Yes, we’re getting scammed. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with the name.
You see, aromatherapy really isn’t just about "aromas". Somewhere along the line, we started thinking that aromatherapy was all about getting nice feeling from a pleasant smell. It’s a misconception that has turned a promising therapy for headache and migraine (and many other things) into a waste of money.
Prepare to be surprised. Do you know how aromatherapy was first discovered? It was the application of an essential oil on a skin burn. Not what you were expecting, was it?
You see, we’re not really talking about nice aromas here. We’re talking about organic changes in the body, biochemical responses, healing… Does the sense of smell play a role? Of course. But that’s not the whole story.
You’ve seen this happen before. Someone says that veggies are good for us (true). So, some big manufacturing plant finds a way to create a product that they still say has "vegetable ingredients", but in reality it’s the farthest thing from broccoli or spinach.
When there’s very little standardization or very few labelling laws, the word aromatherapy has been used and abused. They put it on shampoo, on soap, in little bottles of oil, in your pillow – and the only requirement is that it smells nice to somebody. That is NOT aromatherapy.
Research is saying good things about true aromatherapy. A big area of study today is in the area of anxiety. Take bergamot essential oil, for example. Then there’s lavender for migraine. Or aromatherapy massage for cancer patients with constipation.
Along comes someone with something that smells like lavender, or that contains a wee bit of rosemary, and they sell it as aromatherapy. But it has nothing to do with the research, because it’s not really standardized and not really aromatherapy.
What is it? Aromachology. That’s the way smells effect you. It’s useful, but it’s not aromatherapy. And aromachology is mostly what you find in your local drugstore today (yes, even in some of the fancy little bottles that cost $10).
So then what is aromatherapy? True aromatherapy has to do with natural, plant-derived essential oils.
And that 100% essential oil must be isolated in a certain way. Dr. Brian Lawrence writes:
For an essential oil to be a true essential oil, it must be isolated by physical means only. The physical methods used are distillation (steam, steam/water and water) or expression (also known as cold pressing, a unique feature for citrus peel oils). There is one other method of oil isolation specific to a very limited number of essential oil plants. This is a maceration/distillation. In the process, the plant material is macerated in warm water to release the enzyme-bound essential oil. Examples of oils produced by maceration are onion, garlic, wintergreen, bitter almond, etc.
All right, so I don’t want to waste my money on aromachology – I want to try the real thing. How do I find the real thing?
We’ve recommended certain essential oils here before, you can of course start there. But here are a few useful things to remember:
- Do you know anything about the company that makes this product? Is it some importer shipping from an unknown plant in some far country? Is it a familiar, respected brand? Is it just a person with a hobby, or a company who has the means to extract quality oils?
- Some manufacturers have information online, or even at the store. Sadly, most don’t. But it’s worth checking.
- Be sure that the bottle says 100% pure essential oil. If you can’t find any kind of evidence that it’s real essential oil, it doesn’t matter how cool the bottle looks or how nice it smells. 100% essential oil or nothing. It’s not a guarantee, but a great place to start.
- Most quality oils are sold in dark coloured glass bottles. Watch out for the clear ones, or plastic ones – especially if they’ve been on a shelf for who knows how long.
- If possible, try to find organic essential oils.
Aromachology is fine, but if you really want to try an aromatherapy treatment, don’t waste your time and money. Go for quality right away, and enjoy the health benefits, not just a nice smell.