Aromatherapy is an ancient practice – like, Ancient Egypt ancient. For centuries aromatherapy has acted as a holistic treatment that uses the extracts – a.k.a. natural essential oils – of plants for various physical and emotional benefits. The Ancient Egyptians had even created perfumes from plant essences, with their favorite being a perfume called “kyphi.” Beyond scent, kyphi was used as a poison antidote and antiseptic, among other applications.
Fast forward a few centuries and the term “aromatherapy” is first introduced into the lexicon when René-Maurice Gattefossé published his research regarding essential oils, culminating in the study “Aromathérapie” in 1937. Dr. Jean Valnet expanded on this research in the later half of the century with numerous articles published in medical journals expounding upon the benefits of such oils against certain bacteria.
Today, the field of clinical aromatherapy is more popular than ever and it ranges from post-surgery relief to geriatric care. Though aromatherapy is an ancient practice, it’s now used in many modern hospitals.
Okay, but how does aromatherapy fit into my life?
Do you like smelling nice things throughout your day? Then it will easily fit into your life through the use of diffusers, sprays, and other air fresheners. However, aromatherapy has the potential to do more than just smell good: it is said to improve mood, attention, and sleep among a variety of other benefits that also include managing headaches and reducing stress.
Some of the most popular natural essential oils include eucalyptus, lavender, lemongrass, patchouli (cue your acid flashbacks), peppermint, and tea tree. And you’ve probably used them in more ways than you realize – they are commonly added to lotions and other skincare products. But if intentionality is your thing, you can source quality, natural essential oils from a reputable brand and mix your faves with lotions or carrier oils for a bespoke experience.
It should come as no surprise that our favorite way to experience aromatherapy is through diffusion. Diffusion allows for additional control and customization: you determine the strength of the scent, and well, you determine the scent! It’s one of the best ways to infuse your house with your favorite natural fragrance – and not only will it smell good, you might notice improvements in your temperament, too.
How do I know if an essential oil is legit?
Like everything else, quality matters! Especially for any item you might be passively inhaling. Unfortunately, there are many essential oil dupes on the market that only contain synthetic fragrance oils that don’t provide the benefits of their real counterparts.
Here’s what to look for when you’re buying essential oils:
- “Cold Pressed” and “CO2 extraction.” These methods are best for retaining the natural constituents of the plant matter. Methods that use heat often burn off many of the delicate compounds that make an oil beneficial and enjoyable.
- “100% Pure”. You want a full bottle of juniper, not some random seed oil with a few drops of juniper. That said, there are some instances where you might want a diluted oil - i.e. higher priced and rare essential oils, like Neroli, can be purchased for $15 instead of $75. If you buy an intentionally diluted essential oil, the same considerations listed here apply not just to the essential oil but also the oil it’s diluted in.
- Where the plant is grown. Different plants grow better (and natively, without harming the soil and surrounding wildlife) in certain parts of the world.
- How the plant is grown. Is it cultivated? If so, do the growers use GMOs and pesticides? Is it wild-harvested? If so, is it done in a way that’s sustainable? Does the grower have fair and healthy working conditions for their workers?
- If the oil uses plants that are threatened. For example, Sandalwood can only be harvested from “mature trees of at least 25 years of age,” which is detrimental to the health of our forests (source: Artisan Aromatics). You can find a full list of threatened species at https://www.iucnredlist.org/.
- Verification seals from credible groups like EcoCERT and Leaping Bunny that attest to its quality and ethics. Not every producer can afford these certifications, so just because a company doesn’t have them doesn’t mean they’re not meeting the standards.
- Light-resistant bottles. Plant oils should be placed in a completely sealed dark glass bottle to keep light and heat out. Remember, essential oils are powerful but also delicate.
- Smells like what you expected (or better!). Your nose will also be a great indicator of the quality of oil. Essential oils eventually go bad - especially if the supplier is taking short cuts. If an oil smells “off” (and you’ll know it when you smell it), avoid it.
- One of the most important qualities of a legit essential oil is the supplier itself. Do your research to ensure that you’re buying from a high quality company (like Chariot!). Don’t be afraid to send them a quick email asking them to tell you more about how the oil is grown and extracted.
- Be weary of anything that sounds too good to be true, especially oils that are considerably less expensive than others.
- Shop around and compare prices. High price doesn’t always mean high quality.
Whew. That is a long list of criteria. And, honestly, it’s really hard to tick all the boxes. But, at Chariot, we’re doing our best to make sure we do.
And if you gathered nothing else from this post, you at least have a topic to break the ice at the next party you go: “Hey, did you know the Ancient Egyptians were, like, way into aromatherapy?”
History of Aromatherapy, International Federation of Aromatherapists
The Real Story of René-Maurice Gattefossé – Essential Oils During the Past Century Part II, The Oil Well.