The Touch Research Institute in Miami, FL has been conducting scientific studies on the effects of touch and massage since 1992. When I was in massage school in 1994, everyone was hanging on every word of every press release, reveling in the facts that proved why becoming a massage therapist was so important.
During a periodic revisit of their website, I noticed that they had abstracts on Aromatherapy studies. This one linking the inhalation of two specific essential oils to decreased cortisol levels was especially pleasing to me, since Lavender and Rosemary are the scents I employ most often in spa treatments.
From TRI's Abstracts page:
Atsumi, T. & Tonosaki, K. (2007). Smelling lavender and rosemary increases free radical scavenging activity and decreases cortisol levels in saliva. Psychiatry Research, 150, 89-96.
METHOD: Free radicals/reactive oxygen species are related to many biological phenomena such as inflammation, aging, and carcinogenesis. The body possesses various antioxidative systems (free radical scavenging activity, FRSA) for preventing oxidative stress, and saliva contains such activity. In the present study, we measured the total salivary FRSA induced after the smelling of lavender and rosemary essential oils that are widely used in aromatherapy. Various physiologically active substances in saliva such as cortisol, secretory IgA, and alpha-amylase activity were found to be correlated with aroma-induced FRSA. The subjects (22 healthy volunteers) sniffed aroma for 5 min, and each subject's saliva was collected immediately.
RESULTS: The FRSA values were increased by stimulation with low concentrations (1000 times dilution) of lavender or by high-concentrations (10 times dilution) of rosemary. In contrast, both lavender and rosemary stimulations decreased cortisol levels. A significant inverse correlation was observed between the FRSA values and the cortisol levels with each concentration of rosemary stimulation. No significant changes were noted in sIgA or alpha-amylase. These findings clarify that lavender and rosemary enhance FRSA and decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, which protects the body from oxidative stress.
I feel like I want to stand with my hands on my hips and proudly say, "I've known that for years." It's nice to have impartial research to back up my experiences and training.