Aromatherapy, Not Aromacology

What is aromatherapy?

To understand what aromatherapy is, we must first realize that the plant is everything. The magic contained in small amounts of essential oils is unique to each botanical and is truly the concentrated "life force" or essence of a plant. The art and science of aromatherapy depends on the ability to deliver a particular plant's essence to an individual: to heal, to alter a mood, to fight infection, etc. Aromatherapy is often identified by smell, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Numerous studies show that essential oils produce measurable effects when applied topically and perform actions upon the respiratory system even when you can't smell them (experimenters plugged people's noses, and found that the essential oils were just as effective when inhaled through the mouth). The smells we associate with essential oils happen to be an enjoyable by-product of very real biochemical interactions between plant essences and the human body.


After beginning to understand what aromatherapy is, it is necessary to identify what aromatherapy is not. Aromatherapy is not diluting essential oils with cheaper and stronger smelling synthetic fragrance chemicals. Aromatherapy insists that essential oils be delivered intact, which raises concerns for so-called aromatherapy candles colored with toxic dyes, fragrance chemicals and scent-enhancing polymers and phthalates.


Aromacology, in contrast to aromatherapy, is restricted to the olfactory realm. In aromatherapy, the plant is everything. In aromacology, the scent is everything, and to create the scent, one may utilize any means necessary. To create the scent of fresh-baked cookies or a day at the beach, fragrance houses choose from over 5000 aroma chemicals designed to evoke particular aromas.


To be fair, aromacology does attempt to touch on an aspect of aromatherapy: the powerful connection between our sense of smell and memory. However, the effects of pure essential oils versus synthetic aromas are quite different. While aromas are a quick way to access memory centers in the brain, we should not confuse triggering a memory with aromatherapy. The "brand new car smell" is instantly recognizable and may bring back memories, though it can hardly be argued that it has any therapeutic value.


Aromacology, through its use of fragrance chemicals, has a potential to trigger various chemical sensitivities, as fragrance chemicals in combination are more irritating at lower levels than single compounds. Many people find that they are sensitive to "fragranced" products, from laundry detergents to perfumes and personal care products, with symptoms ranging from allergic reactions, rashes, respiratory irritation, headaches and nausea. These reactions are growing increasingly common, due in large part to our bombardment with chemicals in nearly every aspect of daily life.


Aromatherapy actually offers relief from the symptoms listed above. Pure essential oils provide completely natural methods of relieving stress, curbing nausea and clearing the mind (among a host of other things!). When unadulterated, essential oils provide safe scents and help maintain the connection between humans and the natural world.