Advantages and Disadvantages of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicinal therapy in which essential oils are inhaled to relieve certain disorders such as anxiety and insomnia. And it’s not new. Evidence of its use has been found on cave walls, ancient writings and King Tut’s tomb.
Because of the many years of its existence, aromatherapy is known to be an effective treatment. However, in the interest of remaining objective, presented here are both advantages and disadvantages of aromatherapy.
- Healing Properties
Obviously, the main advantages of aromatherapy are its known healing properties. Even though there is little medical evidence available today to support its healing powers, medical professionals as far back as Hippocrates have touted its benefits. He, in fact, was known for believing in "vis medicatrix naturae," or “the healing power of nature” and used aromatherapy as a staple in his healing practise.
Many informal studies and reviews show evidence that aromatherapy with certain oils is extremely effective on mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
- Safe and Natural
Whilst there are some exceptions, aromatherapy with essential oils is considered safe and non-toxic for human inhalation. Essential oils are derived from plants, and if processed naturally, are a completely organic substance. Because of this, it’s an extremely desirable alternative to man-made pharmaceuticals which contain chemicals and substances foreign to nature.
Using essential oils for aromatherapy, in most cases, will not cause harm to humans, animals or the environment.
- Ease of Use
Aromatherapy is a relatively simple therapeutic procedure, with readily available products, and requires no professional supervision. The simplest method involves simply inhaling the product from its container, so there is no learning curve involved in treating yourself. And even in its most complicated form, you will simply be adding one or more essential oils to some sort of aromatherapy device, which will usually include instructions.
Even though aromatherapy has been around for centuries, its popularity has grown enormously in the last couple of decades. Because of this, essential oil companies are easy to find and easy to access. There are readily available and affordable products to fit almost any budget.
Because oils are derived from plants, it stands to reason that people with certain plant or seasonal allergies could also be sensitive to certain essential oils. Allergic reactions are typically mild, but should be taken into consideration when choosing your oils for aromatherapy.
Citrus-based essential oils cause your skin to be sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, sometimes causing deep sunburns. While this is usually only an issue if applied directly to the skin, precautions should still be taken after aromatherapy sessions using lemon, orange, grapefruit or other citrus oils.
- Lack of Medical Research
Although there are currently some clinical studies underway, there are a few reasons you won’t find much research on aromatherapy at this time.
First, essential oils aren’t standardised. Because the elements of essential oils can vary greatly due to harvest times, processes and climates, it’s not possible to predict consistent outcomes. Secondly, blind studies are difficult due to the fact that scent is a major component of aromatherapy. And finally, since essential oils have been used on humans for centuries, there is no urgent need for testing as far as most government organisations are concerned.
Instead of relying on government or medical approval, you’ll have to use your own trial and error and peer testimonials to make informed decisions.
- Side Effects
Because essential oils are usually safe and non-toxic, side effects are rare, but should still be taken into consideration, especially if certain health conditions exist.
Some possible side effects to be aware of: headache, nausea, rash, breathing difficulties (in people with asthma), and harm to a fetus. Usually, any side effects experienced from aromatherapy are due to pre-existing allergic conditions. If you have known allergies, avoid essential oils derived from those substances.
Essential oils are highly volatile and should not be used next to an open flame.
Is Aromatherapy Right for Everyone?
Whilst aromatherapy is relatively safe and natural, there are some cases where aromatherapy and essential oils should be either avoided or used with caution.
Some oils may be considered unsafe for pregnant women, particularly the following list of essential oils which are considered abortifacients (substances known to cause spontaneous abortion or contractions):
Of course, studies were conducted on animals, not humans, so the level of precaution is a little uncertain and highly debated. Other essential oils such as hyssop are also considered questionable for use during pregnancy. It’s considered best to avoid use of all essential oils during pregnancy except under the care of a trained practitioner.
Anyone with hypertension should avoid stimulating essential oils such as rosemary, spike lavender and cinnamon. These oils are used to stimulate blood flow and energy.
Certain oils, such as peppermint can be toxic to young children in high doses. While usually only toxic when applied topically, precautions should be taken when used in aromatherapy as well.
Essential oils such as fennel, sage and clary sage contain estrogen-like compounds. People with breast or ovarian cancer should avoid such oils as they could feed the cancer cells. Always consult a physician and a trained aromatherapist before treating yourself with aromatherapy.
Understanding your own limitations and health conditions is the most important precaution to take before treating yourself with aromatherapy. Do your research and learn the best practises for using essential oils in any situation.