Perhaps you have come across a beautifully fragrant product before; maybe a candle, soap, or other bath/body product had you muttering to yourself, "wow, that smells really good!", but with no idea of what exact component provided its captivating and pleasant emotion evoking aroma. The answer is that it probably contained pure essential oils and/or absolute concentrates.  A review of the label disclosing the ingredients would reveal this. 

Because there are so many undesirable components in commercial fragrance items, it is indeed wise to always check the list of ingredients. An ingredient titled as fragrance with no explanation means it contains synthetic fragrance.


Chances are that you have been exposed to a product containing pure essential oil without even realizing it; unless you are diligent about reading product labels you would not know for sure.

Kristin Leanderson from Vanderbilt University, Department of Psychology, provides some background on early aromatherapy. "The French chemist Dr. René-Maurice Gattefossé is considered the "father" of modern day aromatherapy. Gattefosse was the first to use the term "aromatherapy" in 1928. The French physician Dr. Jean Valnet was very impressed with Gattefossés findings and began using essential oils to treat war injuries during World War II. Marguerite Maury, an Austrian bio-chemist, studied the rejuvenating powers and cosmetic uses of essential oils. These three people reintroduced aromatherapy in the twentieth century. Today, more than a thousand doctors in France use aromatherapy in their practice."

Aromatherapy is certainly nothing new. The most recent information on aromatherapy are studies and closely controlled clinical trials documenting the benefits of essential oil use that are initiated on an increasingly regular basis which has, to some degree, increased awareness. This is a step in the modern direction of understanding more about what our ancestors had already been practicing.

How can it be that a certain aroma could have such a profound impact on our emotions, health and overall well-being? Putting theories to rest through documented proof will continually lead to answers. Much has to do with what actually takes place within a person when detecting an aroma as well as the energy and beneficial therapeutic elements contained in a specific essential oil. Whether blended for skin application or for inhalation an essential oil's unique aroma is omnipresent.

Kristin Leanderson also explains, "What actually happens when one inhales various aromas is actually more complex than one may think. The brain registers aroma twice as fast as it does pain. This is why the inhalation of aromas can so powerfully transform ones emotions. Smell is the only sense that bypasses the blood-barrier to the central nervous system. Through the olfactory system, essential oil molecules have direct access to the limbic area of the brain (the center of emotions and memory).

Olfaction, or the sense of smell, involves the detection and perception of odors [or aromas]. Olfactory nerve cells are stimulated by odors which take the form of chemicals. These chemicals (or odors) enter the nose and get dissolved in a membrane called the olfactory epithelium and connect by nerve pathways to areas in the brain. The receptors of the Olfactory system are hair cells connected to the olfactory epithelium. These hair cells called cilia, have an axon which projects to the olfactory bulb. The signal is passed down from the cilia in the nasal passage to mitral cells in the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb leads straight into the olfactory tract. The olfactory tract (cranial nerve I) transmits the signals to areasof the brain such as the olfactory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, pyriform cortex, and hypothalamus.It is here in the brain where the emotions are controlled. Therefore various aromas are thought to be associated with ones emotions."

Inhaling the aroma of an essential oil is not the only way to enjoy their elements. A blend of essential oils in carrier (base) oil, such as jojoba or sweet almond, provides the foundation for a therapeutic massage or bath oil. The selection of specific essential oils, coupled with the talented hands of a professional massage therapist, can serve to relieve sore muscles, relax the mind as well as your body, or be used to increase blood flow through an invigorating blend, just to name a few.

One of the best ways to experience essential oils through a personalized selection of applications is to visit a day spa that specializes in aromatherapy.  You can experience various aromatherapy treatments ranging from an inhalation room of eucalyptus (that is great for sinus problems!) to essential oil infused body scrubs, wraps, facials, and therapeutic massages. 

The term aromatherapy has been loosely applied in recent years to a multitude of products in a retailer's quest to capitalize on the ever increasing demand for natural products. For this reason, one must be very cautious when making the decision to buy a product using the word aromatherapy in its title. Remember, a true aromatherapy product must be one that has therapeutic qualities based on it containing pure essential oils and/or absolutes.

Ever so present on the shelves in stores today are aromatherapy this, and aromatherapy that, all with clever use of words and packaging to make a consumer believe the product is a true aromatherapy product. Simply pick up the item to look at the ingredients and being an informed consumer will have you placing the product back on the shelf. It is important to not fall prey to major manufacturing companies using the word aromatherapy as marketing hype to simply get you to believe it is actually a true aromatherapy product.

The definition of aromatherapy involves both art and science. Art would be, for example, a massage therapist using a learned and skilled talent (art) to deliver a therapeutic massage and/or the use of essential oils or absolutes (science).  Products can not be packaged containing the art of application inside, however, the product itself can be defined as aromatherapy provided it contains the necessary natural ingredients of pure essential oils and/or absolutes.

Marketing aromatherapy products has become increasingly misleading with very clever label writers using words such as 'made with essential oil fragrance'.  Huh?  It's either a pure (unadulterated) essential oil or a fragrance oil, but not both.  Another good example is 'fragrance oil made with pure essential oil'.  Laughable, that means just one drop of essential oil mixed with synthetic fragrance oil let's the writer of that label description off the hook. An even more clever advertisement will state 'Fragranced with essential oils and other natural fragrances'.  Because an essential oil IS a natural fragrance, what would the necessity be to state 'other natural fragrances' be?  This goes back to a previous article in this series detailing how a manufacturer is protected from disclosing ingredients based on the FDA trade secret rule for proprietary contents.

Besides product labeling information, which has just been shown as rather sketchy, the easiest way when selecting essential oil is to realize that they can be (depending on variety) either clear, slightly yellow, blue, tan, golden, or even rusty brown in color. The best way to determine purity and exact contents of an essential oil you are interested in acquiring is to request GC/MS test results for that oil from the seller.

As a consumer you owe it to yourself to be aware of what is fact and what is fictionalized hype in a manufacturer's quest to market an item labeled for aromatherapy purposes.

 FDA (Food and Drug Administration)
 Vanderbilt University, Dept. of Psychology

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