These days, essential oils get a lot of flack. Perhaps it’s the overblown marketing tactics — even though the FDA has issued warnings against unrealistic health claims, advertisers continue to spout fanciful promises, swearing that the right herb could remedy even the most severe health condition, from kidney stones, to constipation, to a low sex drive. Sadly, the backlash these false claims generate only casts doubt on the products' real, proven merits.
A lot of the extreme reactions for and against essential oils might stem from a misunderstanding of what the term “essential” actually refers to. When we say an oil is essential, it just means it contains the “essence” or fragrance of something, which, in most cases, is an herb, fruit, or flower. When it comes to essential oils, “essential” doesn’t refer to anything critically important to human life or healing. However, this doesn’t mean that essential oils don’t provide a valuable set of benefits.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these controversial remedies, how they were used throughout history, and the emerging research backing their benefits on stress and pain relief.
History of Essential Oils
Carbon-dated cave paintings in France indicate that the use of herbs for medicinal purposes goes as far back as 18,000 B.C.E. Records of Egyptian history also show that pharaohs and priests used essential oils to express dedication to certain deities. But the earliest evidence of essential oil in healing lies in 3,000-year-old Vedic texts, which document the use of cinnamon, ginger, and sandalwood in traditional Indian medicine.
Then, the 19th century saw an uptick in essential oil research. Lavender was credited in mitigating cases of Spanish flu in hospital personnel. Today, there are even modern schools of thought that attest to the power of herbal blends in bolstering spiritual connections. For instance, the recipes listed in Arin Murphy Hisock’s book The Green Witch teach readers how to brew plant-based concoctions that strengthen inner balance. Their praxis is simple: humans can find harmony with nature when they embrace nature’s remedies, which is truly what essential oils aim to do.
How Essential Oils Help Us 'Heal'
Such a long history suggests that generations of people have found benefits from the use of essential oils. Researchers are now trying to find scientific evidence that affirms the benefits our traditions found.
For example, VeryWellMind's post on Essential Oils for Stress Relief looks at the efficacy of essential oils for stress management, whose effects vary depending on the oil used. One study published found that aromatherapy involving lavender essential oil reduced work-related stress for 2-3 days. On the other hand, other researchers discovered that bergamot essential oil, when combined with a carrier oil, can reduce cortisol levels, which is the body’s stress hormone. Meanwhile, a separate study found that exposing participants to lemongrass essential oil experienced an immediate reduction in anxiety.
Furthermore, the studies compiled by medical publication Healthline point to the efficacy of essential oils as supplementary treatments for pain management. Paired with conventional treatment, rose oil was found to help alleviate pain caused by kidney stones (though it’s not meant to combat the condition itself). There is even research suggesting that the pain relief provided by topically applied lavender essential oil was comparable to that of prescription drug tramadol.
The naysayers shouldn't take away from the pleasant feeling you get from the fragrances your Airome Essential Oil Diffuser spreads in your home. Though the unintentionally misleading name of essential oils has led people to exaggerate both its merits and shortcomings, the reality is closer to the in-between: while they do little against severe diseases, they're very useful for helping users manage day-to-day stresses and pains.