First, let's lay the foundation by establishing the definition of aromatherapy. Holistic aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile plant oils, including essential oils, for psychological and physical well-being. Holistic aromatherapy excludes the use of fragrance oils or other synthetic products. See Golden’s Naturals’ article entitled "What is Aromatherapy?" for more information.In the United States, there are no laws that govern the use of the term aromatherapy, so essentially anyone, including those who use synthetic ingredients, can slap the word aromatherapy onto their label and unfortunately, some companies do. A majority of consumers also make the mistake of thinking that candles made using paraffin wax and fragrance oils (both give off toxins when burned) and a number of other toxic products that smell nice are suitable for aromatherapy.
Some companies refer to aromatherapy as a "new discovery" which makes it appear to be the new and latest fad. This couldn't be farther from the truth as the history of aromatherapy dates all the way back 6000 years. Read the History of Aromatherapy to learn of its real origins. The field of holistic aromatherapy is often misrepresented by writers and manufactures who write fluff pieces filled with catchphrases like "miracle" or "cure". So what can aromatherapy do and what cannot it not do? ....Let's look at a few common questions.
If you expect that aromatherapy alone will cure a major illness or permanently "cure" "stress," you will likely be in for a disappointment. But if you develop a realistic mindset and expect that aromatherapy may help with a physical condition, may help with symptoms, may effect your mood, or help alleviate or temporarily eliminate stress or other psychological factors, you should be delighted with the overall results that you experience by incorporating aromatherapy into your lifestyle.
Holistic aromatherapy is a complementary alternative health modality. Aromatherapy is not intended to replace standard medical care, but is meant to complement it. In some cases, under the the guidance of a qualified practitioner, aromatherapy can offer an alternative choice to taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Aromatherapy can offer practical benefit for a variety of common ailments or symptoms such as assisting with cuts, wounds, bruises, inflammation, arthritis, muscle stiffness, indigestion, acne, skincare, haircare, hygiene, PMS, menstruation, and for providing mental and emotional assistance with such issues as stress, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, fear and enhancing concentration (see Brain-Boosting Rosemary Oil).
The first aromatherapy blend that I created and tried for a physical ailment was intended to help with the painful arthritis in my knees. I wasn't sure what to expect of this very first blend that I had made. To my skeptical amazement, I had relief. The relief did not occur instantaneously, nor would I classify the relief as "permanent," but it did lead the way for me to be able to increase my physical activity, lose weight and strengthen the muscles surrounding my knees. As a result, the exterme pain I once had is a distant memory. For more information, read Aromatherapy for Arthritis. This story is merely one example of the realistic results that you may experience by introducing aromatherapy into your lifestyle. I use the word "may" because everyone is different and everyone's experiences can vary.
Aromatherapy does have valid and extraordinary uses. It can improve one's lifestyle tremendously, especially if you take the time to become educated about each essential oil, its chemistry, safety and applications. But, as with anything in life, sensibility comes into play. Do not fall prey to any claims that aromatherapy can cure major illnesses or can cause miracles to happen. Aromatherapy can be play a beneficial role in assisting with illnesses, but it should not be depended upon as a cure.
Essential oils are comprised of an array of naturally occurring constituents like esters, oxides, alcohols, phenols and aldehydes. Without giving you a full lesson in chemistry, let's use Roman Chamomile Essential Oil and Lavender Essential Oil as quick examples. Lavender Essential Oil contains 40% linalyl acetate and Roman Chamomile Essential Oil contains 35% isobutyl angelate. [E. Joy Bowles, The Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Oils (NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2003), 192-195.] Both linalyl acetate and isobutly angelate are esters. Esters are said to offer noteworthy anti-inflammatory and sedative properties. Both oils are common ingredients in aromatherapy products and recipes intended for relaxation and insomnia. Some essential oils, by way of the natural chemical constituents they contain, are said to be naturally anti-bacterial or antiviral. All essential oils possess their own unique combination of constituents that make particular oils naturally well suited for one application or another.
Not all essential oils, however, are safe to use in holistic aromatherapy no matter how "nice" (or "not-so-nice") they smell. Mugwort and Wormwood Essential Oils, for example, are generally avoided and considered hazardous oils within the field of holistic aromatherapy because they contain significant concentrations of ketones including thujone. Thujone is reported to potentially cause convulsions and liver damage. [Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs, Essential Oil Safety (United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone, 1995), 199.] Of course, method of usage can play a part, but it's more sensible to stick with using essential oils that are generally regarded to be safer.
Now, having said that, there are other uses for essential oils that aren't provable by science. The spiritual application of essential oils is a primary example. For more information, see Golden’s Naturals Aromatherapy for Spirituality & Enlightenment section.
The use of infused oils and essential oils (once distillation was developed) has been in existence for thousands of years. Read the History of Aromatherapy to learn of its real origins. The actual term aromatherapy, however, was only introduced earlier in the 20th century. The surge in the popularity of aromatherapy seems to be threefold:
(1) Society today is more health conscious and is now more receptive to natural alternative health modalities including aromatherapy. The media, although often inaccurately, has been actively covering the trends in increased health awareness and alternative medicine. The media has made a point to include the aromatherapy "buzzword."
(2) The Internet has made it easier for individuals to access and share aromatherapy information. The ability to network and purchase essential oils online has had a positive effect on the growth of aromatherapy and aromatherapy businesses.
(3) Lifestyles of today are now more hectic and stressful. Since aromatherapy can assist in reducing the symptoms of stress and help one energize or relax, society is taking notice. If you go to stores that sell any kind of candles, bath or beauty products, you'll most likely see products labeled with the word "aromatherapy." In my personal experience, most times I see the word "aromatherapy" on products not sold by reputable aromatherapy retailers, the word is used incorrectly. So, the surge in awareness of aromatherapy is both positive and negative. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about aromatherapy and mislabeled products around.
Essential oils are concentrated liquids and are very powerful substances. They should not be consumed internally without education from a qualified educator or without personal counsel from a trained aromatherapist.
Essential oils should not be applied undiluted on the skin because they can be extremely irritating in full concentration. They can even cause permanent sensitization when used at full strength. I speculate that companies that claim you can use oils undiluted are making this claim so that you use your oils up faster thus increasing your need to buy more for them. For detailed information, read Golden’s Naturals Guide to Diluting Essential Oils.
When I first created Golden’s Naturals in 1997, my primary goals included (1) providing accurate information to help others understand the principles of aromatherapy, (2) teaching readers how to make enlightened choices about incorporating aromatherapy safely into their lifestyles, and (3) guiding consumers on choosing reputable companies to shop with. I was motivated by both the number of reputable aromatherapy companies and the number of companies that misuse the term aromatherapy and mislead consumers.
In fact, this Is All the Hype About Aromatherapy and Essential Oils article was one of the very first articles that I wrote for Golden’s Naturals (but has since been updated).
I cannot guarantee the integrity of every company that advertises on Golden’s Naturals, but I do try to be selective in who I permit to advertise. I will never knowingly accept advertising from any company that I suspect of being unethical. Over the years, there have been a lot of companies that I have turned down for advertising.
Golden’s Naturals’ valued advertisers support Golden’s Naturals’ efforts to to share objective, honest information about the field of holistic aromatherapy with the public. As you shop, please make it your priority to patronize the companies that support Golden’s Naturals with their banner advertising located throughout Golden’s Naturals and the listings located within the Global and Local Business Plazas.
Medical disclaimer: The information provided herein is for personal interest and informational purposes only. It is NOT intended to offer medical treatment for any condition. Essential oils are very concentrated and are not to be used undiluted on the skin or taken internally otherwise instructed by your Doctor. Keep out of reach of children and pets.