Recently there has been a lot of hype surrounding aromatherapy. Some claims border on the outlandish. The truth is that aromatherapy is based on thousands of years of use. Recent scientific studies have shown some promise in showing that using essential oils can be effective in certain conditions. However, if anyone claims that using essential oils can cure any condition they are using hype to sell you something. Let’s take a look at how essential oils work in aromatherapy so you can make an informed decision as a consumer and know if an essential oil is right for you.
History Of Essential Oils
The term “aromatherapy” was not coined until the 20th century by a French chemist named Gattefossé. But for thousands of years, parts of plants and herbs were used by the Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. Later, in Europe, the fragrances of plants were used in scents and herbal preparations were used in an attempted to ward off infection during the plague. A blend of essential oils called Robber’s Oil or Thieves Oil is based on the story of 4 grave robbers who would rob the dead of all their possessions yet never contracted the plague. In the 20th century, the chemical compounds in the oils made from plant parts were isolated, and their potential uses cataloged.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are not actually oils at all. They are the distilled aromatic essence of the barks, roots, leaves, twigs, rinds, or other parts of plants. These oils are obtained by methods such as steam distillation or cold pressing. The extraction process concentrates the chemical constituents in the plants into a highly concentrated form which can be used in aromatherapy.
In aromatherapy, only a few drops of the highly concentrated essential oils are used. The oils can be used for inhalation, such as with a diffuser, or they can be used topically. For topical use, they are normally blended with a carrier oil such as Coconut oil, JoJoba oil, or another vegetable-based oil. Most essential oils are not recommended to be used topically undiluted, or “neat”. Some may cause allergic reactions, skin sensitivity, and may even cause your skin to become very sensitive to the sun if you use them before going out in the sunlight.
If you want to test to see if an essential you purchased is of high quality and unadulterated with added substances, place a small drop of the oil on a white sheet of paper. The oil should evaporate away within a few minutes to a few hours and will not leave behind an oily residue. If there is anything left behind you should suspect the essential oil is not 100% pure. Many sellers will adulterate the more expensive oils such as Rose to boost profits.
The Hype Surrounding Aromatherapy
Some essential oil suppliers hype their oils as having the ability to treat or cure illness. However, these claims cannot be proven by scientific evidence. Therefore, no claims can be made as to the effectiveness of any essential oil to treat or cure an illness or disease.
Essential oils do contain chemicals which when inhaled or applied to the skin can have certain effects. For example, Tea Tree essential oil has well known and proven antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects. These effects come from Terpenes which are contained within the oils, as well as other chemical compounds such as esters, alcohols, phenols, aldehydes, etc.
Claims of essential oils effects for each individual cannot be made, however. The biochemistry of an individual is unique. In addition, essential oils used in aromatherapy have distinct scents that when inhaled can trigger responses tied to memory. The scents and chemical constituents also affect the limbic system through the scent receptors in the nose. This means that an oil that may trigger a feeling of relaxation and harmony for me might trigger a different response in another individual.
This is why in training as an aromatherapist we learn the chemical constituents of an essential oil so we can suggest something that may help an individual with a certain physical or mental issue, but we cannot make claims that we can diagnose or treat any condition. We offer options for natural alternatives that can be used, but we recommend that you see a physician for the diagnosis or treatment of any illness.
So don’t be lured in by the hype surrounding aromatherapy. Instead, do your own research. Get good information and decide if using aromatherapy could be right for you. If you decide to use aromatherapy, make sure you know how to do so safely. Read my page on essential oils safety for more information. You can also use the contact form if you have questions or concerns. I’m always happy to help.
Read more articles about essential oils here.