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What Aromatherapy Is

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to alter mood or improve health. It is generally used to relieve depression and stress, and to achieve a general feeling of well-being. There is no proof that aromatherapy relieves pain.

Aromathearpy oils come from parts of plants, such as from flowers, fruit, grasses, leaves, resins, seeds, and wood.

Practitioners of aromatherapy apply essential oils using several different methods, including he following:

  • Indirect inhalation via a room diffuser or drops of oil placed near the patient (for example, on a  tissue)
  • Direct inhalation used in an individual inhaler (for example, a few drops of essential oil floated on top of hot water to aid a sinus headache)
  • Aromatherapy massage, which is the application to the body of essential oils diluted in a carrier oil.
  • Mixing essential oils in bath salts and lotions or applying them to dressings. 

Aromatherapy practitioners may have different recipes for treating specific conditions, involving various combinations of oils and methods of application. While there are some common used which are more accepted throughout the aromatherapy community, differences in recipes are practitioner-dependent. This lack of standardization has led to poor consistency in research on the effects of aromatherapy, because anecdotal evidence alone or previous experience has driven the choice of oils, and different researchers often choose different oils when studying the same applications.

No studies in the published peer reviewed medical literature discuss aromatherapy as a treatment for people with cancer or other diseases. (For a summary of published results, see the website of the National Cancer Institute at offsite link.  In the search box, type in "Aromatherapy". Look for the document titled "Aromatherapy and Essential Oils"


Training and certification in aromatherapy for lay practitioners is available at several schools throughout the United States.

There are specific courses for licensed health professionals that give nursing or continuing medical education contact hours and include a small research component.


No license is required to practice aromatherapy.

Governing Organizations 

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy offsite link (NAHA) and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists offsite link are the two governing bodies for national educational standards for aromatherapists. NAHA is taking steps toward standardizing aromatherapy certification in the United States. Many schools offer certificate programs approved by NAHA. A list of these schools can be found on the NAHA Web site. 

Government Approval

Aromatherapy products do not need approval by the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because there is no claim for treatment of specific diseases.

On Your Own

To try aromatherapy on your own, place a couple of droplets of an essential oil that interests you into a plug-in diffuser you can purchase at a health food store or on line, or simply put a few drops on a light bulb and turn it on.

To Locate An Aromatherapist

  • Ask your doctor or other medical practitioner
  • If you belong to a support group, check with other members.
  • Look at the website of the Aromatherapy Registration Council offsite link.  Click on "Find An RA"


  • Never take the oils internally. 
  • Some oils applied to the skin can cause a rash.

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