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Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Front view of lavender in oil and lavender flowers on a white towel on marble background.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils come from plant parts such as flowers, fruits, leaves, bark, and peels. Removing the water from the fluid leaves behind a concentrated oil.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to create smells that affect a part of the brain called the limbic system.

Stimulating this part of the brain may trigger emotions or memories. This causes the body to release chemicals. These factors may work together to reduce stress and/or relax the body.

How essential oils can help

Aromatherapy is an integrative therapy used alongside other medical treatments. Health care providers can use aromatherapy to help manage symptoms such as anxiety, stress, nausea, vomiting, pain, and sleep problems, and to provide comfort.

The use of essential oils is not a substitute for medical treatment. There has not yet been enough testing to show how well these therapies work.

Some essential oils interact with medications, so check with your health care provider or pharmacist before using them.

Essential oil side effects

Most essential oils are safe when used properly, but there are some risks including:

  • Allergic reactions to the oil or chemical impurities
  • Troubling mental or emotional response if the smell triggers a bad memory

You should not use essential oils for:

  • Children younger than 2
  • People who are allergic to essential oils or their components
  • Those with asthma or other breathing problems
  • People who are sensitive to perfume
  • People with sensitive skin such as those who are getting chemotherapy, radiation, transplants, or those who have skin rashes or allergies (they should not put essential oils on their skin.)
  • Those who are pregnant

If your child uses essential oils too often, they could become more sensitive, or the oil will not work as well as it did when they first started.

Questions to ask your health care team

  • Could essential oils help my child’s symptoms?
  • Can my child use essential oils?
  • What type of essential oils might help?
  • What is the best way to use aromatherapy with my child to help their symptoms?
  • Would any of my child’s medications or treatments interact with the oils?
  • What are the signs of irritation?

For more information

Key points about essential oils

  • Essential oils may help relieve anxiety, stress, nausea, vomiting, pain, and sleep problems.
  • Essential oils can help relieve symptoms along with medical treatment. They are not a substitute for regular medical treatment.
  • Essential oils may cause irritation in sensitive people.

Reviewed: March 2022