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Massage Today
December, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 12

Highlights from the Aromatic World: News from the AIA Conference

By Shellie Enteen, RA, BA, LMBT

I was invited to attend the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) conference, "Expanding Aromatherapy," held in St. Petersburg, Fla., by my long-time friend and author/educator Sylla Sheppard Hanger.

I participated in her talk "Start Me Up – Confessions of a Vintage Aromatherapist." My part was to receive her badge of acknowledgment as one of the pioneers of aromatherapy in the United States. Having begun studies and practice in the 1980s, I qualified. Also to get special acknowledgment were those who had really led the way, beginning in the 1970's. Sylla is one of them, but so were my mentors in South Florida, Gerri Whidden and Pat Ashford, who own and operate what is thought to be the oldest shop offering true essential oils in the country.

I went a day early to hear the esteemed Robert Tisserand deliver a preconference workshop. Robert, an author, educator and international speaker in this field with more than 40 years of experience, spoke on the "hot topic" of the day: Clinical Safety for Aromatherapy: The Way Forward. Much of his information came from his latest book, Essential Oil Safety. It's a very large text in which he and his co-author cover a lot of ground, including a great deal of the research, resulting clinical indications for using essential oils and also a fair evaluation of the risks. One key point he mentioned is that research studies cannot be considered the final word in accuracy about how an essential oil will work in practice. Essential oils behave differently when applied than they do in a Petri dish. And because there are many chemical components in each essential oil, research is not studying a single agent, acting alone. He also spoke a great deal about exposure of usage regarding safety issues. An example of this is his recommendation to limit exposure by diffusing only for an hour, leave off for an hour, and if diffusing for an hour again, using a different blend. Symptoms of overexposure can include changes in breathing, heartbeat and headache.

Unfortunately, this whole talk is not recorded (some of the speakers have CDs for sale) and is not in the Proceedings of the Conference. However, his second talk on "Safety Scares and Myths" was a shorter, more lighthearted approach that covered some of his workshop points and is in this professionally produced volume that can be purchased from the AIA ( I highly recommend this as a good representation of current thinking in this field, covering a wide spectrum of focus, from the purely scientific to the subtle and spiritual, from the physiological to the cosmetic application. While it can't convey the total content of any speaker's presentation, it does deliver a lot of wonderful information from a well-chosen selection of experts in their field.

One very interesting talk well covered in the Proceedings was given by Valerie Cooksley, RN, author of Aroma-Balneotherapeutics: Aromatic Medicinal Bath Therapies. Apart from the wonderful information on bath methods and their effects and recipes for certain types of baths, I was intrigued to hear of a new development: the oil dispersion bath. Developed in Germany and following the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, it uses the new Jungebad Apparatus which is capable of creating a vortex that produces diluted essential oils in minute particles that are uniformly dispersed throughout the water for the duration of the bath. That is a huge breakthrough to address the old issue of "oils and water don't mix."

However, despite the representation of many diverse subjects, my personal observation is that the polarity between the scientific and the intuitive approaches to aromatherapy has grown. It is hard to imagine how it has gone this far since this is a profession that was practiced for thousands of years before the invention of the microscope made chemical components available. I was glad that in his talk on "The Qi, Prana and Pneuma of Essential Oils," Gabriel Mojay tried to bridge this gap by reminding the audience the first people to distill both Rose and Rosemary oils were alchemists. It seems to me that in going so far toward science and a reliance on chemical components for selection, we are losing the "essence" of the essence and getting too far into the attitude and arena of allopathic medicine.

I have been concerned about the growing need for aromatherapy professionals to be accepted by the western medical community and very distressed at the growing number of those with little education and no credentials suggesting ingestion and undiluted use of essential oils, along with the growing number of incident reports that have resulted. I feel that we both jeopardize our practice (scope of practice) and our ability to obtain and use essential oils (unwanted scrutiny from government agencies) by routinely offering essences in this way. Unfortunately, my worries were substantiated at this conference by a news report to the group, delivered by fellow Vintage Aromatherapist Marge Clark. She told us the FDA had stopped a shipment of Geranium from being delivered from Africa because, "a website had suggested it supported a certain condition." (It wasn't the website of the purchaser awaiting this delivery.) And because of this, the FDA said it now considered this to be an "untested drug" and the purchaser had the choice to either destroy it in front of an FDA agent or send it back to Africa. There are plans afoot to create a petition to the FDA about this, but I do wonder how this will be able to counter the many medical claims proliferating on the Internet through suppliers and practitioners.

Still, it was wonderful to spend time in the aromatherapy community, seeing old friends and making new ones. And I am happy to say that many of the vintage aromatherapists are taking their many years of experience and education to mentor others on several Facebook lists. One of these is "Learning About Essential Oils," moderated by Lea Harris. It's a good time to stay in touch with the latest news in aromatherapy.

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


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