Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Do Essential Oils Really Work? And Why?

Do Essential Oils Really Work? And Why?

When you come home at the end of a long day, you might unwind with a lavender bubble bath. Or maybe you light a zesty orange candle as
part of your study ritual. These habits fall under the umbrella of aromatherapy: the idea that smelling so-called “essential
oils” can change your mood or even have healing
effects. It might all sound like pseudoscience, but there have been many studies showing that
fragrant essential oils can make you feel more positive, relaxed,
or even feel less pain. But, and I’m sure you were waiting for me
to say it, it might not only be the oils. There may also be other ways of explaining
these effects, too. Despite their name, essential oils aren’t
actually essential at least, not for your body. Instead, they’re found in the bodies of
plants, where they’re sometimes used for protection. These oils are complex mixtures of dozens
of different compounds that are super small and light. So unlike other smelly things, they can easily float up and into your nose. Most of these compounds are either terpenes, which are made of chains of carbon and hydrogen
atoms, or aromatic compounds, which are carbons and hydrogens arranged in
a flat ring. Mixtures of these chemicals will form anything from peppermint oil to lavender oil. Then, they’re put in candles, lotions, and
all sorts of products that can supposedly help you focus or relax. Now, it is worth mentioning that some people
claim aromatherapy can treat clinical anxiety, depression, or
cancer. But there are few, if any, rigorous studies
showing that the oils alone can do those things, no matter what the people
selling them advertise. But, when it comes to relaxation or focus, those effects don’t seem to just be marketing. Tons of studies have shown that all those
compounds reaching your nose really can change how you
feel. For example, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Physiology and
Behaviour looked at how 220 patients waiting in a dentist’s
office responded to orange or lavender scents. The patients either smelled those fragrances
wafting around the waiting room, heard some cheerful music, or neither. They were also handed questionnaires to fill
in while they waited, which were surveys about things like pain,
anxiety, and mood. Those who smelled either orange or lavender
said they felt less anxious, more positive, and calmer compared to others
who didn’t get the scents or who listened to music. And there are literally hundreds of other
papers showing similar results from other experiments. But even with all those studies, it’s still not clear if the essential oils
alone are really responsible for those changes — or, if they are, how
they work. There are some studies in rat brains that
suggest essential oils could boost feel-good neurotransmitters in
your brain, like dopamine and serotonin. Or they could dampen the autonomic nervous system, which controls
your heart rate and breathing. But why they’d do this isn’t as obvious. As far as we can tell, there’s no specific
pathway that’s triggered when these terpenes or aromatic molecules bind
to the receptors in your nose. Instead, it’s more likely that essential
oils work for psychological reasons. But, maybe unsurprisingly, figuring out what
those reasons are isn’t a walk in the park, either. The research in this field hasn’t exactly
been bulletproof, and there are a ton of confounding variables
most studies haven’t been designed to account for. For example, it’s possible that the situation
or ritual around inhaling the scent could be more important than the
smell itself. One 2006 study showed that new mothers given
lavender or citrus oil massages felt less anxious or
tired after giving birth. But it may not have just been the smell of
the oil. It could’ve also been that, well, massages
are generally soothing. Why these oils work could also just be a matter
of preference or even the placebo effect. That’s where the effect comes from your beliefs and not from the properties or
chemistry of the treatment. Or it could be a combination of these things. Right now, the reasons are really hard to
pin down because there are some major scientific issues with how many
of these studies were done. The biggest, is that few of them are controlled
and double blind. A controlled study compares the test situation
to something neutral basically to see if the experimental conditions
have any effect. And in a double blind study, neither the participants
nor the experimenters know who’s being tested with what. This helps prevent bias. Another problem is that these studies also
often ask people to rate their feelings using a questionnaire. And the questions on these surveys can sometimes
skew the results. In that dentist study, for example, patients
were asked to rate how calm they felt — not how they felt in
general. By giving study subjects options for their
feelings rather than leaving the question open, that could have made people seem calmer than
they actually were. When it comes to scientific evidence, it’s not always about the overall number
of studies. If those studies aren’t well-designed, the
results won’t be conclusive. So to really understand how essential oils
affect us and why they cause the feelings they do, it would help to have more rigorous research. But while scientists are working on that, all of this doesn’t mean that it’s time
to throw out your relaxing bath bombs or perfume diffusers. There is plenty of evidence that using essential
oils does something it’s just not clear whether it’s the oils
or the experience of using them that’s really responsible for the warm and
fuzzy feelings. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you liked exploring some of the psychology
involved in essential oils, we’ve got the channel for you. You can find even more videos about your mind and how it works over at

100 comments on “Do Essential Oils Really Work? And Why?

  1. It's unfortunate that so many people will take this video as the well researched presentation that it pretends to be. They didn't define "essential" properly (a quick google search could have done this) and ignored the fact that essential oils do have well documented biological effects in favor of just saying it might be a placebo. Some are bactericidal and others are well known to interact with various receptors in the brain. So now a good amount of people who make lazy attempts at understanding "science" will walk away thinking essential oils are equivalent to snake oil because of a few bad examples of poor studies. Shame, SciShow.

  2. I think essential oils are great, but if you do invest in them make sure to get therapeutic grade essential oils because they are made out of pure plant oil and no toxic chemicals are added to make the solution.

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  4. Yea, watching The Green Detox commercial before a Sci Show is crap. Seriously how is that crap still a thing? Didn't you guys already debunk detoxing? Can Sci Show even filter the commercials that play before their videos?

  5. I never realized people use these oils, scented candles, etc. as actual "treatments". I sometimes light jasmine scented candles, not to treat or cure anything, but just because it's a more pleasant smell than a neutral/unscented room.

  6. I know certain smells so affect the body. Smell a decaying dead animal or a super smelly portapot and your stomach can heave or even actually vomit. Yoy don't have to see it; its the smell that makes your body react. So, why wouldn't pleasant odors cause our body to have a particular reaction?

    Those molicules get breathed in, get into our blood system and make their way into the brain. It can change the chemistry there that affects a certain place in the brain. And, that can change us physically and/or mentally.

  7. i think its the feeling they give so brain makes good feeling chemicals and you fell physically better. Chain reaction.

  8. My theory: while you for example waiting to repair teeth you are nervous or time flow too slow, you sniff some smell and you interested and your time go faster and you think less on dentist. So smell take your time and while you are intrested what is that your mind is calm because you analizing something what occupy you.

  9. So I know that you mentioned the lack of any rigorous studies for the treatment of disease with essential oil, but are there any studies about the antibacterial properties of certain essential oils? I always see things about oregano/tea tree/lavander can help treat scapes and burns or acne and other things.

  10. Anything headquartered in Utah is going to be a scam. Ive seen so many overprised home security alarms, energy drinks, and health stuff bassed out of the idiot capital of the world, Provo Valley ut. Do you know why they have the youngest average age per capita? Its because they are all born yesterday!

  11. Any studies on whether tea tree oil is a decent anti-fungal agent? Or whether it really kills lice?

  12. Could you talk about using essential oils topically? Not for the smell-but rather the chemical effects (basil as a muscle relaxant, for example). Also-i have heard it stated that some are anti-microbial, is that true?

  13. It's an essence of a plant rather than an oil that's essential to our use. That's why it's called an essential oil.

  14. Lavender oil makes my sinuses ache and give me a headache as do many other essential oils. With the exception of peppermint.

  15. Maybe these smells just create mindfulness. Meditation is a legitimate prescription for everything mentioned, so…?

  16. I can only speak for myself, but EO's have helped me with my allergies a whole lot. A little on my feet and chest and my sinuses clear right up!

  17. @scishow I was hoping for less discussion of "it feels good" and more discussion of this:

  18. Use only PURE essential oils. Simply Earth is the best company! And you can get the recipe box and all ingredients which is perfect for new essential oil users! AND… it's only $40!

  19. Could the effect of these oils be related to voluntary breathing? I don't have the source, but I read something about how voluntary breathing helps to meditate.

  20. Also:

    Essential oils of some plants have been used for anti-microbal or skin soothing effects for a long time.

    Plants and their essential components have been components for a very long time as well. Atropine, thymol, and asprin are all examples of plant essence based medicines that we find in hospitals the world around!

  21. I do it mostly because of the smell.. i just love it. and smells better than the usual smell in my bedroom.. lol

  22. My dad runs an essential oils business for skin care and stuff and it works, at least with mosquito bites

  23. Great video, the best about awareness on using them, do you give me permission to dub this video before sharing in my country ?

  24. Not good for chronic sinus allergies, except mint or menthol which helps open the airways. Anything else is a nightmare and makes me feel very ill and unable to breathe. In fact I would consider it unethical to experiment on unknowing people in a waiting room with scents because of the risk of allergies.

  25. lol essential means "of or pertaining to an essence" but i guess thinking that you need them in some way could be a common understanding.
    Thanks for the vid 🙂

  26. The best oils I've used to date have been from a company called Natural Life Essentials. I get them from Amazon.

  27. I do like lavender oil and find cleaning my house more enjoyable with a citrus type oil added to my homemade cleaners. Tea tree oil works well on blemishes and reducing oil on my face. I also like diffusing oils. I will not spend a fortune on them though, like from those people who sell oils that will “cure” anything.

  28. Using oils to treat psychological issues makes perfect sense to me. I can say from personal experience that it works. However, using them to treat cancer and broken bones is just stupid and makes no sense at all to me.

  29. I get the mood altering stuff with oils, but what about the claims that they aid in healing or antibacterial and are applied topically? What, if any, research is there into that?

  30. Yo, would ya mind doing a video on the dangers of essential oils? Some lady nearly killed her dog because she used tea tree oil, and some kids got severe sunburns because they used a citrus essential oil on a sunny day. Safe practice and application methods aren't well-known, and that's not good. Most major EO distributors don't tell customers the potential dangers because 'ohh, but the SALES!' I have asthma. Certain oils trigger a bad reaction in me (uncontrollable coughing, exhaustion, shortness of breath…). Knowing which oils can be harmful to certain individuals or creatures is important.

  31. I could see anxiety or depression being treated by essential oils, but cancer? You might as well try to sell me snake oil and saying that it can treat cancer as well. I do not believe that it can do that.

  32. if by work you mean smell like things, then yes.

    good luck conducting a double-blind study though, I'm pretty sure I can tell the difference between smelling oranges and smelling nothing.

  33. There are a large number of factors that could be involved in the subjective effects of some of these oils.
    Many of them trigger my asthma but a couple, such as eucalyptus, has a positive effect on nasal congestion and relaxes me in a big way, because of positive childhood associations with the smell.

    Positive experiences in which the fragrance of the oils may well be a factor.

  34. Soon there is going to pop up a video on my Channel about Young Living, then about the starter Kit and all the oils in it- i can realy recoment this for you to watch, because Young Living Oils are the cleanest and best on the market- If you would like to have more information about that or want the 24% (you will see on the webside)of from every product, just write an email to " [email protected] "
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  35. So when the flu was killing everybody last year, oregano essential oil cured myself, my husband, and then 2yr old and 6 month old of the flu…seriously. I thought it was bs at first, but then I became desperate when we weren't getting better. I mixed approx 10-15 drops of the oil into 1oz of argan oil, and rubbed that mix all on the bottoms of our feet, then applied socks…you could literally feel the warmth in the soles of your feet! My husband and I also applied it to our necks and chest (not recommended for kids, only soles of the feet for them). Within 3 days we were feeling about 80% better, and the mucus was clearly up more and more everyday.
    Try it guys. I'm a believer now.

  36. Remember to be very careful with mint and eucalyptus oils around children! They’re said to help against cold-symptoms but can actually STRESS your respiratory system. It could be deadly for your child. Also be aware of chemical burns, because essential oils are VERY concentrated.

  37. Putting peppermint oil on cotton balls and laying them 6-8 feet apart from each other in a ring can reduce the amount of insects or arachnids in a room at least from my testing, the oils can be toxic to even humans when you get too many drops on your skin and because spiders breathe through their skin it makes them especially vulnerable, I suppose this is also good info for people with pet spiders so they can be careful.

  38. Think about this oils have been around for thousands of years. Yet humans today live longer because of modern medicine. Don’t need to buy most of the oils sold . Plant a herb garden.

  39. Your assumption that aromatherapy only affects the olfactory system overlooks quite a bit, don't you think?

    Perhaps you should read the article "Aromatherapy On Central Nerve System (Cns): Therapeutic Mechanism And Its Associated Genes" which appeared in the journal Current Drug Targets. The authors state:

    "In contrast with current oral drugs used for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, essential oils produce pharmacologic effects, not only by the absorption through the skin and upper respiratory tract (URT), but also via the sense of smell."

  40. Just gonna take a wild guess here, but im pretty sure its just psychological. Its a nice smell, you like the smell. Being surrounded by something you like, i bet its gonna ease you a bit. Its like listening to soothing music, yeah its gonna sooth you. Im no scientist, but this seems like common sense to me.

  41. I specialize in essential oils/aromatherapy and I’ve finally created a shop for it! All of my creations are made up of pure essential oils made into a blend of pure perfection. I have all sorts of blends for almost anything. They range from helping with ones Sleep, Happiness, Relaxation, love, calming and even energy.💛🧡❤️
    I’m also capable of stirring up some custom blends. I’d love if some people could Check it out. I’ll be posting some more soon as well.

  42. I can’t believe you did an entire video on essential oils and neglected to discuss the efficacy of ingesting them or applying them topically to the body.

  43. I’m late but I don’t agree with anything said in this video… cause those “studies” are cherry picked. The real studies show that essential oils actually do effect different parts of the brain like the right side or left side. It’s proven by a simple brain hooked up to a censor that shows which part of the brain is activated when smelling the essential oils. P.S here is the video proof of what I said and the study starts at 43:06 –

  44. It is not all about the smell of essential oils that cause the effects they cause. For example, Lavender oil contains Linalylacetate, Linalool, Camphor and Cineol, which all take effect once the oil is inhaled or applied to the skin.

  45. Essential oils are fine and all but they’re not some magical elixir that can cure all diseases. It’s mostly just placebo, and its even more dangerous when people think they can replace vaccines because “they’re all natural” and “people have been using them for centuries to cure diseases”. Before modern medicine, the average life expectancy was about 40 years. Thanks to vaccines and modern medicine, the average life expectancy is about 70 years. We need to educate people that essential oils can’t cure or prevent diseases with a high mortality rate like measles, tetanus, hpv, etc.

  46. Why do they always try to claim an external chemically-induced process in the brain? Maybe the body is just DOING WHAT IT DOES when we react to pleasant (or unpleasant) external stimuli. This is the same nonsense that continues to maintain the belief that antidepressants “fix” or “treat” a problem in the brain, when it is experiences and life situations that are almost always a problem (your brain is responding to toxic experiences the way it’s supposed to; LISTEN to the damned symptoms as a MESSAGE about your experiences or circumstances).

    Surely when you ENJOY a pleasant scent, your body does what it does when we ENJOY things. Are they doing studies comparing the results of exposure to unpleasant odors at the same time? “How did you feel while in this room?” Respondent: “Disgusted and stressed out by the smell of rotting flesh and skunk stank!”

  47. there is much more to essential oils than just "aroma" therapy. Biochemical interaction and duh likes er what knots. look at opium poppies, coca leaves, poison ivy?

  48. They work for making perfume cologne and incense. they work well for that. Ive never heard of this unitl now. Cure disease?

  49. This video strikes me as coming from an overly biomedical standpoint, and consequently being needlessly skeptical. When it comes to treating psychological issues, effective treatments don't need to have biochemical effects; Essential oils may very well be effective because the experience of smelling them is generally relaxing, and they'd still be equally effective and useful. Also, the focus on placebo and the request for double-blinding simply isn't relevant here, since the effects may derive from an experience. If something is studying the effects of an experience, blinding participants to the condition is impossible, because you're studying their response to the experience of being in the condition, and isn't regarded as necessary to do so; It's enough to simply not inform them of the other condition so they don't know what the experimental manipulation is. As such, I think this is actually a somewhat poor video.

  50. Great video! I love using essential oils with my daily affirmations. It's a great way to help hack your psychology and mindset. Highly recommend! ❤

  51. Você esqueceu de analizar as propriedades da plantas que através das moléculas chegam a corrente sanguínea

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