Clarity. Pleasure. Energy. Calm: It’s safe to say that most of us are keen on reaching these facets of well-being.
But, aside from a sound diet, adequate exercise, and solid sleep, many of us are also uncertain how to get there.
Enter the growing trend of aromatherapy.
A form of healing and restoration, the practice, which relies on oils derived from a range of plants, may have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years but it’s been around for centuries. There’s a concrete reason behind it: Scents have a profound impact on your health. By stimulating your olfactory nerve, which has a straight connection to the limbic system (the emotional part of the brain), scents can deeply and immediately affect your mood and emotions—triggering memories, inducing relaxation, alleviating pain, prompting vitality, and even banishing acne. Some choose to apply essential oils directly to their skin; others elect to burn them as candles or use them in atomizers. But the bottom line is this: Essential oils have a host of potential health benefits that can take you from meh to yay.
That said, each essential oil has a different impact, and in turn, each can be used for different reasons. With that in mind, here are six common situations that may need some extra help—and which essential oil can offer support:
When you’re battling PMS…
Bloating, fatigue, depression, insomnia, mood swings—PMS is no joke, impacting as many as three in four women. The next time those premenstrual woes strike you, reach for clary sage essential oil. One of the main components of this perennial plant is linalyl acetate, a phytochemical, also found in lavender and bergamot, that’s praised for its soothing qualities. Five to six drops rubbed onto your abdomen may offer relief from menstrual cramps, while a touch diffused into your pillowcase may encourage a better night’s sleep. As for those aches and pains that often accompany the onset of your period? Lessen them naturally with a warm bath infused with 3-5 drops of this wonderfully-scented oil.
When you’re struck with congestion…
Peppermint tea is often associated with winter. For good cause, too: the minty scent and flavor can offer comfort when you come down with a seasonal cold. Peppermint oil serves a similar purpose, clearing your airways with its pungency and giving you that minty-ness that may provide a cooling—and calming—sensation. One of the most effective ways to reap its benefits is by adding 3-4 drops to 3 cups of boiling water, tenting your head and the bowl with a towel, and inhaling the steam. Peppermint oil can also be used to supercharge your energy: Simply waft it under your nose to put some extra pep in your step.
When you need some grounding…
Lavender is the signature scent of many spas for the fragrant centering it boasts. The herb has a long—and colorful—history as both a curative plant and a perfume. It acts as a stimulant, as well as a sedative, to the cardiovascular and nervous systems. In other words, lavender can help you find balance when you’re suffering from nervous exhaustion, while also supporting a state of calm when you’re anxious. Add lavender essential oil to your bath, spritz it on your sheets, or keep a bottle in your purse to dab it on your wrists in times of need.
When your skin needs some love...
Rose oil doesn’t just smell like a marvelous bouquet: it’s also a gift for your skin. With its potential to naturally support your circulatory system, it can improve blood flow to your face (and giving “rosy glow” a whole new meaning). Hydrating and relaxing, the versatile oil is also “an anti-inflammatory agent and tissue regenerator loaded with therapeutic benefits for the skin,” reports beauty writer Megan Cahn. Bonus perk for expecting moms: the essential oil can be combined with lavender to decrease anxiety in labor.
When you have a major event to attend—or a major project due…
Nothing sends our cortisol rising like walking down the aisle or delivering a make-it-or-break-it project. If you need to quell those butterflies in your stomach, consider reaching for rosemary oil. Shown to radically reduce stress hormone levels when inhaled, a 2012 study revealed that rosemary can also enhance mental speed and performance, putting you at the top of your game without those caffeine jitters.
When your libido is lagging…
The scent of jasmine may be one of the sultriest aromas in the world, explaining its frequent addition to perfumes and body lotions. As such, essential oil derived from it can recharge your sexual energy: According to a 2010 study by the National Institutes of Health, jasmine oil may temper depression and uplift moods, with subjects claiming to feel “more alert” and “more vigorous” than the control group. Translation? A better mood will deepen your interest in intimacy.
Know before you buy
Essential oils come at a cost but their potential advantages are often well-worth the price. Just make sure you’re buying smart: because essential oils are as yet unregulated by the FDA, some brands may be filled with synthetic ingredients and carrier oils—or may be diluted. Search for reputable brands that state “100% natural oil” and always go with glass bottles.
Also, do your homework by visiting The United States Pharmacopeial Convention, which outlines standards and specifics on botanicals. Then take a deep breath—literally.