Aromatherapy -- The Fact & The Fiction
You've seen those mysterious little brown bottles in the health food store. But do you really know what "essential oils" are? Have you seen outrageous claims about lavender instantly curing wounds and found yourself thinking "Whoa!"? Let's take a look at one of the biggest fads to hit North America in years and try to separate some of the fact from the fiction.
AROMATHERAPY--WHAT IS IT?
Though the use of aromatic plant materials dates back millennia, aromatherapy is a relatively new idea. In fact, the term "aromatherapy" wasn't even coined until the 1920s. Though you'll find people who claim aromatherapy can cure everything from AIDS to dandruff let's first look at aromatherapy in its purest form--the use of fragrant plant materials to alter mood, create an atmosphere, and personalize a room.
Ask an aromatherapy aficionado and he'll tell you that "true" aromatherapy uses only pure, natural plant materials. But the truth is, mood can be influenced by any scent--natural or not. Ask any realtor about the use of scents and he might just suggest baking a batch of cinnamon rolls or an apple pie while showing your home to prospective buyers. An old wives tale? Some people think so but others swear by it.
IF IT QUACKS LIKE A DUCK . . .
Let's face it--there are folks out there hawking aromatherapy as a cure for cancer, a treatment for depression, and even as an aphrodisiac. But good scientific studies on aromatherapy are rare. Even among natural health experts aromatherapy isn't taken all that seriously. At best it's a complimentary therapy.
And while we're on the subject of quackery, let's also clarify another common misconception. There is currently no standardized certification aromatherapy program in the US. When you hire an aroma expert you've no way to be sure the person knows what he or she is doing.
OK. IT'S NOT A MIRACLE CURE. SO . . . WHAT'S IT GOOD FOR?
Aromatherapy may not cure terminal illness or heal burns in the blink of an eye but it's a wonderful way to bring natural scents into your home. Essential oils don't have the sickeningly sweet scent of artificial air fresheners or the solvent scent of room sprays. Whether you use them to freshen potpourri, diffuse them into the air, or use them to scent your linens, essential oils are a quick, easy way to inject a bit of your own personality into your private space. Let's look at some of the most popular uses of some of the more common oils:
The medicinal scent of Eucalyptus or Tea Tree will make your bathroom or kitchen feel cleaner, instantly. Rose in the bathroom, however, harkens back to Victorian times, when rose was the scent of choice in perfumes, face creams, and soaps.
Lavender is the classic "linen closet" scent. Try lightly spraying your sheets and pillowcases about half an hour before you retire in the evening.
Citrus oils like Orange or Lemon make a room feel happy and alive while warm, woody oils like Patchouli or Sandalwood impart a mysterious, moody feeling.
In your bedroom, the deep, exotic scent of Ylang-Ylang urgently whispers "This is a romantic space".
As the owner of NaturopathicBath.com, Lisa Barger is one of the few internet-based experts focusing on truly therapeutic personal care products. Her cruelty-free products are made without petroleum, dye, alcohol, or perfumes.
Lisa Taylor Barger