Little Known Aspects of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy has become quite popular and its use has extended into food, household, and cosmetic products. Essential oils are incorporated into skin care, hair care, or other products. However, some of these products are not used for the essential oils’ therapeutic benefits, but rather for their aromatic qualities.
Some argue that these products are not true aromatherapy, given that they do not provide therapeutic value. And this may be true if the products use adulterated essential oils, colorants, and perfume essences instead of pure essential oils. To ensure that aromatherapy products are therapeutic, it is important to obtain them from reputable sources, such as from healthcare providers, health coaches, and Registered Aromatherapists™.
Aromatherapy is a well-studied approach, providing evidence of its benefits and therapeutic properties. The study of aromatherapy includes holistic aromatherapy, aromatology, aromachology, aromatograms, among others. I will explain what these in detail.
Aromatherapy was derived from herbal medicine. It has been used for millennia, and both herbal medicine and aromatherapy were the source of many modern medicines.
Aromatherapy encompasses the use of essential oils and other extracts from aromatic plants for therapeutic purposes in the treatment or prevention of diseases and ailments (Lis-Balchin, 2006). Application of aromatherapy can be external, either on the skin or via inhalation, or internal, either by ingestion or by insertion in a body opening.
Aromatherapy has many uses and can be combined with other treatments or applications. For instance, it can be used with massage, and thus deliver its benefits via absorption through the skin as well as through inhalation. It can also be incorporated into complementary alternative medicine practices as part of treatment.
Holistic aromatherapy is a subdivision of aromatherapy, and considers the effect of aromatherapy on all aspects of the person (Buckle, 2003). In other words, it considers the effect of essential oils and other extracts on the patient’s mind, body, and spirit. The focus is on how aromatherapy supports the person, and not necessarily its medicinal properties. This subdivision does not consider the chemistry or pathology, and thus can be administered by a body worker.
Aromatology deals specifically with the use of essential oils and other extracts via internal application (Lis-Balchin, 2006). This means that it studies the effect of the chemicals in the essential oils or other plant extracts when it is ingested orally or applied in the anus, vagina, or other body opening.
Aromatology can also include application on the skin, but usually when this is done in large quantities. These methods of application usually require a medical professional or herbalist, and they consider the therapeutic and medicinal benefits and effects.
Aromachology deals with the use of aromatherapy through inhalation. It considers the chemical components of essential oils, as does aromatology, but also includes behavior, as does holistic aromatherapy.
Lis-Balchin (2006) explains that aromachology studies the effect of scents, odors, or aromas on human behavior. In other words, it looks at the chemistry of essential oils and other extracts and its effects on psychology.
Maurice Girault developed the aromatogram in 1969 (Rhind, 2012). Girault used the work of earlier scientists, Schroeder and Messing, to develop a laboratory technique to study the antimicrobial activity of essential oils. His development was so effective that aromatograms are still used today.
This method of studying antimicrobial activity of essential oils is considered in vitro because it takes place in a medium that is artificial or outside of a living body (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).
There are different kinds of aromatograms, namely solid, liquid, and gas, but the solid form is the most practical and reproducible (Petersen, 2014). The solid aromatogram consists of a Petri dish with agar, which is a water-based or aqueous medium, and thus favors water-soluble constituents instead of fat-soluble ones (Rhind, 2012). Agar also provides an optimal environment for the pathogens to grow in, and thus provides an ideal testing ground (Petersen, 2014).
In order to proceed, the aromatherapist obtains a clean, pure, and organic sample of the essential oil from a reputable source. They also get “a culture broth of the pathogen,” (Buckle, 2003) which can be obtained from the infected cavity or mucus membrane of a human. They then smear the pathogen across the agar on the Petri dish, impregnate a small piece of circular paper with the essential oil, and place the paper in the Petri dish (Buckle, 2003). After incubating the petri dish for at least 24 hours, if the essential oil is effective against the pathogen, there should be an area that forms in the Petri dish that is free of the pathogen (Buckle, 2003).
This area may look like a “halo” around the surrounding pathogens. If the halo is 2 to 3 mm, the essential oil is considered to have good antimicrobial action. If the halo is more than 3 mm, the essential oil is considered to have very effective antimicrobial action. If there is no halo, the essential oil is considered to have no antimicrobial action (Petersen, 2014).
One thing to keep in mind is that even if antimicrobial action of an essential oils is proven in vitro, it does not mean that the essential oil will work in the same way on humans, given that both the essential oil and the pathogen will act differently in the Petri dish than in the actual person (Buckle, 2003). In addition, the same essential oils can have different effects on different people (Buckle, 2003).
Nonetheless, by studying essential oils’ antimicrobial action through aromatograms, an aromatherapist is able to select the essential oils that are most likely to have a positive result in treating a patient, and develop further tests and studies from there.
Holistic aromatherapy deals with how aromatherapy benefits the mind, body, and spirit, aromatology studies aromatherapy when applied internally, aromachology deals with aromatherapy when inhaled, and aromatograms look at the antimicrobial activity of essential oils. The study of these subdivisions provide further evidence of the therapeutic quality of aromatherapy.
Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils In Practice (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Churchill Livingstone.
Lis-Balchin, M. (2006). Aromatherapy Science: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, United Kingdom: Pharmaceutical Press.
Merriem-Webster. (n.d.). In vitro. Dictionary. Retrieved on June 23, 2014 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/in%20vitro
Petersen, D. (2014). Aromatherapy Materia Medica: Essential Oil Monographs. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Rhind, J.P. (2012). Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Singing Dragon.