Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
When you use scents to improve your health or mood, you’re using aromatherapy, which is a form of complementary therapy. In aromatherapy, essential oils that are distilled from plants are absorbed into the body either through the pores of the skin during massage, or by inhalation through the nose.
The scents released by the oil act on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that influences the hormonal system. Individual responses to scents are highly personal, but a scent can affect your mood, metabolism, stress levels and libido.
Research has demonstrated that aromatherapy, specifically lavender, can improve mood and lessen anxiety.
A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that aromatherapy helped intensive care patients to feel less anxious and more positive immediately.
“You can create fragrant stress relievers in your own kitchen and provide the kind of mood you’re looking for when you’re trying to calm down,” she says.
The power of aromatherapy can be seen in our sense of smell’s ability to bring forth vivid memory.
“When you think of how your grandmother’s house smelled when food was cooking, it lifts your mood,” she says. “When you smell certain fragrances, like the spring air, it does something for you.”
Energizing and soothing
Different scents can have varying effects. Certain fragrances, such as lemon, can energize you, Ms. Ehrman says.
“If you’re feeling pretty tired and low in mood, try one of the citruses, like grapefruit or orange. Rosemary also can be invigorating,” she says.
Aromas such as lavender can help to soothe you, she says.
“Breathing in that scent takes your mind off of the frustration or the stress you are experiencing,” she says. “As you breathe in and experience the scent, you get out of your head and into the moment.”
Aromatherapy at home
Aromatherapy is an affordable relaxation technique you can use at home in a number of ways:
- Place essential oils in an infuser, which fills a room with scent.
- Put a few drops of essential oil in about 2 cups of water. Stir the water then dip in a washcloth. Wring out the cloth and use it to wipe your face, hands and neck. Or store the cloths in a sealed container in the refrigerator for later use. Two or three drops of the essential oil is plenty. Experiment with one or two and see if the fragrance is strong enough. Cotton washcloths work best.
- Apply a scented lotion to your skin.
- Set out a scented stick. Carry a few in your purse or pocket to use as needed.