Aromatherapy can do wonders for your mental health, here's how

Written by Caroline Brien

The age-old beauty trend of aromatherapy can help improve and balance you both emotionally and physically – especially for those who live with anxiety. Here’s what you need to know.

The benefits of incorporating essential oils into your routine have long been praised – in fact, it’s a phenomenon that’s been around for millenia. But recently, it’s had something of a resurgence.

Set against a shift towards wellness combined with the nascent of green, clean beauty buys, pure aromatherapy is once again being embraced for its therapeutic benefits. With mood-boosting capabilities from energizing to sleep-inducing, aromatherapy is having a modern makeover.

Call it aromatherapy 2.0. As original trailblazers including Elemis and Tisserand refresh their line-ups, it’s no longer seen as pampering indulgence, but is instead being appreciated as fast-acting, effective self-care and – similarly to wellbeing – it isn’t just a trend but a movement.

In 2017, the global aromatherapy market generated $1.2 billion and in the US alone, sales have increased by 200% since 2012. Here in the UK, Space NK, a brand who have long championed pioneering brands including This Works and Aromatherapy Associates, saw triple digit growth of brands in the category last year, while online luxury beauty retailer Cult Beauty report a 240% rise in the number of searches for aromatherapy over the last 18 months.

“As the Western world wakes up to the balanced powers of ancient practices, the spotlight is starting to shine on the somewhat dusty practice of aromatherapy,” enthuses Cult Beauty founder, Alexia Inge.

“What is an incredibly potent and effective discipline had been allowed to fade into something one associates with second-rate spas and annoyingly weak massages. But as consumers hunt for ways of dealing with a high tide of stress through their lives, they’re searching for ways to bring self-help micro-moments into the day.”

Noella Gabriel, co-founder and President of Elemis, agrees. “Last year, the connection between our gut and brain was the hot topic amongst health and wellbeing experts,” she says. “Now there’s a renewed focus on the link between our sense of smell and the mind as there’s an actual neurological response going on.

The area of the brain which receives the olfactory message is the same area responsible for emotional response, hence the influence on our most inner sense of wellbeing. More stressed than ever, the demand for products that instantly address both physical and emotional needs is growing as consumers resonate with a better-balanced lifestyle being the new luxury.” 

What makes it better this time around?

As the resurgence in aromatherapy appears to be following a curve parallel to our accelerated rate of living, indicators are that it will have a longevity it lacked last time around.

It now ticks both beauty and wellness boxes, while the consumer backlash brought on by products claiming aromatherapeutic properties while using minuscule amounts of essential oils has dissipated.

“When aromatherapy originally became popular in the mainstream in the 90’s, lots of people jumped on the bandwagon,” explains Michelle Roques O’Neil, fêted aromatherapist and creator of Therapie Roques O’Neil.

“Suddenly there were experts who had only done a weekend course plus diluted, lightweight, commercially-produced products that did aromatherapy a disservice. Combined with our sense of guilt about a ‘feel-good’ factor, it fell from favour.”

But renowned brands based on an aromatherapy heritage have been reworked and refreshed for a new consumer as focus falls on it again. Case in point: last year Elemis launched Life Elixirs, five capsule collections of modern, sophisticated oils for the bath and body plus perfume and candles.

“We’re bringing everything back to modern aromatics with Life Elixirs,” says Noella. “They are designed to tackle the stressors of today’s life, which has changed since aromatherapy was first explored and aspects like interrupted sleep because of blue light, stressful working days with long hours and commutes, and struggling with concentration because of fast-paced technology weren’t an issue. 

These complex, delicate yet scientific blends will tune in to you to restore harmony and settle the mind, demonstrated the unique relationship between aroma, the olfactory system and the body’s wellbeing.” 

Its grounding, centring ylang ylang, cedarwood and geranium Fortitude Bath and Shower Elixir, £35, is a bestseller.

The aromatherapy products to try

Tisserand Aromatherapy, who doubled their number of stockists and shelf space in Waitrose last year, have been tweaking products to keep them at the cutting edge of the industry and appeal to a younger, eco-aware shopper. 

The Aromatherapy Mists, from £9.65, now come carton-free, Bath Oils, £8.95, have transitioned to recyclable plastic, and the new Lavender and Chamomile collection, including Massage & Body Oil, £11.30, has been blended with pollution-exposed, sensitive skin in mind.

Meanwhile Michelle’s eponymous brand, which launched in 2012 as an updated, refined version of her previous Pure Alchemy collection, represents, “A range that’s true to how I work on a mental, spiritual, emotional and physical level, helping the body to tune itself up,” she explains. 

“I was giving treatments to so many people suffering from stress, fatigue, insomnia and depression that the time seemed right. Physical ailments are almost the last to manifest when there are underlying problems, whereas the spirit is the first to be effected. Aromatherapy works on all those levels so it’s particularly appealing to Millennial’s multi-faceted outlook too.”

One of her hero products, the anti-anxiety Inner Light Calm Balm, £48, is packed with uplifting and balancing essential oils including bergamot, sandalwood, frankincense and neroli, perfect for inhaling from pulse points.

The oils to help combat anxiety levels

But it’s not just essential oils tapping into the inner wellness zeitgeist. Casting the net wider, de-stressing scents are also set to see a comeback as fragrance companies refine past efforts at mood-enhancing perfumes, now backed by scientific studies, bringing together traditional and modern approaches. 

Trends forecasting agency The Future Laboratory predicts these developments in neuroscience will allow fragrance companies to innovate scents that can be used daily to combat rising anxiety levels. 

“In 2016 we saw the beauty industry break free from the confines of cosmetics and skincare to take its place in the modern wellness pantheon,” says Jessica Smith, Creative Researcher specialising in beauty and wellness at the company.

“Last year, the fragrance industry made the link between scent and neuroscience with brands such as Valeur Absolue and Romilly Wilde launching perfumes that incorporated aromachology, the study of how smell affects behaviour, to create a product that not only smells good but acts as a scientifically established mood-enhancer. It’s perfectly timed as consumers are increasingly investing in optimising personal experience and micro-regulating moods, coveting products or services that allow them to reach their full potential.”

Swiss fragrance manufacturer Givaudan has already developed the anti-anxiety scent component neurophroline, an extract of wild indigo that reduces stress levels by breaking down the hormone cortisol and stimulating the release of uplifting endorphins. 

Ahead of the curve, too, is This Works. In May, the company conducted an independent study using MRI brains scans which revealed that their signature Deep Sleep blend of lavender, vetiver and chamomile has a proven positive effect on specific areas of the brain linked closely to pleasure and calmness. Find it in the award winning Pillow Spray, £19.50, amongst others.

“Smell is coming back as a primary sense,” explains Michelle. “For a long time we’ve been relying on what’s visual, but we’re beginning to use all five senses again. There’s a sea change in our personal frequency and by fine-tuning what we smell, it’s becoming more appealing. Teamed with a change in language, so ‘me time’ is about being pro-active with wellbeing and not about a spa treat, it’s not only become acceptable but almost expected. Aromatherapy plays a key role in that.”

Good news then for wellness-minded shoppers and aromatherapy blenders alike. “Considering the global essential oils market will surpass £10bn by 2024, aromatherapy is a goldmine for innovation,” adds Jessica. “Scent is the next frontier.”

The best essential oils

  • Best bergamot essential oil

    Bergamot is most commonly used in aromatherapy for its cheering and uplifting qualities. Its zesty, citrus scent will add a hint of happiness to even the rainiest of days.

    Tisserand Bergamot Organic Pure Essential Oil, £10.25


  • Best chamomile essential oil

    Chamomile, known for its soothing and relaxing properties and mostly found in tea, also helps reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system.

    NaturallyThinking Chamomile Essential Oil, £20


  • Best rose essential oil

    Renowned for helping to balance hormones and soothe headaches, it can also strengthen the the heart during times of grief or high stress. Best applied directly onto pulse points or in a warm bath. 

    Neal’s Yard Remedies Rose Absolute, £22.50


  • Best clary sage essential oil

    Clary sage has a calming, earthy smell. It’s known for its hormone balancing properties and can help reduce symptoms of PMS, too. 

    Disciple Clary Sage Essential Oil, £14


  • Best lavender essential oil

    The most well known essential oil, it’s best used to aid relaxation and can help you unwind and de-stress, or a couple of drops before bed can help you drift off to sleep.

    Botanics 100% pure lavender oil, £5.50


Images: Getty

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