Related Terms

  • Aromatherapy massage, bergamot, Cananga odorata, , Citrus aurantium, clary sage, essential oils, geranium, grapefruit, inhalation, inunction, , lavender vera, Lavendula officinalis, lemon balm, Melaleuca alternifolia, mandarin, , meditation, Melissa officinalis, myrrh, neroli, orange, peppermint, , Roman chamomile, rose, sandalwood, Santalum album, sweet orange, tea tree, vetivert, ylang ylang oil.


  • Fragrant oils have been used for thousands of years to lubricate the skin, purify air, and repel insects. Ancient Egyptians used fragrant oils for bathing and massage. Essential oils of plants have been used medicinally through application directly to the skin (usually diluted), as a part of massage, added to bathwater, via steam inhalation, or in mouthwashes.
  • Aromatherapy is a technique in which essential oils from plants are used with the intention of preventing or treating illness, reducing stress, or enhancing well-being. Fragrance oils and products containing man-made compounds are not used in the practice of genuine aromatherapy. Although many gift shops sell scented candles, pomanders, and potpourri as “aromatherapy,” genuine aromatherapy treatments use higher strength (concentrated) essential oils drawn from various herbs.
  • There is no formal training or licensing procedure for aromatherapists in the United States. This technique is offered by a wide range of practitioners with licenses in other fields, including massage therapists, chiropractors, and other therapists.

Evidence Table


    These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

    Agitation in patients with dementia

    Aromatherapy using essential oil of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) may reduce agitation in people with severe dementia, when applied to the face and arms. Other research reports that steam inhalation of lavender aromatherapy may have similar effects. Overall, the evidence does suggest potential benefits.

    Alcohol withdrawal

    Aromatherapy may be as effective as some types of acupuncture in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms. More study is needed in this area.

    Alopecia areata (hair loss)

    Alopecia areata is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles, resulting in unpredictable patches of hair loss. Early evidence suggests a blend of essential oils rubbed into the scalp may show benefit.

    Anxiety (lavender aromatherapy)

    Lavender aromatherapy may be able to reduce anxiety. However, there have been conflicting results, and more study is needed in this area.

    Anxiety (sandalwood aromatherapy in palliative care)

    Lavender may contribute to reduced anxiety and improved mood, at least subjectively, but some other aromas, such as sandalwood, may not. More studies are needed to confirm these findings.

    Anxiety/stress in intensive care unit patients (lavender aromatherapy)

    It is unclear whether lavender aromatherapy reduces anxiety levels in intensive unit care patients.

    Arthritis (wellbeing)

    There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against the use of aromatherapy in arthritis patients.

    Atopic eczema (children)

    It is unclear whether aromatherapy might benefit children with atopic eczema.

    Cancer (quality of life)

    Aromatherapy is often used in people with chronic illnesses (frequently in combination with massage), with the intention to improve quality of life or well- being. There is not enough scientific evidence in this area.


    Aromatherapy may be helpful during childbirth to relieve anxiety, pain, nausea, and/or vomiting or to strengthen contractions. It may also reduce pain perceived by first time mothers.

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    Early evidence suggests that aromatherapy may aid mucus clearance in COPD. More studies are needed before conclusions about this application of aromatherapy can be made.


    Early research in Guillian Barré syndrome patients show a possible benefit of aromatherapy massage for constipation, and rosemary, lemon, and peppermint essential oils may be beneficial in the elderly. Additional study is warranted to differentiate the effects of essential oils vs. massage.

    Decongestant-expectorant/upper respiratory tract infection (eucalyptus aromatherapy)

    Despite widespread use in over-the-counter agents and vapors, there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend use of eucalyptus oil as a decongestant-expectorant (by mouth or inhaled form).


    There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against the use of aromatherapy in patients with mild depression.


    Abdominal aromatherapy massage with a combination of essential oils may reduce the intensity of menstrual cramps in women with dysmenorrhea. More research is needed in this area to identify the most effective essential oils.

    Itching (pruritus) in dialysis patients

    Preliminary research reports reduced itching in dialysis patients receiving aromatherapy massage. Further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.


    Massage and skin care with and without aromatherapy improved relief and wellbeing in breast cancer patients. More study is needed in this area.

    Nausea and vomiting (post-operative)

    There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against the use of aromatherapy in patients with post-surgery nausea.


    It has been suggested that aromatherapy massage may reduce abdominal obesity or appetite. Additional evidence is needed before a clear conclusion can be reached.

    Perineal discomfort after childbirth

    Early research on the use of essential oils in bath water or soap suggests limited or no benefit for post-partum perineal discomfort. More studies are needed before conclusions can be reached about this application of essential oils.

    Postpartum care

    Aromatherapy is popularly used to improve mood. A preliminary study found that aromatherapy in first-time mothers had improved moods after aromatherapy. Higher quality research is needed in this area.

    Sleep apnea (pediatric)

    Early research suggests that pre-mature newborns with sleep apnea may benefit from aromatherapy. However, more data are needed before definitive recommendations can be made.

    Sleep quality (adults)

    Early research suggests that lavender may have general benefits for sleep quality and specific benefits for insomnia.

    Stroke recovery

    There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against the use of aromatherapy in recovering stroke patients.

    Wound care

    Early research suggests that aromatherapy may contribute to reduced pain intensity during dressing changes in wound care. More study is needed in this area.

*Key to grades:



    The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.



    Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.


  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ().



    Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to . Selected references are listed below.

  • Anderson C, Lis-Balchin M, Kirk-Smith M. Evaluation of massage with essential oils on childhood atopic eczema. Phytother Res 2000 Sep;14(6):452-6.
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  • Ballard CG, O’Brien JT, Reichelt K, et al. Aromatherapy as a safe and effective treatment for the management of agitation in severe dementia: the results of a double-blind, placebo- controlled trial with Melissa. J Clin Psychiatry 2002;63(7):553-558.
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  • Barclay J, Vestey J, Lambert A, et al. Reducing the symptoms of lymphoedema: is there a role for aromatherapy? Eur J Oncol Nurs 2006 Apr;10(2):140-9.
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  • Brownfield A. Aromatherapy in arthritis: a study. Nurs Stand 1998 Oct 21-27;13(5):34-5.
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  • Burns E, Zobbi V, Panzeri D, Oskrochi R, et al. Aromatherapy in childbirth: a pilot randomised controlled trial. BJOG 2007 Jul;114(7):838-44.
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  • Cooke B, Ernst E. Aromatherapy: a systematic review. Br J Gen Pract 2000;50(455):493-496.
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  • Gravett P. Aromatherapy treatment for patients with Hickman line infection following high-dose chemotherapy. Internat J Aromather 2001;11(1):18-19.
  • Han SH, Hur MH, Buckle J, et al. Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med 2006 Jul-Aug;12(6):535-41.
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  • Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. Arch Dermatol 1998 Nov;134(11):1349-52.
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  • Holmes C, Hopkins V, Hensford C, et al. Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated behaviour in severe dementia: a placebo controlled study. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2002 Apr;17(4):305-8.
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  • Muzzarelli L, Force M, Sebold M. Aromatherapy and reducing preprocedural anxiety: A controlled prospective study. Gastroenterol Nurs 2006 Nov-Dec;29(6):466-71.
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  • Smallwood J, Brown R, Coulter F, et al. Aromatherapy and behaviour disturbances in dementia: a randomized controlled trial. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2001;16(10):1010-1013.
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  • Smith CA, Collins CT, Cyna AM, Crowther CA. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006 Oct 18(4):CD003521.
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  • Wilkinson S, Aldridge J, Salmon I, et al. An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care. Palliat Med 1999 Sep;13(5):409-17.
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  • Wilkinson SM, Love SB, Westcombe AM, et al. Effectiveness of aromatherapy massage in the management of anxiety and depression in patients with cancer: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol 2007 Feb 10;25(5):532-9.
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