Aromatherapy essential oils have powerful physical and emotional effects, to lower anxiety, stress and blood pressure. When inhaled, aromatherapy scents are detected by the olfactory area of the brain, which is closely linked to the primitive emotional centres of the limbic system. Oils are also absorbed from the skin into the circulation to have pharmacological effects.
Some aromatherapy essential oils have a diuretic action to flush excess fluid from the body, in a similar way to diuretic medications. Oils which are said to have this effect when used in aromatherapy massage include Clary-sage, Lavender, Lemongrass, Marjoram and Melissa. Others have a sedative effect to reduce stress, induce relaxation and promote sleep, such as Geranium, Juniper, Lavender, Neroli, Lemongrass, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang.
What is the evidence that it is effective?
Korean researchers asked 22 patients with hypertension to inhale either a blend of oils of Lemon, Lavender and Ylang Ylang essential oils prepared in the ratio of 2:2:1, or similar, artificial fragrances, for two minutes, twice a day, for three weeks. In those inhaling the real aromatherapy essential oils, significant reductions in systolic blood pressure were recorded compared to those inhaling the artificial fragrances. No significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure occurred, however.
In another study, 52 people with hypertension were divided into groups, one of which was asked to inhale a blend of Lavender, Ylang-Ylang and Bergamot aromatherapy oils, once a day, for 4 weeks. Significant reductions in blood pressure, pulse, subjective stress, anxiety state, and blood levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, occurred in those inhaling the aromatherapy oils compared to the placebo groups. The researchers concluded that inhaling these oils was an effective nursing intervention to reduce psychological stress responses and blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension.
Researchers from Yale University have also found that inhaling the scent of spiced apple could reduce blood pressure by 5 mmHg – similar to the effect achieved with bendrofluazide diuretics.
How to blend aromatherapy oils
Aromatherapy essential oils may be inhaled, massaged into the skin, added to bath water, or heated in a variety of ways to perfume the atmosphere. Oils that come into contact with skin should almost always be diluted with a carrier oil (eg almond, avocado, jojoba, sunflower, wheatgerm oils).
Dilution is important as oils that are too concentrated may have an adverse effect or cause skin irritation. One of the few exceptions to the dilution rule is Lavender essential oil, which is often used neat.
Add a maximum total of one drop essential oil to each 2 millilitre (24 drops) of carrier oil. Two teaspoons (10 ml) of carrier oil should therefore contain no more than 5 drops of essential oil blend, while two tablespoons (30 ml) should contain no more than 15 drops of essential oil blend. Oils that are twice as dilute as this often suffice (ie only 5 drops essential oil blend per 20 ml carrier oil). A 5ml medicinal teaspoon measure (or a 5ml syringe if you prefer) can be bought cheaply from a chemist to ensure accuracy as kitchen teaspoons tend to hold slightly less than 5ml.
When making up a blend, choose oils whose aromas you like and experiment with different quantities of each. If a blend isn’t quite to your liking, add more drops of one or more of the oils – or introduce another that you feel is missing. Keep a note of the total number of drops used so that you can ensure it is correctly diluted by adding extra carrier oil. Altogether, every 5 drops of essential oil should be balanced with 10ml of carrier oil.
Enjoy an aromatic bath
Aromatherapy is wonderfully relaxing when used in the bath. Choose a single favourite sensual oil, or a blend of up to three. Add 5 drops of essential oil to a tablespoon (30ml) carrier oil (eg almond, avocado) and mix. Draw your bath so that it is comfortably hot, but don’t add the aromatic oil mix until the taps are turned off. Close the bathroom door to keep in the vapours and soak for 15 –20 minutes, preferably in candlelight.
After cleansing, you can also dip a wet sponge in the oil mix and use it to gently massage your whole body before rinsing. Lie back comfortably, and close your eyes. Allow the scent to fill your entire body and imagine it coursing through your veins, brining relaxation and a renewed sense of energy.
Sprinkle a few drops of your chosen oils on a cottonwool pad or hanky and tuck it under your pillow at night. Lavender oil is one of the most popular oils for inducing sleep.
Alternatively, scent your bedroom with an oil using a burner.
Where possible, use natural rather than synthetic essential oils as these have a greater therapeutic benefit. Similarly, 100% pure essential oils are preferable as they are not mixed with alcohol or other additives.
- Do not take essential oils internally.
- Before using an essential oil blend on your skin, put a small amount on a patch of skin and leave for an hour to ensure you are not sensitive to it.
- Do not use essential oils if you are pregnant, or likely to be, except under specialist advice from an experienced aromatherapist.
- Keep essential oils away from your face and eyes.
- Essential oils are flammable, so do not put them on an open flame.
- Avoid Thyme, Clove and Cinnamon essential oil which can raise blood pressure
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is key to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
Image credits: katia vasileva; science photo; natalia klenova / shutterstock