Aromatherapy: Healing With Scents
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Aromatherapy is a natural treatment. It was used in ancient China, India, and the Middle East. It involves releasing essential oils into the air. Some oils are inhaled. Others are used on the skin or taken by mouth. It depends on the type of oil. The oils are taken from plants and herbs. They are in high concentrations. Many people claim healing scents help a variety of health problems.
Sniffing Through The Scents
Have you ever gone to a massage therapist? If so, you may have noticed a soothing scent in the room. Healing scents are often used by alternative health practitioners. Now they are being used more in health care settings. Healing scents are showing benefits for people who have cancer, Alzheimer's, pain, and surgery. They are also being used in end-of-life care.
Here are just a few examples of how healing scents have been used:
Seeking Certified Care
There are thousands of essential oils online. You may want to try them as a therapy. If so, consider working with someone trained in aromatherapy. It is important to know which oils to use. You want to use them safely, correctly, and in the right amounts.
There is no licensing for this field in the US. However some organizations offer certification. One example is the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). Those with a certificate may be licensed in another field, such as:
Your doctor may be able to advise an aromatherapist. Another option is to visit the Aromatherapy Registration Council website.
Safely Using Scents
In general, inhaling essential oils is safe. But some people have allergic reactions and other side effects. It is also not clear what effects these oils have on infants, children, elderly, or people who are very ill.
Use well-known oils (like peppermint). They should have evidence behind them. According to NAHA, labels should say “pure essential oil.” They should also list the plant name. For example, Mentha piperita is peppermint.
Healing scents are becoming more popular. Be sure to use good sense with good scents!
Aromatherapy Registration Council
National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy
Public Health Agency of Canada
Aromatherapy. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: https://www.ebsco.com/products/research-databases/natural-alternative-treatments. Accessed June 24, 2021.
Aromatherapy and essential oils. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/aromatherapy-pdq. Accessed June 24, 2021.
Explore aromatherapy. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 24, 2021.
Farrar A, Farrar, F. Clinical aromatherapy. Nurs Clin North Am. 2020; 55(4): 489–504.
Fearrington MA, Qualls BW, Carey MG. Essential oils to reduce postoperative nausea and vomiting. J Perianesth Nurs. 2019;34(5):1047-1053.
How do I find a qualified aromatherapist? University of Minnesota website. Available at: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/aromatherapy/how-do-i-find-qualified-aromatherapist. Accessed June 24, 2021.
Malcolm BJ, Tallian K. Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? Ment Health Clin. 2018;7(4):147-155.
Regulation and licensing information. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website. Available at: https://naha.org/index.php/explore-aromatherapy/regulations. Accessed June 24, 2021.
Last reviewed June 24, 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/24/2021
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.