My recent oil obsession extends beyond using the likes of grapeseed and vitamin E oil to moisturize my skin. I’ve also really gotten into using essential oils for aromatherapy lately, and these babies work surprisingly well for things like boosting concentration, helping with hangovers and general stress relief.
I’m not new to essential oils entirely. An ex-boyfriend introduced me to tea tree oil right at the time I was learning my ‘signature scent’ since college — Bath & Body Works “Warm Vanilla Sugar” Spray — was full of toxic crap (and my roommate who worked at a high-end perfumery all but forbid me to wear it in the house). So I started dabbing a little tea tree oil on my neck and wrists instead, sometimes mixing it up with peppermint or cedarwood or rose hip seed oil. They all smelled so pretty! I had no idea, however, about potential skin/health/brain benefits.
I’ve since learned that rose hip seed oil has anti-aging and skin-healing properties. Cedarwood oil can be an insect repellent (try combining with citronella oil). Tea tree oil is also good as an acne spot treatment, an antibacterial agent and — when combined with peppermint & vinegar — a kitchen counter cleaner that doesn’t make me want to die (can’t stand the smell of most houses on cleaning day).
But only very recently have I begun to appreciate the effects of essential oils on moods and matters of the mind. Lavender, lemon balm, eucalyptus … name an essential oil and it’s alleged to help with some specific mood or mind matter. It’s tempting to dismiss it all has hippie nonsense — I did, for years — but there’s actually been quite a bit of scientific research done on aromatherapy in general and some essential oils in particular.
Here are a few of the best essential oils for relieving stress, promoting good moods and improving mental focus at the same time.
Lavender. Lavender oil is considered one of — perhaps the most –medicinally useful botanical for stress relief, anxiety relief and short-term memory improvement. The lavender plant contains compounds called linalool and linalyl acetate that can pass through the blood-brain-barrier and quickly affect brain activity. In an April 2012 study, volunteers underwent mood assessments and brain scans after inhaling lavender oil. Compared to a control group, the lavender oil group categorized themselves as more relaxed but also sharper; brain scans showed increased activity in theta and alpha brain waves, associated with the conscious mind being disengaged.
Lemon balm. The herb lemon balm (aka Melissa) has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. In Europe, it’s still commonly used to help with stress, anxiety and insomnia. But though lemon balm is known to calm the mind, it can also improve memory and increase ability to concentrate and solve problems. In a 2003 study, British students given lemon balm capsules performed better on computer memory tests and tests of calmness. There’s also been research demonstrating its positive brain benefits for dementia patients when used as aromatherapy.
Rosemary. Rosemary aromatherapy can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, promoting calm and contentment, while simultaneously boosting mood and mental performance. A recent study showed a compound in rosemary oil (1,8-cineole) can help improve mental speed and accuracy.
Vanilla. So the Bath & Body Works vanilla spray had to go, but vanilla itself — pure vanilla — is a great scent to have around. According to a study from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, patients who breathed vanilla-scented air while undergoing MRIs reported 63% less anxiety than an unscented air group. The scent appears to have general mood enhancing and stress relieving affects; it may also improve cognitive performance thanks to its anti-inflammatory power.