If you’ve ever lit a fragrant candle as part of a hygge-inspired Friday evening after a really long week, you kind of already “get” aromatherapy. But do you really know what it’s all about? Scents are pretty powerful. Not only do they summon memories at strange moments (when a stranger wanders by with cologne that whisks you back to dancing at prom?), they can also turn you into a happier, more productive person.
You know, one who inhales deeply and checks Instagram in a more Zen state than usual.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is aromatherapy?
Essential oils (that tower of little bottles you pass by at Whole Foods on the way to get your protein powder) are super concentrated, aromatic oils extracted from plants, and they’ve been used for healing by multiple cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Take one of those oils and inhale the scent, and you’ve got aromatherapy. Of course, the holistic healing modality is more complex than that, and there are certified aromatherapists who know how to blend the right oils and work all kinds of smelly magic, but breathing in the oil’s scent is really the crux of the matter.
The coolest part? There’s quite a bit of research that backs up the practice’s benefits. For instance, a review of multiple studies found that “credible evidence that odors can affect mood, physiology, and behavior exists.” (AKA, your nose don’t lie.)
What can it do for you?
Here’s where things get interesting. Aromatherapy’s benefits seem to be perfectly suited to the life of the busy, working, tech-savvy person.
1. It could help you sleep.
Many aromatherapists recommend using aromatherapy to wind down before bed, and a research review found “a positive effect of essential oils on sleep.” Lavender is the essential oil most studied for improving quality shut-eye, and it’s been found to help many groups suffering from insomnia for different reasons, including postpartum women, and patients in hospitals.
I’ve been using this Vitruvi diffuser to fill my bedroom with lavender and other sleep-promoting scents at night, and I do think it’s had a signifcant effect on my ability to wind down and get ready for bed. I love using a diffuser because it’s easy— fill with water, drop oils in, Bob’s your uncle.
2. It could cut anxiety and boost productivity at work.
Bergamot is seriously effective for reducing anxiety. It’s one of many citrusy essential oils aromatherapists say can cut stress and boost your mood (for when your unread email number tips into triple digits, for instance), and many companies sell blends formulated for this exact purpose. One study even showed that petigrain (a cousin of bergamot) could improve workplace performance by reducing stress and increasing alertness.
How to do it
Ready to start breathing deep? Companies like Vitruvi, Saje Wellness (faves of mine from Canada) as well as DoTerra and Aura Cacia sell high-quality essential oils on their own or in blends for specific purposes. Then, you’ll need a diffuser to disperse the aroma around your space.
If you want to use oils topically, you’ll have to learn a bit more about carrier oils, because most essential oils are too potent to just drop on your skin (I learned this the hard way, when rubbing some immunity oils on my face… my face stopped burning and eyes stopped tearing an hour later. Carrier oils (like almond, grapeseed or even olive oil) dilute the oil then “carry” its healing properties into the skin. It adds another layer of complication, but it’s worth it.
I’ve been testing out some of Saje Wellness’ products and they are a great place to start if you’re just dipping your toe into the aromatherapy world. Many of their products are pre-blended with carrier oils, so you can use them directly on your skin (or spray them on your pillow!) without having to know a thing about it. The Pocket Farmacy below is full of great remedies and the whole thing fits in your purse or travel bag for on-the-go fixes for everything from stress to headaches to a cough.
Other ideas? Put a few drops in a spray bottle of water and mist it around your house, or put a few drops in a bowl of boiling water, place a towel over your head, and inhale the steam. And if you want to go deeper, you can always take a class at a spot like the New York Institute of Aromatherapy. I’ve also been digging this book, written by the founder of one of my favorite skincare lines, which makes the whole practice simple and fun.
Of course, my personal favorite? Book a massage that includes aromatherapy, for two stress-reducing therapies in one.
Do you use aromatherapy? Share which scents have helped improve your moods, productivity, or sleep in the comments below!