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Before version one of Trumpcare—we mean, the American Health Care Act—crashed and burned in March, The New York Times published a damning story: “Late G.O.P. Proposal Could Mean Plans That Cover Aromatherapy but Not Chemotherapy.” Yikes.

But while nobody’s arguing aromatherapy is as essential as chemo, the practice of using plant-based essential oils to promote healing does offer real health benefits—yes, even to cancer patients. Organizations including the Mayo Clinic and the National Cancer Institute note that aromatherapy can provide supportive care during and after cancer treatments to manage symptoms and side effects and reduce stress.

The thought is that oils derived from flowers, fruit, roots and herbs can help patients to heal mentally, physically and emotionally. “When you’re in a garden smelling roses or in the kitchen crushing basil, you are experiencing essential oils,” says Valerie Cooksley, an oncology-certified nurse and the co-founder of the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy in The Woodlands.

The list of purported benefits of these distilled, highly concentrated oils is lengthy: peppermint for headaches, ginger for nausea, eucalyptus for respiratory issues, and bergamot for depression, among them.

The global market for aromatherapy products is expected to reach over $11 billion by 2022. The most common way to use essential oils is inhalation, via diffuser or by adding a couple drops of oil to a bowl of steaming water or a cotton ball. The oils also can be added to unscented lotions, body oils or bath salts for absorption through the skin.

Doing a little research before buying a few oils is probably fine for the average person, says Cooksley, but those who are pregnant, taking medications or who have health issues including epilepsy or PTSD should consult a certified aromatherapist. And everyone should follow guidelines. “People think because they’re natural they must be safe,” she says, “but you can use too many and use them in unsafe ways.”

Houstonian Michele Price has used essential oils daily for over 20 years and compares them to taking vitamins. “I pay attention to how I’m feeling when I start my day and what I have to accomplish,” Price says. “Then I walk to my aromatherapy case, open the door, and think, ‘I could use a calming effect today, let me get my Roman chamomile,’ or ‘I need a kick in the pants today, let me grab the black pepper.’”

Also Try:

  • Source Vitál makes a local line of natural, essential oil-infused skincare and body products. 1291 N. Post Oak Rd., Ste. 125, Spring Branch
  • Friendswood-based company Gritman Essential Oils offers aromatherapy classes and sells hundreds of essential oils and related products. 888-474-8626
  • Pick up a GuruNanda globe diffuser, which combines water and essential oils into a mist for “aromatherapy, humidifying and purifying the space,” at Fry’s. 
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