Research shows that aromatherapy can have a powerful impact on your well-being, including your level of pain. “Certain scents activate smell receptors in the nose, which triggers a reaction in the nervous system,” says Julie Chen, MD, an integrative medicine physician in San Jose, Calif. This, in turn, stimulates the part of your brain that controls emotion, triggering the release of hormones such as feel-good dopamine.
In fact, a 2005 study from the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul showed that people with arthritis who sniffed a fragrant blend that included lavender, eucalyptus and rosemary experienced less pain and better moods than those who didn’t. Although the scent that’s most effective depends on your personal response, says Dr. Chen, here are a few that science says may help.
Bergamot and Lavender for Pain
This blend reduced pain levels in people with chronic pain who inhaled it regularly over four months, a 2014 study in BioMed Research International found.
Try it: Blend 2 to 12 drops of essential oil with a tablespoon of milk or vegetable oil (undiluted essential oil can irritate skin), and add it to a bath. Or mix 15 to 20 drops with 1 ounce of jojoba or almond oil to dab on your wrists or massage into skin.
Ginger for Pain
A 2008 study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that people with moderate to severe knee pain reported less pain and stiffness after they were massaged with a ginger-and-orange oil than an unscented one.
Try it. Mix 10 to 15 drops of ginger essential oil with 1 ounce of jojoba or almond oil; massage directly on the skin.
Lavender for Better Sleep
People slept more soundly, spent more time in restorative, slow-wave sleep and woke up more refreshed when they smelled lavender before bedtime, according to a study in Chronobiology International.
Try it: Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a diffuser, or spritz your sheets with an aromatherapy spray. Make your own by mixing 3 ounces of water with 30 to 45 drops of essential oil to a spray bottle; shake before each use.
Citrus for Mood
Lemon scent can lift your mood, according to a 2008 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology, and a 2012 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that people who received sweet orange aromatherapy had less anxiety and stress during a high-pressure cognitive test than those who didn’t.
Try it: Place a few drops on a tissue or cotton ball and stash it in a zip-top bag to smell throughout the day.