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Monday, May 16, 2022

Aromatherapy: Understanding the science behind this fragrant, therapeutic procedure

With its roots in Ayurveda, aromatherapy derives its name from the word aroma, which means fragrance or smell and therapy which means treatment.

Written by Shambhavi Dutta | New Delhi |
Updated: April 23, 2021 2:57:37 pm
aromatherapy, aromatherapy benfits, aromatherapy products, aromatherapy uses, aromatherapy oils, aromatherapy risks, what is aromatherapy, aromatherapy stress relief, aromatherapy stress relief lotion, aromatherapy benefits and risks, aromatherapy product uses, aromatherapy news, aromatherapy meaningAccording to market experts, the therapeutic procedure has seen a marked rise during the last year or so owing to pandemic-induced stress. (Photo: Representational/ Pixabay)

After a hectic day of work, it is only natural to want to unwind and transport yourself to your favourite destination with your favourite person. But since travelling is out of bounds, you turn to the next best option and turn on the diffuser or light up a scented candle which slowly spreads its magic and fills the room with a crisp fragrance that helps you relax and enjoy your ‘me time’.

Welcome to that one hour of the day when aromatherapy helps you calm down and makes you feel relaxed with just one sensory pleasure — smell. With its roots in Ayurveda, aromatherapy derives its name from the word aroma, which means fragrance or smell and therapy which means treatment. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) defines aromatherapy as “the therapeutic application or the medicinal use of aromatic substances (essential oils) for holistic healing”.

“Ayurveda is divided into eight branches and aromatherapy is mentioned in the Rasayana Tantra – the book of rejuvenation. This branch talks about healthcare and this is where aromatherapy is mentioned. So we can say aromatherapy is an extension of Ayurveda,” said Blossom Kochhar, aromatherapist and founder, Blossom Kochhar Group of Companies. 

According to market experts, the therapeutic procedure has seen a marked rise during the last year or so owing to pandemic-induced stress. As per Grand View Research, an India and US-based market research and consulting company, “the global essential oils market demand was estimated at 247.08 kilotons in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% from 2020 to 2027″.

“Yes, there is an increase in the sale of these products. People are just finally turning inwards. The pandemic has led people to think more about their well-being,” said Sneh Pagrani, founder of Clay Essentials. Agreed Ankita Thadani, co-founder of Secret Alchemist who said that this therapy is a “natural way of healing a person’s mind, body and soul”. “Many ancient civilizations like Egypt, China and India have used this as a popular complementary and alternative therapy for at least 6,000 years.”

Aromatherapy is not only about the smell, it can also be practised through topical application. Whether it is massaging it on the pulse points to boost circulation or just applying it over your scalp — it has a holistic effect on your body.  

A mindful concoction 


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A post shared by House Of Aroma (@houseofaromaindia)

But how does aromatherapy work? Explaining the science, Rashi Thakker, co-founder of House of Aroma, told “On inhaling essential oils, molecules of the oil pass through the nose and mouth to the lungs and from there to other parts of the body. As the molecules reach the brain, it stimulates the limbic system. The limbic system is a part of the brain that is linked to emotions, behavioural responses, blood pressure and respiration. In this way, essentials oils have a holistic effect on the body, moods and emotions.”

When it comes to topical application of essential oils, the molecules of the oil are absorbed by the skin. Absorption can be enhanced by massaging the target area before applying the oil, which also leads to increased blood circulation. 

Kochhar, however, pointed out, one cannot mix synthetic chemicals with essentials oils as it will end up spoiling the products. Agreed Thadani: “Aromatherapy oils need to be blended in the right proportions in glass beakers since they react with most other materials. Since essential oils are volatile in nature; storing them is extremely critical to maintaining their efficacy.” 

“Sunlight can accelerate the expiration of your essential oils. These UV rays destroy our skin cells in the same way that it degenerates the makeup of essential oils. Rapid oxidation alters the chemicals in essential oils, causing them to break down and be less effective,“ said Kochhar. 

Made with much thought and care, each essential oil used in aromatherapy has multiple unique benefits for the user. Some oils have a calming effect while some of the others create an invigorating sensation. 

The science behind


Is it advised to practise aromatherapy during a particular season or time of the day to reap maximum benefits? 

Pagrani said that while there is no best time to practise aromatherapy, “it is important that we set an intention of what we want to achieve before starting this practice”. For example, lavender oil has a very sedative, relaxing calming fragrance, and should be used in the bedroom in the evenings. One can even try rose and vetiver in the summer months as they are cooling and can be used in summers.

Are there chances of one overdoing it? “There is no overdoing aromatherapy. It helps you stay connected with nature all the time and is a stress reliever while making sure you concentrate better,” said Pooja Nagdev, founder of Inatur. “Yes, one can never overdo nature!” Kochhar opined.

But, everything has a flipside as Thadani shared that disproportionate use of these oils– sniffing it for too long or inhaling too many blends at once — can cause headache or skin irritation. “In addition, the purity of essential oils plays a huge factor here. If any kind of synthetics is used to make the blends the effects could be way more adverse on individuals. It is advisable to keep a minimum of four hours of gap between using any blends,” he advised.

But does it really work? 

Dr Sunil Mittal, senior psychiatrist and chairperson of Cosmos Institute of Mental Health Behavioural Science said when it comes to serious mental disorders, “research done over aromatherapy over the past two-three decades says it is still inconclusive.” “When it comes to everyday problems like on days when you cannot sleep or are tensed and worried, then aromatherapy works”. 

He further explained research is carried out in the form of randomised controlled trials where “the principle of evidence-based medicine is studied and it shows that essential oils do not meet the criteria to be advocated as treatments for psychiatric disorders”.

Having said that, aromatherapy can be considered as an adjunct additional therapy but it can never substitute anti-depressants or psychiatric medicines. 

A research paper titled Aromatherapy as an Adjuvant Treatment in Cancer Care — A Descriptive Systematic Review stated “existing evidence provides weak evidence that aromatherapy might have some short-term effects on anxiety and depression, and possibly on pain relief.” But, Dr Mittal said, “Aromatherapy never helps cancer patients when it comes to depression but certainly helps in improving the quality of life by improving their sense of well-being.” 

“Aromatherapy seeks to enhance an individual’s physiological, emotional, cognitive, and psychological well-being. While aromatherapy will not ‘cure’ a health issue, it can help some people cope more easily with symptoms,” concluded Thadani.

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