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Aromatherapy Essay, Research Paper


Aromatherapy is a ?branch? of herbal medicine that centers on using fragrant

substances, particularly oily plant extracts, to alter mood or improve individuals?

health or appearance. The alleged benefits of aromatherapy range from stress

relief to enhancement of immunity and the unlocking of ?emotions from past

experiences.? But skeptics cite a lack of credible supportive studies published in

reputable scientific or medical journals.

Scents of Well-Being?

?Aromatherapy? is a buzzword used by the cosmetics, fragrance, and

alternative-medicine industries. Although the method has ancient roots,

proponents did not call it ?aromatherapy? before the 1930s. This expression

derives from the French word aromatherapie, coined by Rene Maurice

Gattefosse, a chemist whose book of the same name was published in 1928.

After a lab explosion Gattefosse conveniently plunged his badly burned hand into

a vat of lavender oil. He noticed how well it healed, and thus began the

development of modern aromatherapy, which French homeopaths Dr. and Mme.

Maury revived in the 1960s.

Proponents of aromatherapy maintain that the tools of the trade–wood-resin

distillates and flower, leaf, stalk, root, grass, and fruit extracts–contain

antibiotics, antiseptics, hormones, and vitamins. Some proponents have

characterized essential oils–i.e., oils that are volatile, aromatic, and

flammable–as the soul or spirit of plants. Indeed, one of the aromatherapy?s

premises is that essential oils have a ?spiritual dimension? and can restore

?balance? and ?harmony? to one?s body and to one?s life. One of its principles,

the ?doctrine of signatures,? holds that a plant?s visible and olfactory

characteristics reveal its ?secret? qualities. For example, because the

configuration of the violet suggests shyness, proponents hold that the scent of

violets engenders calmness and modesty.

Aromatherapy en-compasses topical applications of essential oils, bathing in

water to which essential oils have been added, sniffing essential oils, and even

ingesting them. Products marketed under the ?aromatherapy? umbrella are

legion, including shaving gels, aftershaves, facial cleansers, bath salts, bath

soaps, shower gels, shampoos, hair conditioners, ?body masks,? moisturizers,

sunscreen preparations, lipsticks, deodorants, candles, lamps, diffusers, pottery,

massage oils, massage devices, and jewelry.

?the most common aromatherapy field is aesthetic, the sense of well-being

derived from enjoying perfumes, scented candles, baths, and other fragrances,?

stated Jane Buckle, R.N.,M.A., who claims the world?s first master?s degree in

clinical aromatherapy, from Middlesex University in London. At the opposite end

of the spectrum, says Buckle, ?is medical aromatherapy, also know as aromatic

medicine. Practitioners of medical aromatherapy include massage therapists,

naturopaths, nurses, and a smattering of medical doctors.?

The alleged beneficial effects of aromatherapy are numerous. Supporters claim,

for example, that essential oils from lavender or peppermint clears ?negative

energy?; that essential oil from bergamot normalizes emotions; that essential oils

from roses or sandalwood increases confidence; that essential oils from

eucalyptus alleviates sorrow; and that patchouli creates a desire for peace.

Essential oils can have side effects, however, and even proponents warn about

risks. Essential oils from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger can burn the

skin; ingestion of essential oils from pennyroyal can cause miscarriage.

Rapheal d?Angelo, M.D., is a Colorado family practitioner who began

incorporating aromatherapy into his practice over two years ago. D?Angelo uses

eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil adjunctively in treating respiratory disease. He

alludes to ?studies indicating these oils not only have soothing properties, but

reduce mucous production, as well as possessing antiviral and antibacterial

properties.? But these studies, he adds, ?were conducted in Europe, and the

degree of scrutiny and peer review they underwent was not necessarily as high

as the usual degree of such in the United States.?

Can You Trust Your Aromatherapist?

Outside the U.S. aromatherapy is widely accepted. In France, medical students

are taught how to prescribe essential oils; in Britain, hospital nurses use

aromatherapy to treat patients suffering anxiety and depression and to make

terminal-care patients more comfortable.

But the science behind aromatherapy is meager, and in the United States no

legal standards exist concerning education in aromatherapy, certification therein,

or the occupational practice of aromatherapy. Dr. d?Angelo is taking courses

offered by the Australasian College of Herbal Studies, a nonaccredited

correspondence school in Oregon who six-lesson aromatherapy course leads to a

?Certificate in Aromatherpy.? The school also offers certificate courses in

homeopathy; Homeobotanical Therapy, which centers on the use of botanical

tinctures that purportedly have been prepared homeopathically; and

iridology—so-called iris diagnosis. According to Dorene Peterson, the school?s

principle: ?In the last 18 months, we?ve had a seventy-five percent increase in

aromatherapy students.? Peterson holds a ?Diploma in Acupuncture? (?Dip

ACU?) and two degrees: a baccalaureate and a ?Diploma in Natural

Therapeutics? (?DNT?) from New Zealand. She says her school has 400

enrollees, ranging from age 18 to 68 and including ?professionals adjuncting an

existing career?: medical doctors, registered nurses, licensed massage

therapists, and some radiologists. Other students are planning on jobs in beauty

salons, in health food stores, and in the fragrance industry.

The American Aromatherapy Association, also nonaccredited and in Oregon,

offers certification based on attendance at two three-day meetings and

submission of a paper that includes case histories. The association?s courses

covers the use of essential oils as internal remedies. Another nonaccredited

organization, the International Association of Aromatherapists, offers an

11-month correspondence course leading to certification as an ?Aromatherapist


Business Stinks?

As director of his Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, in

Chicago, neurologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, M.D., specializes in treating

people with smell disorders. His passion, however, is investigating how odors

affect behavior. Hirsch’s most attention-getting study focused on whether an

odor could affect weight. Hirsch had noticed that, after losing the sense of smell,

people’s weight increased. He theorized that people would eat less if they were

subject to odors more often. For the study, 3,193 people were given an inhaler

that imparted an odor somewhat reminiscent of corn chips. At the outset of the

study the subjects’ average weight was 217 pounds; some subjects weighed

nearly 600 pounds. Hirsch found that the more often the subjects sniffed the

odor, the more weight they lost. The average weight loss over six months was

30 pounds. Some subjects sniffed the odor more than 200 times daily and lost

more than 100 pounds.

Most researchers are skeptical of Hirsch’s work. They complain that he doesn’t

publish in respected scientific journals, that his studies therefore do not undergo

rigorous peer review, and that his experiments are not well controlled. Hirsch

concedes: “At this point, I wouldn’t use aromatherapy myself, as a physician to

deal with disease. I don’t think we’re there yet. If I saw a physician using

aromatherapy, rather than tranquilizers, I’d say that’s inappropriate at this

point.” But Hirsch predicts that by 2010 aromatherapy will be a part of

mainstream medicine. “In the future, odors may be used to diagnose disease,”

he says. “If we ever find the odor associated with the greatest impairment, we

could potentially use that to diagnose the recurrence of disease.”

Hirsch also describes more mundane purposes: “Maybe ten minutes before you

wake up in the morning, the alarm clock will spray a scent to make you more

alert. You’ll go to the kitchen, where an odor will be released to increase or

suppress your appetite. Your office may be scented to make you more

productive.” And at bedtime? “An aroma,” he replies, “to make you sleepy?or

more amorous.”

Observes principal Dorene Peterson of the Australasian College of Herbal

Studies: “There is a philosophical difference between hard science and the

approach that believes there’s vibrational energy that’s part of the healing

process. Alternative medicine is offered now in quite a number of medical

schools. I think a lot of hard-core scientists and doctors who have been trained

in that data-oriented scientific approach are realizing there’s more to heaven and

earth than we really know about.” Still, Peterson admits that empirical evidence

is necessary for widespread acceptance:

This is such a new area that there are a lot of studies at this point that

aren’t reproducible. Even though there’s been some interesting work done

in Japan and Germany, it’s one thing to get results once. But it doesn’t

appear that researchers have been able to duplicate these results again.

While I believe there’s a scientific basis for aromatherapy, and enough

basis to show that physiological reactions occur in the body when

individuals inhale certain fragrances, there’s also a tremendous range of

subjective reasons for reactions. For instance, If someone’s had a

negative experience with fragrances in the past, and it’s caused anxiety,

that person will react negatively, even though other people may react


Smell the Roses

Generally, insofar as odors and topical essential-oil preparations are pleasurable,

they are healthful. Consumers don’t need to be told what smells good. And

which odors evoke pleasant thoughts in an individual is knowable only

personally. But consumers ought to be told what’s risky and what’s unfounded.

Aromatherapists and marketers of aromatherapy products do not seem reliable

sources of such information. Popular and higher-education acceptance of a

method is not evidence that the method has therapeutic utility. As a health

system, aromatherapy is largely unsubstantiated.

Sniffing Out Aromatherapy

Noted herbal-medicine expert Varro Tyler, Ph.D, Sc.D., an ACSH Advisor, states

that the cons of aromatherapy “far outnumber” the pros. He cites “the problem

created by different definitions of aromatherapy.” He also cites the confusing of

aromatherapy?whose focus is health improvement?with aromacology, whose

focus is mood alteration. The descriptions below illustrate the definition problem.

aroma-spa therapy: Subject of a textbook of the same name (Anessence Inc.,

1996), by massage therapist Anne Roebuck, of Toronto, Canada. Apparently,

aroma-spa therapy is the practice of aromatherapy as a part of spa therapy,

which Roebuck describes in the introduction as “therapeutic face and body

treatments at a spa location.”

aroma-tology: Form of aromatherapy that includes using essential oils to

“re-form” character and to enhance spirituality. Prof. William Arnold-Taylor, an

Aromatherapist, coined the name “aroma-tology” in 1981.

cosmetic aromatherapy: Topical use of skin- and hair-care products that

contain essential oils.

magical aromatherapy: Offshoot of aromatherapy expounded by author Scott

Cunningham (1956-1993) and distinguished by the following attributes. (a)

Self-administration is preferable. (b) Aims need not relate to health. (c)

Visualization of a needed change accompanies inhalation of a scent. (d)

“Bioelectrical energy,” which Cunningham described as “non-physical” and

“natural,” merges with the scent and is programmable by visualization.

massage aromatherapy: Application during a massage therapy session of a

vegetable oil to which an essential oil has been added. Massage alone will tone

flaccid muscles, reduce muscle spasm and improve circulation. It has also been

demonstrated that massage releases endorphins-the body’s natural pain killers2.

The experience of massage can be either stimulating or calming depending on

the techniques used. There are contra-indications to massage, for instance

people being given anti-coagulant drugs (massage causes haemodilution).

Therefore some basic training is essential for anyone massaging people suffering

from medical conditions.

olfactory aromatherapy: Direct or indirect inhalation of essential oils.

Olfactory aromatherapy allegedly unlocks “odor memories” and encourages

realignment of “natural forces” within the body.

phytoaromatherapy: Form of aromatherapy that uses essential oils and

purportedly acts simultaneously on four human “features”: physical, emotional,

mental, and spiritual.

Subtle Aromatherapy: Form of vibrational healing (vibrational medicine)

expounded by Patricia Davis in her 1991 book of the same name. Subtle

Aromatherapy is any use of essential oils with the purported aim of: (a) healing

the “physical body” by affecting the “subtle body” (”energetic body”), or (b)

contributing to personal and spiritual growth.

Using Essential Oils

Essential oils are concentrated extracts that may come from various parts of a

plant, including the blossoms, roots or leaves. Most are volatile, which means

they readily evaporate. This makes them easy for us to smell; it also means they

can be flammable. Because they are so concentrated, essential oils typically

need to be diluted before use. They may be used singly, or some may be used in

combination to produce complementary effects.

In aromatherapy, essential oils are used in two ways: They are inhaled through

the nose or applied to the skin. When inhaled through the nose, the aromatic

molecules of the essential oils are thought to stimulate the olfactory nerve,

sending messages to the brain?s limbic system. The limbic system is the part of

the brain that controls memory and emotion. Researchers believe that when the

limbic system is stimulated, it can affect the nervous, endocrine and immune


Inhalation of essential oils also can impact the respiratory system directly. For

instance, some oils from the eucalyptus plant can help clear the sinuses and

respiratory tract and, thereby, help fight respiratory .

When applied to the skin, essential oils are absorbed into the body. Some oils

have physical effects, such as relieving swelling or fighting fungal infections.

Others are used primarily for their emotional value, to promote relaxation or

generate a positive or soothing feeling.

Inhaling Essential Oils

The simplest way to inhale an essential oil is to sniff the undiluted oil itself. (You

should not get the liquid into your nose; rather, sniff the air above the oil, as you

might when checking the scent of a perfume.) There are many other ways to

inhale essential oils, including the following:

Sniff a mixture that contains oil, such as a perfume, lotion or bubble bath.

Spray the oil into the air. For instance, add a few drops of oil to a spray

bottle of water, then use the spray as an air freshener.

Disperse the oil with a diffuser, which heats water, typically using a light

bulb, a candle or a stove burner. When you add a few drops of essential

oil to the water, the heat causes molecules of the oil to enter the air,

scenting it.

Add a drop of oil to your pillowcase so you?ll smell the oil as you sleep.

Burn a candle scented with an essential oil.

Applying Oils to Your Skin

To apply essential oil to your skin, always dilute the essential oil first, such as in

a carrier oil. Use a pure, unperfumed vegetable oil, such as soybean oil or

almond oil, as your carrier oil. (Chemicals in synthetic oils may interfere with the

properties of your essential oil and with your body?s absorption of the oil.) The

scented carrier oil then can be massaged into the skin. You also can apply

essential oils to your skin using these methods:

Mix the oil with warm water, soak a cloth in the water, then apply the

cloth as a compress.

Add oil to a warm bath and soak for at least 15 minutes.

Add oil to an unperfumed, vegetable-based lotion or cream to rub into

your skin. (As with carrier oils, do not use a synthetic product or a

product that already is perfumed.)

Diluting Essential Oils

For oils, lotions or creams applied directly to the skin, adults generally should

use essential oils diluted to two to three parts per hundred. For instance, for one

cup (48 teaspoons) of carrier oil, add about one teaspoon of essential oil.

Children and anyone with sensitive skin should use a dilution half as strong ?

about one to one-and-a-half parts per hundred (or one-half teaspoon of essential

oil per cup of carrier oil). For baths and diffusers, try adding about six drops of

oil to the water. For air-freshening water sprays, try three drops.

Remember, the concentration of essential oils may vary, depending on the brand

you choose. Start slowly, gradually adding just enough oil to achieve the level of

aroma you desire. Essential oils usually are sold in small bottles with droppers so

that you can add oil drop by drop.

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