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Essential oils fuse science and emotions to create appeal

Essential oils have been linked to many health benefits. (Colin Shepherd | Collegian)

Taking a calming lavender bath at the end of the day definitely sounds appealing. But, essential oils come from a certain level of science and emotional appeal that create the expected response.

First, we have to look at how essential oils work with our brains. Molecules bind to cell membranes that are receptors inside us. Essential oils bind with these receptors, resulting in chemical actions.


“The action can be production of something like dopamine, where the action can be allowing ions to move across the… membrane and these receptors are there,” said Colorado State University chemistry professor, Anthony Rappe, Ph.D. “The pharmaceuticals, these drug molecules, they’re not naturally in us, and so there aren’t actually receptors for them, they bind to a receptor that is naturally there to do something else.”

Basically, receptors for molecules exist inside of us to cause actions. But, they exist primarily for substances that are naturally inside of us.

“If it interacts with the body, then it’s eliciting a biological response,” Rappe said.

Part of this has to do with things that are aromatics, something emitting a pleasant smell. From a chemistry standpoint, there are compounds that encourage a specific reaction. Research of this goes past the essential oils concept and into a wide range of things, like wine aromatic research.

“If it interacts with the body, then it’s eliciting a biological response.”-CSU chemistry professor, Anthony Rappe, Ph.D.

“I’m working with wine, so what we do is, the bulk of our stuff is with wine chemistry, but I’ve done some stuff in the past about wine aromas,” said CSU enology professor, Stephen Menke, Ph.D. “It was taking the wine from a different variety of grapes and the wine that we made from them…, and seeing their aromatic profile and how it differs from the other ones that are known already. That involves a tasting panel that taste it and see if they agree with what the chemistry says.”

Compared to Menke’s research, essential oils are not always scientifically supported.

“Most of the things on the market are not really backed up in terms of research to show how much of any chemicals are in them,” Menke said. “They don’t tell the effects of them, they may be real, but they don’t have to actually fall under FDA rules.”

Essential oils go beyond what chemistry dictates. There are a lot of aromatherapists who help people understand essential oils and how they can utilize them for what they need.

“Well, there’s many ways to use essential oils,” said aromatherapist for the Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary, Leesa Balik. “I think the main reason is more stress and anxiety and possibly sleep. A lot of people do use them for the immune system, as well as to keep their body systems healthy during the cold season that we’re going through right now.”


There is the emotional pull of smells too.

“When we smell things they make us feel a certain way, too. You know, even things that might remind us of our childhood, good or bad. We have that cellular memory of smells,” Balik said.

Essential oils can be helpful in a lot of different ways not only chemically and biologically speaking but also in an aromatherapeutic way as well.

Collegian reporter Maddie Wright can be reached at or on Twitter @maddierwright.

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