Understanding Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of pure aromatic oils, aka "essential oils" (EOs), and other volatile compounds from plants to influence and promote physical and psychological health. Modes of delivery for aromatherapy include via aerial diffusion, direct inhalation, and topical applications such as massages, baths, and compresses.

There are two sides to the aromatherapy argument…those who believe aromatherapy can be beneficial and those who dispute its benefits as they haven’t been proven by those who believe.

Aromatherapy hasn’t been formally studied as much as most would like, this much is true. The problem with both sides is that they make claims that haven’t been “proven”. The “pro aromatherapy” side will state that such and such oil is relaxing.

Scents bring memories, and many memories bring nostalgic pleasure.
-Thalassa Cruso (To Everything There is a Season)

The “con aromatherapy” side will state that such and such oil can’t be said to be relaxing as it hasn’t been proven. It is common to see such statements from the aromatherapy challengers as, “there is no evidence that aromatherapy provides the health benefits claimed by their proponents”.

We can all agree, however, that just because something hasn’t been clinically studied does not mean it’s not effective. Lack of a “controlled study” does not make something untrue. Granted, it indicates it is generally accepted as “unproven”. However, instead of stating something is untrue because it is unproven, the challengers should conduct their own clinical studies to dispute the claims in order to “prove” their own statements.

Now, aromatherapy, by nature, makes it difficult to conduct such studies as its effects are often individual and subjective. That is, how a particular oil affects, or doesn’t affect, one person may be different than how it affects another partly due to the differences in perceptions and past or present associations with the fragrance of the oil.

With aromatherapy, it’s also difficult and challenging, if not impossible, to effectively conduct “blind” studies or studies where a placebo is given due to the dependency on the olfactory system.

As the chosen application of the oils can also influence the end result, aromatherapy doesn’t “fit” traditional molds for determining direct and distinct cause and effect. A massage is very likely to relax most all of us. A massage with a blend of lavender and sweet almond oil is also very likely to relax most everyone. How much of the relaxing benefit is attributed to the massage and how much can be attributed to the lavender?

There is also the undeniable factor that often comes into play with any kind of healing or treatment and that is the power of belief. State of mind can affect the outcome.

The variance in oils, such as from different regions, crops, or due to processing, also presents a challenge for both studying and for practical use.

One argument often seen by the challengers of aromatherapy is that an essential oil cannot be this and that. However, it is important to recognize that each essential oil contains many, many different chemicals. This may help to explain why a particular oil is claimed to have different, sometimes seemingly opposing, effects and why more than one oil can be indicated for a certain purpose.

Unfortunately, BOTH sides make essential oils and aromatherapy out to be more than they realistically can be.

It’s important to rely on your own experiences and exercise good judgment. Take all information you find with a grain of salt…there is a lot of misinformation out there and it gets regurgitated time and time again. Don’t assume because a site is popular or touted to be the best website on aromatherapy or that just because a book is published that the information contained within is valid and accurate. Consult a trained and experienced aromatherapist for guidance.

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