One of the areas that has spurred on my essential oil passion is helping families, most often mommas, use essential oils safely for themselves and their family. As a mom, who misused essential oils in the beginning, I understand very intimately what questions come up during this delicate time. If I can save one woman from “mom guilt” in this area, it’s worth it! The other reason I wanted to share these thoughts are because we are looking for aromatherapy to be a black and white field, a practice that fits into a black and white box of do’s and don’ts and pitting aromatherapists against each other has created a monster. Hopefully sharing my heart here will help bring some peace and clarity to you as you pursue this therapy for your family!
Let’s talk a little about essential oil practice. There are some foundational beliefs most trained aromatherapists like myself hold to as we practice our therapy.
- Dilution – this is the process of using a carrier, (commonly a vegetable oil like olive, grapeseed, avocado, etc.) and adding it to your essential oil creating a usable application for the body to absorb and process. Dilution does not in ANY way diminish the effectiveness of an essential oil in fact it helps the body to be able to process and absorb the essential oil.
- Essential Oil Composition Knowledge – each essential oil is comprised of compounds that make that oil that oil. Peppermint, for example is made up of over 10 chemical compounds. Recognizing these compounds and the levels that they come in for a specific batch of oils can fluctuate the recommendations around that oil.
- Drug Interactions – yes, it’s possible! Essential oils can have interactions with pharmaceuticals and it is accepted across the professional collective to be a great consideration when using aromatherapy as a therapeutic modality.
- Ingestion – most professional aromatherapists do not recommend recreational ingestion of essential oils and definitely not during pregnancy and lactation.
- Age & Demographics – while this area may have some variation on particulars, most aromatherapists agree that children should be addressed differently than adults and considerations like frailty, elderly, current constitution, etc need to be held in consideration with essential oil use.
Outside of these, there is a range of practice that you will see that may vary slightly from aromatherapist to aromatherapist. Just like one pediatrician may give antibiotics for an ear infection and another may prescribe a heating pad and lots of snuggles, the recommendations of different aromatherapists often will vary. Does that mean the pediatrician recommending antibiotics is wrong? Nope. Does that mean the pediatrician recommending a heating pad and snuggles is wrong? Nope. They are different applications, philosophies and outlooks on general health. This is what I refer to as a “spectrum of practice” and it is the same in the aromatherapy world!
Another impact on the differences in these recommendations is education. To complete a certified aromatherapist (CA) training you need 200+ hours. Most accredited aromatherapy schools offer this route. The next “level” is clinical aromatherapist. This area is 400+ hours, but here’s the catch, there is no track of agreed on courses to complete that additional 200 hours. So between certified and clinical you could start to navigate a niche, say birth work, and have that 200 hours to reach clinical certification all in birth work, while someone else may be interested in aromatic medicine and have more detailed training on ingestion and pharmacology. Are either of these routes better than the other? Nope. Are they of different value to the client? Yes.
Let’s apply it to the specific, agreed upon areas above for a more complete view into aromatherapy practice.
- Dilution – most practicing aromatherapist agree essential oils should be diluted nearly all the time. Are there exceptions? Yup. What are the exceptions? Funny you should ask! The exceptions will vary based on the aromatherapists’ care you are under and the area of training they have pursued. An aromatherapist with aromatic medicine training will be able to appropriately guide you through carefully selected instances where neat use is valuable. Does that mean a blanket statement of “Lavender and Tea Tree can be applied neat” is wise? Nope, because often it is not in the client’s best interest to apply oils neat as it increases the chances of sensitization.
- Essential Oil Composition Knowledge – No matter what area a CA pursues there is a wealth of knowledge for continued education in the area of oil composition. Continuing education courses, reading the latest research publications, dialogue with other aromatherapists, there really is so much new info coming out!
- Drug Interactions – Like Essential Oil composition, this is an area that new research is being released often. It is up to the CA to stay current and educated in this area!
- Age & Demographics – Here we go. This is the biggest area of spectrum outside of dilution. I’ll handle it as gracefully as I can! For age, you will find aromatherapists that say “No essential oils under 2” or “No essential oils under 5” or “Here are the _______ number that are safe under age _______”. Are they wrong? Right? Is my son’s going to grow another arm if I apply essential oils to him before the appropriate age?
Here’s my advice, talk to the aromatherapist you are working with when they bring up an oil or practice you have a different understanding on! Why do they recommend under 5? Why are they using Eucalyptus? What brought them to this conclusion? Is there experience or research that helped them come to this position that they are willing to share with you? Dialogue!! Then you, as the client/consumer, can decide if you can stay within their service. Gratefully, as far as demographics and constitution are concerned, most aromatherapists are on the same page. Gentle applications for elderly and individuals with a weak or sickly constitution is needed.
This blog post isn’t a license for an anything goes mentality either. It is a post to encourage dialogue, open mindedness and explain why things might differ from aromatherapist to aromatherapist. In essence, use your B.R.A.I.N. This is a common acronym for informed consent decision making and stands for:
Benefits – What are the benefits of this practice/conclusion/advice?
Risks – What are the risks to practicing/not practicing this advice?
Alternatives – What are the alternatives to this practice?
Intuition – If I remove all outside influences, what does my gut say about this?
Nothing – What happens if I do nothing/wait?
Here is a great explanation of this method in more detail and Cristina Howell recently wrote on this B.R.A.I.N. application for Robert Tisserand, showing the connection in how we speak to one another!
I’ve professionally been under fire (heavy fire) for being too conservative. I confidently practice within my scope of education, experience and liability and I respect other aromatherapists for doing the same. I caution following aromatherapists who incite a fear based education. Who say a lot of “never” or who are always looking to prove another aromatherapist wrong.There is room for health and wellness, not hostility and warring. Gather multiple sources. My friend Li Wong advises 3-5. Weigh them out using the B.R.A.I.N. method above. Hopefully the above explanation will help you understand as well as this blog post on why I personally believe that erring on the side of safety is of great importance. (http://scentsablehealth.com/error-safely-my-friends/)