The Best Calming Aromatherapy Scents & How To Use Them

Learn all about aromatherapy for stress and anxiety relief.
Calming aromatherapy scents
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What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that uses aromatic essential oils made from various plants to improve mental and physical wellbeing. It is often associated with naturopathy, which is a medical approach that incorporates traditional and natural treatments with modern science. According to "Aromatherapy: A Practical Approach" by Vicki Pitman, the use of essential oils for healing has its roots in the ancient plant medicine of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. 

The Best Calming Scents

Aromatherapy and essential oils can be used for many purposes, but perhaps their most common use is for relaxation. Scientists are beginning to study and investigate the claims made about essential oils and these are the ones that have shown promising results:

1. Lavender 

Lavender is one of the most popular calming scents as its sweet floral scent is very pleasing. In a study published in the "Internation Journal of Nursing Practice," nurses who pinned a small bottle of lavender oil to their uniforms saw a significant decrease in stress symptoms. Additionally, a review paper by Kate Louise Fismer and Karen Pilkington states that early evidence of lavender's effectiveness as a calming sleep aid is promising. 

2. Rosemary 

Though rosemary is most commonly known as an herb for cooking, rosemary essential oil has a different fresh, herbal scent that can evoke a sense of calm. A 2019 study by Iranian researchers found rosemary oil aromatherapy to be effective in reducing the stress and anxiety levels of hospital personnel. A 2007 study published in "Psychiatry Research" showed that smelling rosemary essential oils actually reduced the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the study participants. 

3. Ylang-ylang

Ylang-ylang essential oil is made from the flowers of the cananga tree. The flowers are commonly used as a traditional medicine throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, where the cananga tree grows naturally. In a study published in "Wood Research Journal," participants reported significantly lower stress levels after sniffing ylang ylang essential oil. Their heart rates and blood pressures were also lowered by smelling the oil. In addition, a 2015 review paper by Loh Teng Hern Ten et al. states that the available research does show that ylang ylang essential oil has sedative, relaxing effects. 

4. Bergamot

Bergamot essential oil is made from the rinds of bergamot oranges and has a light citrus scent with the addition of floral notes. Though it was mainly used as a treatment for fevers and infections in Italian folk medicine, this oil has gained popularity as a stress reliever. In a 2010 study done in Thailand, researchers found that smelling bergamot essential oil reduced the corticosterone stress response in rats. Furthermore, a 2015 systematic review published in "Frontiers in Pharmacology" found that the majority of clinical studies on humans show that bergamot essential oil can help relieve stress and anxiety. 

5. Tulsi (Holy basil) 

Tulsi, also called holy basil, (scientific name Ocimum tenuiflorum or Ocimum sanctum) is a plant native to the Indian subcontinent and commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. A review published in the "Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine" states that multiple animal studies have shown tulsi to have anti-anxiety properties. As for studies on humans, a 2008 study published in the "Nepal Medical College Journal" found tulsi to be effective at treating generalized anxiety disorder, and a 2011 study published in "Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine" showed tulsi's effectiveness in reducing stress-related symptoms. 

6. Rose

Rose essential oil, made from the petals of various types of roses, has the scent of the flower it is made from and is popular as a perfume and beauty product. A 2009 study by Tapanee Hongratanaworakit found rose oil to reduce breathing rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation, which can all signify stress. Participants in this study also reported themselves to be calmer and more relaxed. A review paper published in the "Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine" found that several studies have been done that support the claim that rose oil has anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, effects. 

7. Yuzu 

Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit that has a characteristically strong aroma. The essential oil is made from the rinds of the fruit. In 2014, Japanese researchers performed a small study on 20 women that showed a decrease in mood disturbance and salivary chromogranin A (a hormonal stress marker) after smelling the aroma of yuzu oil. Another study was performed in Japan in 2014 that found yuzu to be effective at decreasing anxiety in a stressful situation. 

8. Lemongrass 

Lemongrass (scientific name Cymbopogon) refers to a genus of plants found in the tropical and sub-tropical climates of Asia, Africa, and Oceania. One species, in particular, Cymbopogon citratus, is commonly cultivated for use in food because of its lemon scent. C. citratus is also used medicinally in India and Brazil. A 2015 study done at the Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil found that participants who smelled lemongrass essential oil had lower state anxiety and subjective tension, and also recovered more quickly from a stress-inducing situation, giving preliminary evidence to support lemongrass essential oil's use as an anti-anxiety treatment. 

9. Rose geranium 

Rose geranium essential oil is made from a specific variety of the Pelargonium graveolens species of flowering plants. Regular geranium essential oil and rose geranium essential oil have very similar compositions, but the scent of rose geranium oil is more floral and similar to the scent of a rose, hence its name. A study published in the "Journal of Caring Sciences" found that aromatherapy with rose geranium essential oil reduced reported anxiety and blood pressure in first-time mothers going into labor. 

10. Vetiver 

Vetiver essential oil has been nicknamed the "oil of tranquility" and is popular in traditional medicine in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and West Africa. The oil, made from the roots of the vetiver bunchgrass, has a sweet and woody scent. Though it has a rich history as a folk medicine, there have not been many studies into its therapeutic effects. However, a study published in "Natural Product Research" found that inhalation of vetiver essential oil had anxiolytic effects in mice, and another study published in the "Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine" found the same.

11. Basil

Basil (scientific name Ocimum basilicum) is most commonly used as a culinary herb, but is also popular in folk medicine, particularly Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. Though not much research has been done on basil's use as a stress reliever, a 2015 study published in "Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences" found that basil essential oil had sedative and anxiolytic effects on mice, laying the groundwork for more research into the subject. 

Ways to Use Essential Oils

Now that you know what oils to look for, here are the ways you can use essential oils for aromatherapy in your everyday life: 

1. Aromatherapy accessories 

Aromatherapy accessories are products like necklaces, bracelets, and car air vent clips that you can apply essential oils to, allowing you to practice aromatherapy throughout the day. These accessories come in many shapes and sizes, so they can fit your lifestyle and personal style. 

2. Aroma sticks/inhalers

Aromatherapy sticks, also sometimes called aromatherapy inhalers, are small containers, usually made of plastic, that contain a cotton wick soaked in essential oil. They are great for on-the-go and discreet use, especially if you spend time around people who may be sensitive to scents. 

3. Diffusers 

An essential oil diffuser, or aromatherapy diffuser, is a device that spreads the aroma of the essential oil throughout a room. For this reason, they are best used at home or in private spaces, so as not to disturb others who may not like the scent or have scent sensitivities. 

There are four different types of diffusers, and they differ by the method they use to break down the essential oil. 

  • Nebulizing diffuser: Nebulizing diffusers use pressurized air to break down essential oils and put out the scent as a fine mist. They use no water or heat and disperse the entire oil into the air at once for optimal therapeutic benefit. However, these diffusers are often the most expensive type of diffuser and since they use no water, tend to require more essential oil than other types of diffusers. Additionally, nebulizing diffusers can be noisier than other types of diffusers.
  • Ultrasonic diffuser: Ultrasonic diffusers use water and ultrasonic frequencies to turn essential oils into a mist. These diffusers use no heat and only a minimal amount of oil (usually 3-5 drops). They are very quiet and can also act as a humidifier, though this may not be beneficial if you already live in a humid climate. 
  • Heat diffuser: Heat diffusers use a heating element to help the essential oils disperse into the air. These diffusers sometimes use water, but not always. This diffuser type is silent, but make sure your heat diffuser uses very low heat. Heating elements that get too high can change the composition of the oils, which may affect their therapeutic effectiveness. 
  • Evaporative diffuser: Evaporative diffusers use airflow to disperse the scent of the essential oils. With these diffusers, the oil evaporates in stages, with the lighter components evaporating first. Evaporative diffusers are a quiet and convenient style of diffuser, but they may not be as effective as one that diffuses the entire oil all at once. 

For safety reasons, always follow the dilution guidelines for your specific oil and diffuser type. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area, and diffuse intermittently, usually 30 to 60 minutes on and 30 to 60 minutes off. Additionally, extreme caution should be taken when diffusing around children and animals, as toxicity occurs easier in their smaller bodies. 

4. Body oil, cream, or lotion 

Essential oils can be used topically with carrier oils, creams, and lotions. Essential oils must always be diluted by something when used on the skin, as they can cause irritation in their undiluted forms. Essential oil blends can be found in body rollers for portable, easy application, and infused creams and lotions are great for the added benefit of moisturization. 

5. Bathing

Dilute 5 to 20 drops of your chosen essential oil(s) in a tablespoon of carrier oil like argan or jojoba oil to add to your bathwater. If you don't have a bath, you can apply 3 to 5 drops of essential oil to the wall of your shower and the hot water will diffuse the scent while you shower. To make things easier, you can find premade bath products like bath bombs, bath oils, and soaps that are already infused with essential oils. 

6. Candles 

You can purchase (or make your own, if you're into DIY) aromatherapy candles that will spread the scent of the essential oils they're made with. This is a cheaper option than buying a diffuser and oils, so it is the perfect choice if you just want to try out aromatherapy. 

If you decide that essential oils are something you'd like to try, remember to never use them internally, as they have not been evaluated for safe use in this way, and to always dilute your oils. 

Stevie is a writer who perpetually has a coffee in her hand and a cat on her lap. Her other hobbies include reading and playing video games.

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