How it works

Aromatherapy is an ancient practice which uses natural fragrant plant oils to enhance psychological and physical wellbeing. Oils can be extracted and applied to the patient in a number of ways, usually by massage, inhalation or in baths.

While smells clearly have an effect on the brain, such as triggering memories, the real effect of the oils is unknown.

What it could help

Aches and pains, insomnia, IBS, lethargy, anxiety, panic attacks, anger.

Evidence base

There appears to be a type of oil for every ailment, but the scientific evidence is sparse. The majority of studies have been done using specific oils in specified environments on a small number of patients, so it is difficult to generalise the effectiveness, particularly as patients will respond differently to smells depending on the brain signals they trigger.

A recent review suggested that the majority of effects from aromatherapy come from the benefits of being relaxed, as most patients reported this feeling. This is supported by a number of studies that report that the effect of aromatherapy is increased when it is accompanied by massage and music.

What to expect

Aromatherapy can be done at home and does not always require a specialist. You may wish, however, to seek advice from a qualified aromatherapist as to which oils would be suitable for your needs.

An aromatherapist should assess your health, including past medical history, current medication, lifestyle, diet, and emotional state. Most initial consultations last an hour and a half, with an hour as a standard follow-up appointment length.


Safety must be taken into account when handling powerful oils and advice from a GP should be taken beforehand.

Many of the oils will need to be diluted before use, particularly if being applied to the skin, so read all warnings on packaging. Allergic reactions are a possibility. Only use the amount of oil that is recommended; misuse can lead to side effects.

Pregnant women and those taking medication for diabetes, epilepsy or high blood pressure, will need to seek advice before any aromatherapy as certain oils can be dangerous.

You may smell strongly of the oils after treatment, even after showering or bathing.

Find out more

Find a therapist

There are regulatory bodies for aromatherapy, for which therapists must meet a benchmark of National Occupational Standards to register. It is important to ensure that your therapist is qualified to practise. Two possible places to find an aromatherapist are:


Varies depending on your needs, quality of the oils, and the therapist’s experience. Generally, initial sessions will cost £40 to £60 and subsequent sessions £25 to £40, not including the cost of oils recommended for use at home.

How does aromatherapy work?

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