerns.
Essential oils also create certain effects when applied to the skin. “Because of their low molecular weight and the fact that they’re fat-soluble, essential oils can get into the bloodstream and affect different aspects of our overall health,” Dr. Davila explains.
“But whether you use aromatherapy through the olfactory nerve [or the lungs], or through absorption [via] the skin, the effects are fairly similar,” she adds.
They’re also used by doctors, nurses, chiropractors, acupuncturists, holistic healthcare providers, and dentists, notes Shanti Dechen, a certified clinical aromatherapy practitioner and licensed massage therapist, who is director of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy in Crestone, Colorado.
However, many organizations offer education and certification programs. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) is an educational nonprofit organization that has created guidelines for aromatherapy certification programs. Check that your aromatherapist has received training from a NAHA-approved aromatherapy school.