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The Profession, Standards and Safety of Oils

by Sylvia Baker(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 15 - October 1996

Aromatherapy – the scientific, therapeutic and consumer applications of essential oils – has blossomed as a profession and an industry. Today, aromatherapy products surround us in our daily lives – aromatic bath and massage oils, oils for vaporisers or inhalers, and fragrances for the treatment of depressed patients (see Research Updates, page 65). This expanded feature, with contributions from many of the leading authorities in the field, covers many important aspects of aromatherapy, including the biochemistry, clinical, psychological and energetic aspects of essential oils.

The Aromatherapy Organisation Council's (AOC) pre-eminent position for the aromatherapy profession was confirmed earlier this year when it was granted the first independent seat on the UK Government sponsored Independent Care Organisations overseeing National Occupational Standards for Complementary Medicine, a position reserved for organisations demonstrating they are the acknowledged leading body for their therapy. The ICO represents the private sector of the Care Sector Consortium, the Government appointed lead body for the whole of health and social care and the only point of entry for the development of national occupational standards for complementary medicine.

The AOC itself was formed in 1991 as a result of an initiative from prominent people in the field to unify the profession. At that time it was also recognised that there was an implied threat from Europe and that uniting under one umbrella would strengthen the lobby to have Aromatherapy recognised as a complementary therapy in its own right. Government had indicated they would only speak to umbrella groupings and not individual associations. Subsequently their policy in complementary medicine was issued in a Press Release in December 1992 stating that complementary therapies could be offered on the NHS provided the doctor remained in charge of the patient.

Today the AOC consists of 12 professional associations – between them representing some 5,000 aromatherapists – and 91 training establishments. It is a truly democratic organisation, with an elected Executive Committee to make recommendations which cannot be implemented until full Council approval has been given.

Having unified the profession the AOC agreed training standards through extensive consultation with the profession and these were implemented in January 1994. Common accreditation procedures for training courses were also agreed by all AOC members. The core curriculum setting out the training standards has since been expanded into a Competence-Board Framework which will form the basis of a University Degree in Aromatherapy following agreement in principle to the development of a joint programme with Middlesex University.

The AOC is a member of the British Complementary Medicine Association (BCMA) and all aromatherapists under the AOC's aegis work to the common Code of Conduct & Ethics of the BCMA which includes Disciplinary Procedures and takes into account both Civil and Criminal Law. All practitioners under the AOC's umbrella are required to hold adequate and appropriate insurance cover.

Together with the BCMA – which facilitated its formation – the AOC has been involved in the UK Forum of natural medicine organisations working on amendments and responses to the Lannoye report to harmonise complementary medicine throughout Europe. Under the Treaty of Rome, complementary medicine should be freely available throughout Europe to both the consumer and the therapist and the Report seeks to provide for this. The Report has been the subject of two debates within the EP Environment Public Health & Consumer Protection Committee and if adopted at the third debate scheduled for October, will go to Plenary Session in November. Practitioners are urged to lobby MEPs to support this and thus secure their future.

Much time has been spent by the Aromatherapy Focus Group made up of practitioners from the AOC's associations and others involved in aromatherapy in developing National Occupational standards for Aromatherapy within the Care Sector Consortiums Project to Develop National Occupational Standards for Complementary Medicine with funding from Government. These draft standards have been refined in practitioner workshops around the country and are currently out for consultation with aromatherapy associations, employers and other interested parties. National Occupational Standards for Aromatherapy will be in place by March of next year, although it will take a further project to develop them into a S/NVQ qualifications structure.

The AOC's General Information Booklet is available from The Secretary, 3 Latymer Close, Braybrooke, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 8LX on receipt of an s.a.e.

The Aromatherapy Trade Council (ATC) is now firmly established as the authoritative body for the Aromatherapy industry following its appointment last year by the Medicine's Control Agency (Department of Health) as Advertising Code Administrators for the Trade. ATC representatives regularly attend meetings with the MCA and the Code Administrators for other industries.

Recent meetings have reviewed the MAT.8 "A Guide to What is a Medicinal Product", first issued over 11 years ago and completely revised following the implementation of European law in the UK last year. The revised MAT.8 offers guidance on the implications of these regulations but does not change the law. It is an offence to sell or supply a medicinal product or to issue an advertisement relating to a medicinal product, if it is not licensed as such. Since essential oils are not licensed products, no medicinal claims may be made for them.

With the burgeoning success of Aromatherapy – now the fastest-growing complementary therapy – the aromatherapy essential oil trade is itself escalating with hundreds of new and sometimes questionable suppliers taking advantage of current consumer demand. Essential oils are widely available under various forms of labelling and packaging, sometimes with little regard for public safety. Many are of poor quality, some are totally synthetic, while others are bulked out with cheaper oils or ready-blended in a carrier oil and sold as pure essential oils.

It was exactly issues such as these that led to the formation of the ATC in November 1993. This followed a Conference on "Essential Oils & Public Safety" held by the AOC and attended by the majority of the established Aromatherapy essential oil traders.

The ATC is now an independent and self-regulating body for the aromatherapy trade set up to maintain the high standards of its members and to ensure the supply of quality products for the consumer. Representing some 75% of UK aromatherapy essential oil suppliers, the ATC campaigns for a consistent body of information and terminology, along with co-ordinated policies within the trade, and has established guidelines for safety, labelling and packaging to which all members must conform.

All membership applications are reviewed by a Membership Committee and none are accepted until bottles, integral droppers and promotional literature conform to the ATC's Code of Practice and the MCA's requirements in accordance with the law. This also applies to labels which must comply with Trading Standards regulations. A unique licence number is issued to all members and current membership stands at 33 essential oil companies.

Since its inception the ATC has regularly dealt with enquiries from Trading Standards officers seeking clarifications on many different aspects of aromatherapy products to protect the consumer. Following much work in this area the Leicestershire Trading Standards office has now been confirmed the "Home Authority" for the aromatherapy trade and will act as a collecting or reference point for all other UK Trading Standards branches.

The ATC has drawn up guidance definitions on aromatherapy oil classifications to show the differences between the "essential oil" and "absolute" and an "aromatherapy oil" to assist Trading Standards with their work.

Since its formation, the ATC has worked to bring to the public's attention the variable purity of essential oils available on the High Street. Having established both a bond on unity among its members and its position as the UK authoritative body for the essential oil industry, the ATC is committed to establishing common standards of quality in essential oils and aromatherapy products and its future work will continue to address these issues.

A copy of the ATC's General Information Booklet is available from The Administrator, PO Box 52, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE1658ZX on receipt of an A5 s.a.e.


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About Sylvia Baker



    Aromatherapy creams & candles. Heal naturally No side effects. Holistic treatments, powerful courses

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