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Using Aromatherapy for Depression: Benefits, Risks, Side Effects

Aromatherapy makes use of beautiful scents made from organic compounds to help improve your mood and mental health or state. These organic compounds are known as essential oils, and they are manufactured from different plant parts, including blossoms, leaves, seeds, and roots. In people with depression, along with their treatment plan and medications, aromatherapy can also be added. Using aromatherapy together with other treatments has been found to elevate mood and relieve stress. Here’s everything you need to know about using aromatherapy for depression.

Using Aromatherapy for Depression

Using Aromatherapy for Depression

Medical experts are not exactly sure about how aromatherapy works. It is believed that the chemicals present in essential oils used in aromatherapy help trigger the smell receptors present in the nose that sends messages to a particular part of the brain that controls your mood.(1, 2, 3)

While more research is still needed to understand if aromatherapy actually helps treat depression, but there is some evidence that suggests that aromatherapy may have several benefits. For example, a review carried out by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2009 and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that aromatherapy might be helpful in relieving the symptoms of depression.(4)

However, it is important to know that you should not depend on aromatherapy alone for treating depression. Instead, it should be used along with your other prescribed treatments.

Here are some of the essential oils that may be helpful in treating depression:

  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang-ylang
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Clary sage
  • Bergamot
  • Neroli
  • Geranium
  • Rose
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Petitgrain

What Are The Benefits Of Using Aromatherapy For Depression?

Many people have been using essential oils for aromatherapy as complementary treatments for treating not only depression but many other conditions as well, including:(5)

  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Despair
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dental conditions
  • Difficulty concentrating

However, it is important to keep in mind that aromatherapy is not a cure for depression. Aromatherapy with essential oils is just a drug-free option that can help relieve some of the symptoms of depression and also help you manage the condition. In most cases, if used carefully and properly, essential oils are perfectly safe to use.

While there are dozens of essential oils available on the market, research on the exact benefits, risks, and efficiency is quite limited. Recent studies have shown that essential oils may have several benefits in the treatment of depression. However, research is still limited owing to the quality of the studies as well as the various differences in how the studies were conducted.

A recent study suggested that some essential oils may have an anxiolytic, meaning anxiety-reducing effect, which increases the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter present in the body that is responsible for controlling your mood, sleep, and many other important functions.(6)

One study from 2016 found that inhaling lavender can improve the sleep cycle in college students. Remember that sleep disturbances are one of the symptoms of depression.(7)

Another study found that an essential oil known as Asarum heterotropoides or wild ginger helps reduce those behaviors in mice that were similar to those of people who have depression.(8) However, the brain structure and psychology of animals are much less complex than in humans. This is why animal studies do not necessarily produce the desired results.

Another human study done in 2021 found that the use of essential oils like lavender can help improve sleep and overall quality of life in people.(9) Again, people with depression often tend to experience sleep disturbances.

Essential oils are known to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders, which tend to often occur along with depression. Researchers estimate that nearly 43 percent of people with stress and anxiety use some form of alternative therapy to help manage the symptoms.(10)

These findings indicate that there is much promise in the way essential oils relieve the symptoms of depression. However, as stated earlier, more research is still needed to confirm this.

How to Use Aromatherapy to Treat Depression?

There are several methods for making use of essential oils. When you are deciding on which oil to purchase, remember to always select the products that are made with pure essential oils. Avoid using products that are made with synthetic or artificial fragrances. Artificial scents will not offer the same benefits that you can get from pure essential oils. Here are some of the ways in which you can use aromatherapy to treat depression.

  • Diffusion: You can buy a machine known as a diffuser that helps spread the scent of the essential oils throughout the entire room.
  • Massage: You can add essential oils to your massage oil as well. Combining massage with aromatherapy is the perfect way to relieve stress and relax. However, remember that you should not apply the essential oils directly to the skin. So make sure to mix a little bit of essential oil with your massage oil.
  • Room sprays: To quickly spread the scent of essential oils to an area of your home, you can use a room spray. You can either make your own spray by mixing the essential oils with water, or you can even buy readymade room sprays available in the market.
  • Bath: You can use scented bath oils and salts to help transform your shower or bath into a stress-free and relaxing experience.
  • Hair and skin products: There are many scented lotions, soaps, and hair products that are available and will help you keep the scent of essential oils close to yourself.

Are There Any Risks And Side Effects Of Using Aromatherapy For Depression?

Although aromatherapy is typically considered to be a safe form of alternative treatment, essential oils can sometimes cause an allergic reaction when you inhale the scent, this is especially true for those who are very sensitive to strong scents. This is why it is always recommended that you talk to your doctor first before trying aromatherapy for the first time.

It is important to remember that some essential oils can be toxic if you end up eating them. Some could also cause irritation to the skin, especially if you apply the oil to the skin directly without diluting them with a carrier oil first. It is always recommended to use essential oils only after diluting them in massage oil.


Always remember that, like most alternative therapies, aromatherapy should also never be used as a standalone treatment. It should always be used as an add-on to the prescribed treatment plan of your doctor. Do not make the mistake of stopping your medications if you find that aromatherapy is helping your symptoms. Continue to attend counseling sessions or use whatever prescribed therapies your doctor has suggested.

If you are experiencing depression, you should first speak with your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will with together with you to come up with the best treatment plan.


  1. Halligudi, N. and Al Ojaili, M., 2013. The science and art of aromatherapy: a brief review. Journal of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research, 2(2), pp.06-14.
  2. Valnet, J., 2012. The practice of aromatherapy. Random House.Valnet, J., 2012. The practice of aromatherapy. Random House.
  3. Ali, B., Al-Wabel, N.A., Shams, S., Ahamad, A., Khan, S.A. and Anwar, F., 2015. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 5(8), pp.601-611.
  4. Yim, V.W.C., Ng, A.K., Tsang, H.W. and Leung, A.Y., 2009. A review on the effects of aromatherapy for patients with depressive symptoms. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(2), pp.187-195.
  5. Panda, S., Sahoo, S., Tripathy, K., Singh, Y.D., Sarma, M.K., Babu, P.J. and Singh, M.C., 2020. Essential oils and their pharmacotherapeutics applications in human diseases. Advances in Traditional Medicine, pp.1-15.
  6. Fung, T.K., Lau, B.W., Ngai, S.P. and Tsang, H.W., 2021. Therapeutic effect and mechanisms of essential oils in mood disorders: interaction between the nervous and respiratory systems. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(9), p.4844.
  7. Hirokawa, K., Nishimoto, T. and Taniguchi, T., 2012. Effects of lavender aroma on sleep quality in healthy Japanese students. Perceptual and Motor skills, 114(1), pp.111-122.
  8. Park, H.J., Lim, E.J., Zhao, R.J., Oh, S.R., Jung, J.W., Ahn, E.M., Lee, E.S., Koo, J.S., Kim, H.Y., Chang, S. and Shim, H.S., 2015. Effect of the fragrance inhalation of essential oil from Asarum heterotropoides on depression-like behaviors in mice. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 15(1), pp.1-8.
  9. Ko, L.W., Su, C.H., Yang, M.H., Liu, S.Y. and Su, T.P., 2021. A pilot study on essential oil aroma stimulation for enhancing slow-wave EEG in sleeping brain. Scientific reports, 11(1), pp.1-11.
  10. De Sousa, D.P., Hocayen, P.D.A.S., Andrade, L.N. and Andreatini, R., 2015. A systematic review of the anxiolytic-like effects of essential oils in animal models. Molecules, 20(10), pp.18620-18660.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 23, 2022

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