Aromatherapy is Big Business These Days
You can find fragrances in everything from candles, and lotions, to soaps and bath salts. What seems to be lost among this growing industry is the definition of Aromatherapy. According to Aromatherapy, An Illustrated Guide by Clare Walters, “Aromatherapy is the use of therapeutic oils extracted from natural plant matter in order to encourage good health, equilibrium, and well-being. The essential oils that are used in aromatherapy are truly holistic in that they can have a powerful positive effect on mind, body, and spirit.”
Why is it important to have products with pure essential oils? When seeking out products that claim to relax, energize, relieve stress, or any of a host of other claims, it’s necessary to realize that there are no limits on what can be termed Aromatherapy. With no government regulations, how does one know if a product can truly be used for therapeutic purposes?
Truly holistic Aromatherapy is derived from using products utilizing pure essential oils with no artificial fragrances or chemicals. It’s important to gain a basic working knowledge of the essential oils you are interested in. When in doubt, do some research. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for oils.
Latin Names and Common Names
It is important to know the Latin name of the essential oils you are interested in. Latin names distinguish the specific genus and species of a plant. When you only go by part of the name, or the common name, you may not be getting an oil that has the therapeutic properties you are seeking. Also be sure a common name given to an oil relates to the appropriate genus and species you are seeking.
In her book, Aromatherapy for Body, Mind and Spirit, Larissa Jones illustrates this point with Lavender. There are two types of Lavender commonly used in Aromatherapy, true lavender and lavendin. True lavender comes from Lavendula angustafolia and is much more expensive. Lavendin comes from a hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender called Lavendula hybrida. It grows more quickly and produces more oil. However, lavendin contains a stimulating chemical called camphor and, while very good for fighting colds; it has no place in products promoting relaxation, insomnia or children’s concerns. Both of these oils could be sold as Lavender, but they have different properties and serve different purposes.
In the case of Lavender, you will want to seek out products that are labeled Lavendula angustafolia and designated AOC. This is a certification created by the French government and only given to 100% pure Lavendula angustafolia, grown from seed in Haute Provence, France.
Many companies will sell “straight” essential oils for blending or diffusing. Although these companies may be well intentioned and the price always seems good, what you may not be aware of is that these oils are often adulterated with other oils or chemicals. I recently purchased a not so inexpensive bottle of Lavender from a local bath and body shop. I wanted to use it in testing. When I got home I realized I would not be able to use this product because, although it was listed as Lavendula angustafolia, it also contained hybrid safflower seed oil and vitamin E. This becomes especially important when comparing prices for products. While you think you may be getting a better deal, you may actually be paying for a lot of ingredients you didn’t want or need.
Chemotypes and Gas Chromatography
Other things to keep in mind as your knowledge of Aromatherapy increase are chemotypes and Gas Chromatography. Chemotypes occur naturally as plants experience different growing conditions. When plants are grown in the mountains versus the plains for example, they can produce different chemotypes which will then possess different properties.
A Gas Chromatograph is like a chemical fingerprint. This form of testing can separate the various therapeutic properties of a given essential oil. When used in comparison to other brands, this can distinguish which product contains more of the desired components.
While both of these tools are difficult to use for the average Aromatherapist, they are important to keep in mind as your interest and education grows.
As with all things, a little care and a bit of knowledge goes a long way to obtaining quality products for your Aromatherapy uses.