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NATURAL HEALTH 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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