Essentials of essential oils

Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2017 May 1;74(9):e153-e162. doi: 10.2146/ajhp151043.


Purpose: Information to guide clinicians in educating and advising patients using or intending to use essential oils for self-administered aromatherapy or other medicinal purposes is presented.

Summary: The term essential oils refers to highly concentrated, aromatic oils extracted from plants by steam distillation, hydrodiffusion, or pressure. Market reports indicate strong growth in the use of essential oils in the United States in recent decades. Therapeutic claims made in the marketing of essential oils have led the Food and Drug Administration to caution a number of suppliers. Along with rapid growth in sales of essential oils to consumers there has been an increase in the amount of published evidence regarding aromatherapy and essential oils; the annual number of relevant articles indexed using Medical Subject Headings terminology has doubled since 2004. In order to help ensure proper application and safe use of essential oils as a self-care modality, healthcare professionals can benefit from a general knowledge of the terminology and foundational concepts of medicinal use of essential oils, as well as resources to facilitate evaluations of appropriateness of use.

Conclusion: Because of the increasing popularity of essential oils and the prevalence of essential oil-based self-care practices targeting a wide variety of ailments in the United States, healthcare professionals must be prepared to address concerns about the agents' safety and efficacy. Proper literature evaluation requires the ability to discern the quality of an oil, the safety of administration, and the validity of its use.

Keywords: aromatherapy; essential; oils.

MeSH terms

  • Aromatherapy / adverse effects
  • Aromatherapy / methods*
  • Health Personnel / education*
  • Humans
  • Oils, Volatile / administration & dosage*
  • Oils, Volatile / adverse effects
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Self Administration / adverse effects


  • Oils, Volatile