Aromatherapy with Essential Oils (PDQ®)- Patient Version
Published by the “National Cancer Institute.”
1. What is aromatherapy?
Essential oils are very concentrated. For example, it takes about 220 pounds of lavender flowers to make about 1 pound of essential oil. The aroma of essential oils fades away quickly when left open to air.
2. How is Aromatherapy Given or Taken?
Aromatherapy is used in several ways.
- Indirect inhalation:The patient breathes in an essential oil by using a room diffuser, which spreads the essential oil through the air, or by placing drops on a tissue or piece of cotton nearby.
- Direct inhalation:The patient breathes in an essential oil by using an individual inhaler made by floating essential oil drops on top of hot water.
- Massage:In aromatherapy massage, one or more essential oils is diluted into a carrier oil and massaged into the skin.
Essential oils may also be mixed with bath salts and lotions or applied to bandages.
3. Have any preclinical (laboratory or animal) studies been done using Aromatherapy?
In laboratory studies, tumor cells are used to test a substance to find out if it is likely to have any anticancer effects. In animal studies, tests are done to see if a drug, procedure, or treatment is safe and effective in animals.
Laboratory and animal studies have tested the effects of essential oils. Animal studies are done before a substance is tested in people.
4. Have any Clinical Trials (Research Studies with People) of Aromatherapy been done?
No studies of aromatherapy used to treat cancer have been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Studies of aromatherapy have shown mixed results. There have been some reports of improved mood, anxiety, sleep, nausea, and pain. Other studies reported that aromatherapy showed no change in symptoms.
Study on anxiety and depression
- A trial of 103 cancer patients studied the effects of massage compared to massage with Roman chamomile essential oil.
- Two weeks later, a decrease in anxiety and improved symptoms were noted in the group that had massage with essential oil.
- The group that had massage only did not have the same benefit.
Studies on health-related quality of life
- A study of inhaled bergamot essential oil in children and adolescents at the time of stem cell infusion reported an increase in anxiety and nausea and no effect on pain.
- In a study of adult patients at the time of stem cell infusion, tasting or sniffing sliced oranges was more effective at reducing nausea, retching, and coughing than inhaling an orange essential oil.
Studies on procedure-related symptoms
Women having breast biopsies were randomly assigned to receive lavender-sandalwood or orange-peppermint essential oil drops placed on a felt tab and attached to their hospital gown or to receive no scent on the felt tab.
- Women who received the lavender-sandalwood aromatherapy tab had less anxiety than women who received the orange-peppermint aromatherapy tab or no scent tab.
5. Have any side effects or risks been reported from aromatherapy?
Safety testing on essential oils shows very few side effects or risks when they are used as directed.
Most essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and fragrances and are labeled as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Swallowing large amounts of essential oils is not recommended.
Applying lavender and tea tree essential oils to the skin over a long period of time was linked in one study to breast growth in boys who had not yet reached puberty.
6. Is aromatherapy approved by the FDA for use as a cancer treatment in the United States?
Aromatherapy products do not need FDA approval.
Aromatherapy is not regulated by state law, and there is no licensing required to practice aromatherapy in the United States.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (www.naha.org) and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (www.alliance-aromatherapists.org) are two organizations that have national educational standards for aromatherapists.
The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists (www.dfacanada.com) certifies aromatherapists in Canada.
See the International Federation of Aromatherapists website (www.ifaroma.org) for a list of international aromatherapy programs.
“Aromatherapy With Essential Oils (PDQ®)–Patient Version was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”