The Science of Aromatherapy

An investigation into scent as a legitimate wellness tool

Ashley Abramson
Elemental
Published in
4 min readApr 25, 2019

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Credit: Madeleine_Steinbach/iStock/Getty Images Plus

IfIf you’ve ever lit a scented candle to relax or soaked in a lavender bubble bath, you’re already familiar with the power that smell can hold over mood. Of all five senses, it’s the one most closely linked to emotion and memory — likely, scientists think, because the brain’s olfactory processing center is so close to the regions in charge of those other two functions. And there’s an extensive body of research suggesting smell can affect us physically, too: Lab studies have found lavender, for instance, to be effective in calming the nervous system, and neroli, a stimulant, has been shown to increase heart rate.

It makes sense, then, that aromatherapy — the use of scents, most often from essential oils, to enhance well-being — is having a moment right now. With the growing cultural conversation around self-care, people are increasingly incorporating smell into their routines to relax, to fall asleep, to focus, or to get themselves energized. Some estimates put the global market size for aromatherapy at $1.2 billion, and in the U.S., the essential-oil market has grown steadily over the last five years. The market is projected to keep growing at a steady pace through 2025, transforming these products from quaint home remedies to one of the most accessible, and affordable, tools…

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Ashley Abramson
Elemental

Writer-mom hybrid. Health & psychology stories in NYT, WaPo, Allure, Real Simple, & more.