Why some People spend good money on Aromatherapy … that isn’t Aromatherapy

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).

True aromatherapy

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.

Thanks for the reminders from Lifehack and Aromaweb

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6 comments… add one
  • Carol H. Mar 19, 2011

    I’ve never investigated “aromatherapy” so this article has given me an education in aromatherapy vs. aromachology.
    Now, when I’m in the stores looking at all the scented candles, etc, I can say with confidence “Not Aromatherapy!!”
    Thank you James!! I really appreciate knowing this information.

  • john r Mar 25, 2011

    I have had migraines for all of my 50 years, and I usually woke up with a headache; since finding essential oils and using a doiffuser, I have dereased my headaches by about 90 %.

    • Carol H. Apr 5, 2011

      john r
      I’m curious to know which essential oils you use and how you came to find this as a remedy. Would you pass this information on to me, please?
      I also wake up with a headache, but not always. It seems to come in seasonal bouts, as in spring and fall, and then any weather change….looking forward to your response. Thanks!! Carol H.

  • Janet Apr 5, 2011

    My standard response to aromatherapy is that it’s an oxymoron. Strong smells are repulsive to me and flowery ones, particularly so. Incense, diffused oils, all spell ‘migraine danger’ to me. But I hear you, James. Many products sell themselves as aromatherapy when they really just mean “scented”. That being said, why is it so hard to find non-scented products, such as eye pillows and even basic items like hand lotion, shampoo and soap?

  • Parin Stormlaughter Jun 30, 2011

    I hear you, Janet. Fragranced products not containing 100% pure essential oils (EOs) almost always contain smells produced from petroleum products.

    I make perfume, put 100% pure EOs in my bland olive oil-based shampoo and conditioners, use them in my humidifier – I can’t even think of all the things I use 100% pure essential oils for. And you bet, some 100% pure EOs trigger me in some quantities. Spikenard and ylang-ylang are two of them. I had to completely stop using ylang-ylang because I couldn’t find a small enough amount to use that wouldn’t trigger me.

    You can make an unfragranced eye mask yourself very, very easily. You can put rice in a sock and tie the end, for example – all-cotton sock is doubly comfortable. You can sew up whole flaxseeds in a rectangle of cloth folded in half if you want to get out a needle and thread.

    I have to use shampoo and conditioner from Baar. I’m not overly thrilled with their service and shipping is high (be absolutely certain your order contains everything you were charged for) but I can use their olive oil shampoo and conditioners with 100% EOs that I add myself.

    The Aura Cacia website has very nice recipes for concocting all kinds of things using 100% pure EOs. I’ve used the EOs from Mountain Rose Herbs as well. Both companies I completely and unreservedly recommend. Both have high shipping. Aura Cacia frequently sends free full-sized prepared products with orders but their essential oils are the better value in my opinion. The prepared essential oil products do contain only 100% EOs or those oils mixed with jojoba oil (labels and ordering site clearly states which are uncut and which contain jojoba oil so no worries) but they’re lightly fragranced. Of course a person can always add more of any essential they wish to shore them up. Mountain Rose Herbs has all kinds of products from natural and organically-grown products. I’ve never been disappointed with any product or service from either company.

    I haven’t found much pain relief from 100% EOs I’m afraid. For me they’re a way to reduce exposure to fragrance triggers and other health improvement primarily. The Aura Cacia website has a marvelous cleaning spray, for example, containing lemon and white thyme EOs that works as well as nearly any store-bought spray cleaner and smells so, so nice. Those two EOs are germ killing too.

    BTW I have never been remunerated by any company for anything other than refunds on orders. No paid endorsements from me! 🙂

  • Jean Oct 14, 2015

    Doesn’t matter to me whether the source of the smell/odor/scent is pure essential oils or petroleum, it is a migraine trigger to me.

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