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Aromatherapy and Research

Ancient history has provided anecdotal evidence of the therapeutic use of essential oils but, in the last few decades, increasing scientific research has evidenced and substantiated their health benefits. The objective evidence base which supports aromatherapy comprises clinical trials as well as case histories, clinical audits and also subjective patient reported outcome data. The amount of such research, and the media profile of some studies, has led to a high level of public confidence in the efficacy of aromatherapy resulting in a large number of hospices, cancer wards, palliative care centres and mental health charities now provide access to aromatherapy. 

Finding Aromatherapy/Massage Research

Before attempting to conduct a literature search for research papers, you may find it helpful to undertake a tutorial on Boolean searching on the internet – visit: www.internettutorials.net/Boolean.asp (NB: this tutorial will help you in your search for any information on the internet and is well worth the few minutes it takes to read the tutorial).

At its simplest, when conducting a literature search for research papers, the first step is to identify a ‘keyword’ and, if using the internet, type it into the subject area.  A general topic of interest, or a more specific area can be entered with the inclusion of the word ‘and’. For example, to find research on massage therapy, enter ‘massage therapy’. However, if you are interested in the effects of massage on a specific condition, then enter ‘massage therapy and fibromyalgia’. This will provide details of any papers that have been submitted on this particular subject.

Press ‘enter’ and a list of citations that include the keyword(s) should be displayed. Each citation includes the full reference for that research article, including the author(s), title of the article, journal in which it appears, volume number in which it can be found, page number(s), as well as the year it was published. Together with the reference, an abstract is also provided. If you wish to view the full article, more recent ones are now very often available online – if there is a drop-down list which says ‘abstract’, click on this and then select ‘full article’. (NB: the abstract doesn’t give any details as to how the data was measured during the study, because this is only visible in the full article). Unfortunately, if you wish to purchase the full paper on line, many can cost as much as £20.00, although a few are available free of charge. However, if the full paper is ordered via your local Library, the cost for full papers is around £4.00!

Research and Evidence Based Practice Resources

You can search for published essential oil research articles through several online databases:

Research Journals

Most published research is found in scientific journals and you are only able to view an abstract of the article unless you pay a subscription fee. However a select few journals do provide open access to published research for example:

Another good website for open access to research is the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals).

Evaluating Research

Just because research has been published, does not automatically make it valid, much scientific research is flawed for a variety of reasons.  As such, it is important to understand how to critically evaluate a piece of research in order to assess its validity.  The following questions should be a start:

  • Where was the research conducted?  Research from the Far East is not always well received in the West, since the methodology is often flawed and some of the subsequent claims are viewed with scepticism. 
  • Who was involved? More credibility is given to research that has been conducted by more than just one person and check out their qualifications too.
  • Where has the research been published? Peer-reviewed journals are best (i.e., the research is reviewed by an expert in the same field).  Various journals are awarded ‘Impact Factors’ depending on the quality of research appearing in them. For example, The Lancet has an impact factor of 30+, whereas many complementary therapy journals have a factor of just 3!
  • How good was the design of the trial?  Were there any variables that were uncorrected and unaccounted for and was the overall procedure correct? Was it appropriate to the subjects, their condition(s) and/or situation?
  • Was a control group used?
  • Was the sample tested representative?
  • How many participants was the trial conducted on – 20 people or more give much more valid results.
  • Were the measurement tools appropriate/proven/reliable to record the outcome?
  • Is the study replicable from the research paper?
  • Where essential oils are mentioned – do they give the botanical Latin names and GC analysis results?  To state that ‘Lavender’ was used is not helpful or replicable.
  • Could the study be applied to a larger population?
  • Were any limitations of the study outlined?
  • Do the results give a definitive answer, or will further research be necessary?

The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) is available on-line to help make an assessment: www.casp-uk.net (the ‘Checklists’ for Randomised Control Trials; Qualitative Studies; and Systematic Reviews, will be very useful to you for your Research Project).

Evaluating levels of research

The criteria used to evaluate the level of evidence in a specific situation are: 

Level A  Meta-analysis of multiple controlled studies or meta-synthesis of qualitative studies with results that consistently support a specific action, intervention or treatment
Level B  Well designed controlled studies, both randomized and nonrandomized, with results that consistently support a specific action, intervention, or treatment
Level C  Qualitative studies, descriptive or correlational studies, integrative reviews, systematic reviews, or randomized controlled trials with inconsistent results
Level D Peer-reviewed professional organizational standards, with clinical studies to support recommendations
Level E Theory-based evidence from expert opinion or multiple case reports
Level F  Manufacturers’ recommendations only


Below you can find examples of a successful research trial using aromatherapy with various medical conditions, ailments and natural progressions in the body.

Acne Vulgaris
Aromatherapy for the treatment of acne vulgaris

Effect of Inhalation of Aromatherapy Oil on Patients with Perennial Allergic Rhinitis

Alopecia Areata
Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata

Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer's disease

The effects of Aromatherapy on pain, depression, and life satisfaction of arthritis patients

Pulmonary functions of children with asthma improve following massage therapy

Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites

Antioxidant and wound healing activity of Lavandula aspic L. ointment

The effect of aromatherapy and massage administered in different ways to women with breast cancer on their symptoms and quality of life

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Antioxidant activity of linalool in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome

Effectiveness of aromatherapy with light thai massage for cellular immunity improvement in colorectal cancer patients receiving chemotherapy

Aromatherapy with citrus aurantium oil and anxiety during the first stage of labor

Concentration: Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma
Memory: Aroma Effects on Physiologic and Cognitive Function Following Acute Stress

Aromatherapy for dementia

The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms

Aromatherapy Massage for Neuropathic Pain and Quality of Life in Diabetic Patients

Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students

Aromatherapy (with or without hypnosis) in the treatment of intractable epilepsy - a two-year follow-up study

Essential Tremor
Massage therapy for essential tremor: quieting the mind

Case History of Infected Eczema Treated with Essential Oils

The effects of sleep and touch therapy on symptoms of fibromyalgia and depression

The effect of aromatherapy on haemodialysis patients' pruritus

Heart Disease/Cardiac patients
Effect of aromatherapy on the quality of sleep in ischemic heart disease patients hospitalized in intensive care

Massage treatment in HIV-1 infected Dominican children

Effects of the Inhalation Method Using Essential Oils on Blood Pressure and Stress Responses of Clients with Essential Hypertension

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome

Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students

LBP (Lower Back Pain)
Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy

Aromatherapy Massage Affects Menopausal Symptoms in Korean Climacteric Women

Mental Health
Massage with aromatherapy: effectiveness on anxiety of users with personality disorders in psychiatric hospitalisation

Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache

Multiple Sclerosis
A pragmatic investigation into the effects of massage therapy on the self efficacy of multiple sclerosis clients

Myocardial Infarction (Heart attack)
The effects of inhalation aromatherapy on anxiety in patients with myocardial infarction

Nicotine Craving
The effects of aromatherapy on nicotine craving on a U.S. campus

Effects of aromatherapy massage on face-down posture-related pain after vitrectomy

Palliative Care
An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care

Use of complementary therapies and non-prescribed medication in patients with Parkinson's disease

PMT (premenstrual tension)
Lavender aromatherapy alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms

The effect of lemon inhalation aromatherapy on nausea and vomiting of pregnancy

Tea tree oil as a novel antipsoriasis weapon

Renal Colic
The Effect of Lavender Oil in Patients with Renal Colic

Massage therapy helps to increase range of motion, decrease pain and assist in healing a client with low back pain and sciatica symptoms

Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy

The Effect of Alpinia zerumbet Essential Oil on Post-Stroke Muscle Spasticity

Thyroid Issues
Effect of neck massage therapy on the soft tissues after thyroid surgery

Evaluation of the effect of aromatherapy with lavender essential oil on post-tonsillectomy pain in pediatric patients

The antibacterial activity of geranium oil against Gram-negative bacteria isolated from difficult-to-heal wounds


Members of the IFA can enjoy the IFA’s research search where we have filtered and categorised clinical trials and research papers by essential oil, carrier oil, therapeutic property, medical condition, ailment and/or by a natural progression in the body to assist our members to locate the information they require quickly, for more details on how to join today click here.

Disclaimer: By providing this information the IFA does not directly support or endorse any of the individuals, organisations or sources listed. Our aim is to provide readers with access to credible research information.