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Real Aromatherapy


  • pg 1

   Will the Real Aromatherapy
         Please Stand Up?
           By Jimm Harrison                    marketed along with these synthetic or         and lessens the focus on medicinal thera-
                                               perfume fragrances.                            py. However, therapy is what aromather-
A thousand years ago, aromatherapy was         Most producers of oils try to satisfy the      apy was originally all about. A French
practiced by priests, shamans, healers,        demands of the flavor and fragrance            perfume        chemist,      Rene-Maurice
and alchemists. By the mid-twentieth           industry. The resulting oils are often nat-    Gattefosse, coined the name around
century, chemists and medical scientists       ural oils diluted with synthetics to lower     1930. He burned his hand in a lab acci-
had uncovered an array of therapeutic          costs and balance fragrance. This com-         dent and then dipped it in pure lavender
uses for aromatherapy. Today, instead of       promises the availability of essential oils    oil. The burn healed quickly, with no
the respected alternative health practice it   having the natural emphasis and thera-         infection and no scarring. He had already
should be, aromatherapy is often regard-       peutic quality required for use in thera-      been curious about the antiseptic proper-
ed as New Age fluff or a punch line for        peutic aromatherapy. Good quality,             ties of lavender and other essential oils.
TV sitcoms. The practice of using essen-       undiluted essential oils become difficult      The healing results of the lavender inten-
tial oils in aromatherapy is now influ-        to find because true oil producers cannot      sified his interest. In documenting his
enced and overshadowed by the mass             compete with the low cost of and higher        research results, Gattefosse used the word
marketing of gift shop items and plug-in       demand for synthetically altered oils.         aromatherapy to describe the use of these
air fresheners. Aromatherapy is common-        There is no regulation regarding essential     fragrant oils and their therapeutic proper-
ly sold as "natural" perfume (mostly syn-      oil labeling, so it is difficult to know       ties. Though he used the word aroma, his
thetic) and sniffed for some vague sense       when you are purchasing a true or unal-        research was based on the therapeutic
of relaxation or emotional bliss.              tered essential oil. If a synthetic or chem-   aspects of the essential oils.
Accepting aromatherapy as a serious            ically fixed oil is purchased without with-    When French doctorJean Valnet began
healing practice is difficult in this vacu-    out knowledge, it will not give the            using Gattefosse's research in his medical
ous, commercialized context.                   expected healing results of a true thera-      practice during the 1950s and'60s, aro-
The science and practice of aromathera-        peutic essential oil, which, in turn, makes    matherapy was validated as a medicinal
py is based on the therapeutic healing         aromatherapy appear as a sham or a joke.       therapy. Aromatherapy was not engulfed
properties of essential oils. The molecules    This has weakened the value of aro-            by the mainstream at that time, and
that compose essential oils have been sci-     matherapy as a viable alternative medi-        instead became an alternative medical
entifically studied for their medicinal        cine practice.                                 practice in France and Germany.
properties, such as the antibacterial effect   Aromatherapists concerned about thera-         In England and the United States during
of thymol in thyme oil. It is not only the     peutic value attempt to create public          the mid-1970s, aromatherapy was in tro-
single molecules but also a natural com-       awareness and a demand for pure,               duced mainly as an adjunct to massage
bination of essential oil molecules that       unadulterated oils, the term used for          therapy. This practice was not as medical-
produce therapeutic effects. Synthetic         essential oils that have not been tampered     ly oriented; it was more akin to tradition-
fragrances do not contain these therapeu-      with to "improve" them.                        al folk medicine.
tic molecules, or if they do, they are com-    Those who are truly interested in the          Throughout the 1980s and'9Os, aware-
bined unnaturally in ways that may cause       therapeutic value of essential oils will       ness of aromatherapy and its history
more harm than good. The aromathera-           always seek the highest quality essential      grew, especially among those interested
py products that are commonly available        oils available. This is difficult because of   in holistic medicine and New Age
often contain synthetic fragrances and/or      lack of standardization, untrustworthy         lifestyles. However, the historic aspects
fragrance-fixed plant oils (chemically         suppliers and producers, and widespread        were often combined with distorted
altered natural oils). The therapeutic         ignorance of quality issues.                   translations of Native American, Pagan,
properties, mostly related to emotion,         The current marketing of aromatherapy          and Eastern philosophies and misinter-
feelings of well being, and minor wound        places an emphasis on fragrance or aroma       preted by the general public. While there
healing, may be lacking-but are still being
is value in understanding the historic uses    permint oil as a mental energizer. These       grances of real, unrefined essential oils. A
of essential oils in ancient philosophies      properties, and similar effects of other       rose no longer smells like a rose unless it
and religions, many of the emerging            oils, are the driving forces behind essen-     is synthetic. Makers of natural ingredient
interpretations encouraged vague ener-         tial oil use in the mainstream.                products must resist comparisons to the
getic and spiritual uses for aromatherapy      Aromatherapy has become known as               familiar synthetics. Essential oil perfumer
that are difficult to substantiate. This       something you smell for an emotional           Martha Buldain, formulator of Bellevue-
injured the reputation and credibility of      lift. The upside of this is that people are    based Spirit of Beauty Nutritional Skin
aromatherapy among those who prefer            able to benefit from a unique and simple       Care, expressed it this way, "Most people
more scientific validation. Many serious       form of health care. Inhaling essential oils   in the Western world have smelled syn-
holistic practitioners, such as chiroprac-     has positive effects on the nervous sys-       thetic fragrances in everything from per-
tors, naturopaths, and others involved in      tem, emotional balance, and respiratory        fume to laundry detergent to bubble
plant-based medicine, began shunning           function.                                      gum for over fifty years. We no longer
the use of essential oils and aromathera-      Consumer marketing has taken advan-            have an olfactory vocabulary we can rely
py. This pushed aromatherapy away from         tage of the "smell" aspect of aromathera-      on, and have come to prefer many syn-
its use in scientific alternative medicine     py through its creation of aromatherapy        thetic smells over real ones."
and into the realm of potpourris.              "fragrance products." The late 1990s saw       One of the latest innovations is the use of
In spite of these concerns, many dedicat-      the “aromatherapy” label appear on             essential oils in cosmetics touting the "all
ed practitioners and converts recognized       shelves in the most unlikely places,           natural          ingredients"       banner.
the value of aromatherapy and continued        expanding from its presence as a health or     Unfortunately, the essential oils and
to use it in their healing practices. Those    New Age store product.                         other so-called natural ingredients in cos-
who saw essential oil use as a powerful        Most of these commercial aromatherapy          metics are often synthetic or chemically
therapeutic health practice attempted,         products were not developed with a ther-       altered. The marketing emphasis is on
with much success, to clinically validate      apeutic understanding of essential oils.       emotional response to aroma, though
and scientifically understand the proper-      The majority of these products contain         there may also be some mention of ther-
ties and chemistry of essential oils. From     synthetic fragrance compounds that do          apeutic skin healing properties. Once
the 1970s into the 1990s, research vali-       not offer the therapeutic composition          again, the consumer is challenged to find
dating the therapeutic effects of essen-       found in essential oils. The role of scent     those products that do contain real essen-
tialoils accumulated. Academic botanical       first gained attention from consumer           tial oils in a truly natural cosmetic base.
research scientist Paul Belaiche, Este         goods manufacturers after World War II         However, this hasn't stopped the essential
Lauder's phytomedicine chemist Pierre          as the fragrance industry saw a rise in per-   oil companies and aromatherapy product
Franchomme, and French medical prac-           fume sales. Product manufacturers              manufacturers intent on selling the real
titioner Dr. Daniel Pénoël have all con-       viewed women as a strong target market         deal to the consumer. Aromatherapy
tributed valuable scentific study and          for perfumes and household goods. As a         products using real essential oils are con-
understanding of essential oils.               way to increase sales of household prod-       tinually entering the marketplace. The
Essential oils have demonstrated safe and      ucts, manufacturers began to put the           use of authentic essential oils continues
effective results in all areas of health and   most popular perfume fragrance com-            to be a vital and health-giving therapeu-
healing, often surpassing the efficacy of      pounds into their products. Synthetics         tic practice. The true practice of aro-
pharmaceuticals.          Aromatherapists,     found in popular perfumes were also the        matherapy, which some are beginning to
phyto-chemists, and clinicians continue        fragrance ingredients used in household        call Essential Oil Therapy,          is very
to bring new research and treatment            goods like dish soap, toilet paper, and        much alive and following the therapeutic
studies into the world of aromatherapy.        laundry detergent. The logic behind this       path introduced by Gattefosse.
There are many new therapeutic uses and        was to stimulate sales of household goods      Jimm Harrison founded the Phytotherapy
true aromatherapy products entering the        by recreating the "sexy" feel women get        Institute in 1995 to advance education in
marketplace. However, many of the              from smelling their favorite perfumes.         essential oil and plant therapy. He was the
medicinal uses of essential oils, such as      More and more synthetic compounds              first cosmetologist invited by Harvard
the anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and tis-    were created as the popularity of scented      University, and MIT to discuss the impact
sue regenerative properties, remain unfa-      products grew.                                 of essential oils in skin care. Jimm is the
miliar to most people.                         The presence of so many synthetic fra          author of The Essentials for Beauty and
Essential oils have been popularized for       grances has actually made natural scents       Skin: A Practice and Philosophy in Pursuit
their emotional and stress-relieving prop-     less familiar in twenty-first century          of Inner and Outer Beauty.
erties. Lavender has been historically         Western society. This has made it diffi-       He can he reached at <jimm@nutrition-
accepted as a calming remedy, and pep-         cult for many people to accept the fra-        skincare.com>.

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