Palliative care & essential oil choices

Using essential oils is invaluable during palliative care as they provide numerous benefits in a palliative care setting.

Essential oils are made of hundreds of botanical compounds, some of which have been scientifically proven to act in specific ways. Essential oils with antibacterial, antiviral and deodorising properties are important for keeping offensive odours at bay, as well as illness. For individuals in the last stages of palliative care, certain essential oils can promote calm and peace and ease discomfort, particularly when the breath becomes laboured and the chest has that ‘rattling/phlemy’ sound.

Essential oils, however, work far deeper than science can measure at this point in time. With regard to palliative care, essential oils that have a calming, balancing effect are excellent for the individual in need and visiting family members. Emotionally and spiritually, essential oils create an impact – sometimes in a subtle way, at other times in an obvious way. A person’s favourite aroma for example, can unlock deep and hidden memories from long ago. A favourite aroma may aid in a more peaceful passing and could be a good idea to include it as part of the final stages of care.  Be aware that aromas can also unlock unpleasant memories, so it would be best to avoid those aromas at this time (if known).

Grieving over the loss of someone can be heartfelt and emotional, and essential oils can assist in addressing the emotional and spiritual aspects of the dying process so that the person in palliative care and their family members are eased from grief, loss and suffering.

There are a number of essential oils which can be used in palliative care but it is important to keep in mind the reason for use, the sensitivity of the person in last stages of care, the location (home versus in a hospital/aged care setting) and known likes or dislikes of aromas.

Beneficial oils include lemon (Citrus limonum), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata), Sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare dulce), Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata), Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), Frankincense (Boswelia carterii), True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and more.

Methods of application include vaporising, anointing (using a carrier medium such as jojoba or macadamia oil), dry inhalation (1- 2 drops placed on a tissue), room atomiser or gentle foot/hand massage if the person feels comfortable with this.

Candles may be used (in a home environment) providing only essential oils (and not fragrant oils) have been used in a soy-based wax. Ensure that it is not left unattended in a room.

A sample vaporiser blend

Frankincense – 2 drops

Cypress – 2 drops

Ylang ylang  – 2 drops

(breathing, respiratory, peace)

A sample massage blend

30ml macadamia oil

10 drops Frankincense

4 drops Ylang ylang

3 drops Roman chamomile

5 drops True lavender

8 drops Cypress

(deep peace, calm, better breathing, respiratory, letting go)

This is a blend for general use that can be massaged into the feet, forehead/temple area and applied gently around the upper chest for best effect. Apply 1 to 2 times daily.

Family members and carers are going through a range of emotions during such a time.  The simple act of massage at this time is a wonderful way to connect. This small gesture can at least make family members or carers feel more useful. Gentle touch is the perfect way for relatives to demonstrate without words, that they care.


*This blog has been adapted from my online education program Aromatherapy in Aged Care. To find out more please view the following link – – Medium size Compassion Range candles  – gift size bulb Compassion Range candles

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