Despite their widespread use, little is known about the ability of essential oils to treat certain health conditions.
Here’s a look at the evidence regarding some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat.
Stress and anxiety
It has been estimated that 43% of people who have stress and anxiety use some form of alternative therapy to help relieve their symptoms.
Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work alongside traditional therapy to treat anxiety and stress.
However, due to the scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blinded studies and rule out biases. Thus, many reviews on the stress- and anxiety-relieving effects of essential oils have been inconclusive.
Interestingly, using essential oils during a massage may help relieve stress, although the effects may only last while the massage is taking place.
A recent review of over 201 studies found that only 10 were robust enough to analyze. It also concluded that aromatherapy was ineffective at treating anxiety.
Headaches and migraines
In the ’90s, two small studies found that dabbing a peppermint oil and ethanol mixture on participants’ foreheads and temples relieved headache pain.
Recent studies have also observed reduced headache pain after applying peppermint and lavender oil to the skin.
What’s more, it has been suggested that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil to the temples may treat headaches and migraines. This is a traditional Persian headache remedy.
However, more high-quality studies are needed.
Sleep and insomnia
Smelling lavender oil has been shown to improve the sleep quality of women after childbirth, as well as patients with heart disease.
One review examined 15 studies on essential oils and sleep. The majority of studies showed that smelling the oils — mostly lavender oil — had positive effects on sleep habit.
It has been suggested that essential oils may help fight inflammatory conditions. Some test-tube studies show that they have anti-inflammatory effects.
One mouse study found that ingesting a combination of thyme and oregano essential oils helped induce the remission of colitis. Two rat studies on caraway and rosemary oils found similar results.
However, very few human studies have examined the effects of these oils on inflammatory diseases. Therefore, their effectiveness and safety are unknown.
Antibiotic and antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has renewed interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections.
Test-tube studies have investigated essential oils, such as peppermint and tea tree oil, extensively for their antimicrobial effects, observing some positive results.
However, while these test-tube study results are interesting, they do not necessarily reflect the effects that these oils have within your body. They don’t prove that a particular essential oil could treat bacterial infections in humans.