Aromatherapy, a natural way to use scent to cause a physiological response, is no longer just for self-care Sundays. Gaining popularity in the medical field, essential oils are increasingly playing a role in pre- and post-procedure care. When you consider the mind-body connection, it shouldn’t be surprising that it can be an important facet of the recovery process. While doctors might not have focused on the benefits of aromatherapy in medical school, there is a renewed interest in integrating eastern traditions into western medicine — especially as it relates to how patients heal.
Aromatherapy in Aesthetic Medicine
According to a study published in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, aromatherapy helps combat preoperative anxiety, which can have a negative impact on patient satisfaction and outcomes. “The decision to use essential oils before and after a procedure was actually made in collaboration with one of my anesthesiologists, who had been using them for years for her surgical patients,” says Gregory Buford, MD, a Denver-based board certified plastic surgeon. “She found that patients not only went to sleep more relaxed, but they also awoke more relaxed.”
At high levels, the stress hormone cortisol can impede healing. Whether it’s elective or not, it’s only natural for anxiety and stress to rise in situations that include surgery. By introducing calming essential oils, providers are effectively modulating stress levels and cortisol to create a more positive outcome for their patients. “An integral part of the overall outcome itself is actually the experience,” Dr. Buford shares. “If we can create a very positive experience for our patients then our outcomes actually improve.”
How to Use Essential Oils
Surgeons like Dr. Buford are applying a small amount of a calming essential oil (think: lavender) inside their patients’ masks prior to induction. Post-procedure, Ixchel Leigh, aromatherapist and author of Aromatic Alchemy: Recipes for Transformation, recommends inhaling your oil of choice by placing one drop onto a clean cloth, bringing it close to your nose, and taking three to five deep breaths. Another way to incorporate calming oils to help reduce your stress levels is to add two to three drops into one ounce of coconut oil or sweet almond oil and massaging the formulation into your hands or feet.
How to Choose an Essential Oil
Not all essential oils are created equal. The quality of the oil you purchase for post-procedure use will make a big impact on your results. In order to find an oil that’s pure, therapeutic, and potent, here’s what you need to look for:
- The Latin binomial should be listed on the label next to the common name. For example: Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia)
- The country of origin should be listed on the label or website
- Third party testing should be easy to find and prove that the oil isn’t diluted with other essential oils or synthetic chemicals
- Look for the words ‘wildly crafted,’ ‘organic,’ and ‘ethically sourced’ on the label
Leigh likes Eden Botanicals because they craft smaller batches of essential oils, meet all of the standards above, and are fairly priced. If you are wondering what scent to choose, there are a few essential oils that are known for inducing calm:
- Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia)
- Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
- German Chamomile (Michelia alba)
Incorporating nature’s medicine into western medicine is increasingly common. When it comes to essential oil use pre- and/or post- procedure, make sure to speak to your doctor first. Despite the many benefits, they can be irritating and misuse can be toxic. Once you get the all clear, however, get ready to relax. “Creating this positive environment for surgical patients can literally create a differentiating factor between two surgical practices,” Dr. Buford says. “If both practices have similar outcomes but one proactively creates a more relaxing and positive environment, it only makes sense that a patient would choose the latter.”
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