Latest Trends in Aromatherapy

What are the latest consumer trends in aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy has been a cresting wave waiting to break to its full potential for over three decades. Due to the lack of regulation and standards, any use of fragrance can be labeled “aromatherapy” or “essential oils.” This has kept the true use, the therapeutic use, of essential oils hidden from the consumer. Though it allows for mislabeling of essential oils, I’m hesitant of regulation, which, along with standards, would need to be developed outside of business or corporate benefit.

It has become difficult to accept aromatherapy as serious medicine when consumers are inundated by aromatherapy “fluff” – the use of fragrance for some vague, feel-good calming sensation or the use of aromatherapy as a punch line by the ditzy TV sitcom hippie-chick.

The current consumer trend is a deeper awareness of the true therapy of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils. The consumer is becoming more aware that essential oils are not a fragrance ingredient and, instead, offer medicinal qualities and properties – they are therapeutic. At this juncture the consumer is aware of the most basic uses of essential oils, such as stress relief, headache, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory and, maybe, wrinkle reduction.

The trend in the medicinal awareness of essential oils still has levels of growth to go. The healing properties that are not quite at the mainstream consumer level include the treatment of bacterial infection, virus (no fear of Swine flu or any other flu with essential oils), shingles, digestive issues, liver damage, balance of the autonomic nervous system and so much more. Most people are very surprised to hear, to the point of disbelief, that essential oils have shown in several studies to be effective in killing tumor cells, and doing this without harming healthy cells. In a holistic model, the conditions these properties treat can be moderately to completely addressed in personal care.

As a part of this increased consumer awareness it is becoming known that essential oils must be real essential oils in order to have the desired therapeutic effect. This is not as understood as is necessary since the consumer has no background to deal with the concept of “real” essential oils.  Most essential oils used are produced for the flavor and fragrance industry. These are not oils produced for therapeutic use. Quality is an issue that has plagued the essential oil industry for its entire existence. Things are improving, more oils are being produced for the aromatherapy trade, but it still has a long, long way to go before it penetrates the marketplace. Cost is an issue here. True therapeutic and healing activity comes at a higher price. The consumer’s discovery that all oils are not created equally and that quality of the oil matters becomes a trust in the brand or manufacturer and a higher price is, or maybe I should say will be, expected.

There is essential oil terminology being used to represent a perceived higher quality of oils and is being seen more and more in the consumer markets. These terms are “organic,” “therapeutic grade” and “pharmaceutical grade.” These terms are not standardized or regulated and oils with these labels can still be adulterated, meaning they have been diluted, or so-called balanced, with naturals or synthetic substances, and, even if diluted with other organic oils, the therapeutic value may still be diminished. Even if an essential oil is distilled from an organically farmed plant, in the hands of an unskilled distiller will produce an inferior oil, the same as a beautifully organic grape in the hands of a bad vintner will produce a terrible wine.

Another marker of quality is the claim of GC/MS tested. Who’s to say the GC/MS is an accurate portrayal of a true unadulterated artisan distilled essential oil? Who’s reading the GC/MS and what was the comparison used to measure the composition? The consumer has a lot to learn, as does the practicing aromatherapist and the product manufacturer.

So this is the trend in aromatherapy, to present  essential oils for their true therapeutic use and medicinal qualities. Not really a new trend, just a slow growth in awareness of essential oil use in the mainstream marketplace.