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Massage Today
May, 2009, Vol. 09, Issue 05

Educating Others and Spreading Awareness

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

I received my massage license back in the day when you had to convince chiropractors that massage could benefit their patients. Although there is still a need to educate the public and medical communities, the massage profession has come a long way since then. However, for the most part aromatherapy is still in the dark ages of acceptance by mainstream medicine although many nurses are now trained in this method and some hospitals do have aromatherapy as part of treatment. I was recently asked by a department head of the Greenville's hospital system to visit a family member in the ICU and, along with massage, bring whatever essential oils would help. We are making headway, and awareness of the benefits of using essential oils is growing but there is still a need to educate the public and offer good, reliable information.

I received a letter from a reader that, with her permission, I am going to share. Her experience is not uncommon for those in holistic health or CAM. It touches on an issue I had written about in an earlier column and shows the pervasive nature of misinformation when it comes from what should be a reliable source.

CarolAnn Hawkins, LMT wrote: "I am an LMT who enjoys your articles on essential oils and working with women. I have a question. On a recent pediatric visit with my two girls, I mentioned the use of a shampoo with tea tree for head lice, and our doctor warned us about using products with lavender and tea tree. She said that there has been a link to prepubertal gynecomastia/breast enlargement in boys. I requested (more information about) this observation, and it seems based on three boys who all seemed to have used some sort of shampoo, lotion or soap containing the two essential oils. They have concluded that is the reason for their breast enlargement. I have been using essential oils for over 17 years, and I feel this study has maligned the most commonly used essential oil, lavender, which I have always considered so safe. I reserve tea tree for oral hygeine, tick bites and deep puncture wounds. If you have any information regarding this topic, I would appreciate any and all."

And here is my answer: "Yes, we at NAHA [National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy] know all about that misleading information and the unwillingness of the New England Journal of Medicine to print letters from very reputable aromatherapists refuting the (very) faulty science in those claims. It was two boys in the same town, not in the same home. Another boy in one of the homes used the same products with no ill affect and no other such cases were reported. Compared to side effect information on medicines, why would this even get into a medical journal?

I am sure you are only too aware that the traditionally trained physicians have a hard time accepting anything about herbs, aromatherapy, etc. It's not in their training, but pharmaceuticals are a big part and come near the end as well. I am sure that it feels very 'safe' to a new physician to think that he can just follow the prescribed route, give the prescribed amount and not have to make his own judgments. I know I was anxious about massaging people when I first left school...imagine the difference for someone in a position of power over health and how they might need reassurance?

Perhaps you can educate your doctor by giving her some materials from the following link. You can read more on the topic of lavender/tea tree and gynecomastia here:, including a PDF by Robert Tisserand and an article by Tony Burfield. I had written about this in an earlier issue of Massage Today as well."

Generally speaking, when hearing information that sounds strange, too good to be true or makes negative judgments about essential oils, it's best to get the facts before answering or forming an opinion. Resources like the link above, given to the public and medical practitioners makes information more credible. Reputable peer groups in aromatherapy provide sources of education and information needed to be a professional practitioner. Some of these groups include the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the International Federation of Aromatherapists, the Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists and the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists. Membership in peer organizations provides the resource for up-to-date, current, reliable information on what is happening in the field of aromatherapy. Finally, practicing aromatherapy with knowledge and proper safety is good for the practitioner, clients and the growth and reputation of the whole profession.

Click here for previous articles by Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT.


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