Copyright  Tony Burfield 2003

Few would argue that the aromatherapy community by its very nature is scattered across several continents, is disorganised, and is under-funded perhaps because it is essentially composed of single practitioners, small schools, businesses and traders. The are a number of professional aromatherapy organisations, but the largest and most important of these are not independently chaired, and from my perspective are comprised of officials who are business professionals first and foremost, often able to use their organisations’ good offices to promote their own financial interests. This can easy be verified by looking at some of the leading Aromatherapy Journals, where you will often find the Journal’s editor promoting their own businesses via advertisements in the back pages, and his/her business associates similarly advertising and indeed penning many of the articles and reviews. Those of us who dare to be critical of this unprofessional behaviour have been deliberately sidelined, and at times subjected to positive discrimination.

OK you might say, this can happen in the best of professions – pardon me – it doesn’t. The aromatherapy industry doesn’t seem to be able to produce the required ethical and effective policies to deal with current issues – it doesn’t seem to have an aware or resourceful enough leadership. Many aromatherapy oil traders sell essential oil from threatened species, they sell non-IFRA oils without advising customers of adverse health effects, they sell oils without supplying the requisite MSDS sheets, and they sell oils which are not 100% derived from the named botanical species. There is no effective internal industry policing or self-regulation of these ‘basic tools’ of the trade. Worse still, many of the officials in aromatherapy professional organisations sell essential oils themselves, and so have no wish to change the status quo – they are not, almost without exception, chartered chemists, or chartered biologists, and so do not have the necessary skills, training, equipment or status to independently ascertain whether the oils that they are selling are in fact “clinical grade” or “therapeutic grade”, as their promotional literature often suggests. It’s this conflict of interest situation which prevents the aromatherapy profession healthily moving forward. In any case the descriptors “clinical / therapeutic grade” for retailed essential oils imply a medicinal effect, which of course cannot be claimed by aromatherapy oil sellers, but these individuals are themselves often ignorant of the position taken by the inspecting authorities (i.e. the Medicines Control Agency in the UK) on these matters. 

The methyl eugenol issue and the 26 allergens issue (see elsewhere on this website) have both shown us that the aromatherapy community overall is at best poorly equipped, and realistically too ineffectively led, to give an effective authoritative response to these important matters – a independent non-scientific survey carried out recently by the author revealed that most aromatherapists only join these organisations to obtain professional insurance cover anyway. Now it seems that the fatal blow for aromatherapy's dwindling fortune's today in Europe might well be the implementation of the EU’s Pharmaceuticals Directive – which many of us will have heard about only via the current edition of “The Ecologist” (June 2003), rather than through our professionally elected aromatherapy representatives  (a summary of this issue is to be found at: http://www.theecologist.org/archive_article.html?article=422&category=50 ; there is some more information on this on http://www.healthfreedommovement.com/eu_legislation.htm).

In the aromatherapy world there is a failing:


·         to properly advise over ways to recognise essential oil adulteration

·         to provide and universally agree the necessary analytical standards to authenticate aromatherapy essential oils (not just to analyse  them)

·         to provide a coherent policy with respect to GM technology which is severely threatening the organic essential oils industry

·         to monitor & maintain satisfactory educational standards in aromatherapy teaching and to deal with technically incorrect teaching material

·         to recommend alternatives where oils from threatened species are sold into aromatherapy practice

·         to consult with experts on technical problems and freely distribute findings

·         to provide guidance on current issues (such as the new generation of “low allergen” essential oils now hitting the market)

·         to advise over those essential oils which should be treated as “controlled substances”


We need an independently and more professionally led aromatherapy community, which is totally transparent in its dealings. In short we need a new deal for aromatherapy. The dinosaurs in this profession need to go, in order for aromatherapy to gain a new respectability. 

Tony Burfield.