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Aromatology Its History and Uses

by Penny Price(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 27 - April 1998

The current uproar decrying the use of aromatic oils as medicine can only be given credence if the one who administers such treatment is unqualified, inexperienced and carries no valid insurance to proceed with such a practise. For instance, all bottles carry a second warning against using essential oils in the eye. However, a solution properly prepared by a suitably qualified practitioner can be used despite this warning. The general public needs some awareness of the potency of true essential oils and their potential both for harm and for good. It is in its use or abuse that any therapy becomes helpful or harmful.

Historically both aromatherapy and aromatology share the same indivisible root in the development of plant medicine and modern drugs. Aromatherapy was a term coined in the 1920s by a French chemist named Gattefosse and it was not until this point in time that essential oil therapy was separated from mainstream phytotherapy by name. There was certainly no problem in using essential oils externally, internally, diluted or neat in those days. Even since that time, in France, the practice of all methods of using essential oils carries on, unchallenged and positively successful. In France, essential oils are administered internally by medical doctors and phytotherapists as an extremely effective method for treating disorders of the digestive and excretory systems, reaching the site of the problem by direct route. Topical application (not massage), inhalation and compresses are the most common methods of use practised in France.

When aromatherapy was imported to England in the mid 19th century, it was introduced via the Beauty Therapy profession. Thus the practice of diluting essential oils into a suitable carrier oil to use with the separate therapy, massage, was introduced and has since become known as 'English Style Aromatherapy' to the French.

As the first aromatherapy organisation in England was made up mainly of Beauty Therapists, the Beauty Therapy code of practice had to be followed; this does not allow the administration of anything by mouth. This was written into the association's code of practice and into that of every other association to follow. In one regard, this was quite fortunate as aromatherapy products filled the High Street. The quality and purity of some of these products is, at best, questionable. These adulterated or synthetic products can be hazardous if applied to the skin let alone administered internally.

At the present moment there is some debate as to the appropriate legislation to cover the use of true essential oils. These have been present in the British Pharmacopoeia for many years; indeed these formed the base of many early medicines and are still used today. However, true essential oils cannot be regulated as medicines. Because they originate from a single botanical plant and those plants are subject to all sorts of variables (in climate, soil, amount of sunlight, etc) it is impossible to determine in advance the GLC1 of any oil. At the present moment the majority of true essential oils are covered by food and cosmetic legislation. There is a case for a middle ground, not unlike the 'Statement of Efficacy' that exists in the USA, to be established which will allow for properly grounded therapeutic claims to be made for essential oils, whether used in aromatherapy with massage or intensively in topical application or internally as in aromatology.

We need to attempt some definition of aromatology as distinct from aromatherapy. The division is, of course, both false and forced. Aromatology is a type of aromatherapy, properly understood. Because aromatherapy in England has become massage with essential oils the whole meaning is obscured. Aromatherapy should embrace all methods of using essential oils. Missing out internal use and intensive use restricts the therapists to massage, compresses and home treatment. Surely training schools must take the responsibility seriously to ensure that all graduating aromatherapists have some knowledge regarding the safety of internal treatments and intensive use of essential oils. At present to train to become an aromatologist at SPICA (which is the only college at present in England facilitating such a qualification) the candidate needs to already hold a qualification in a recognised complementary or orthodox therapy. The period of training is a further two years where the student explores the individual chemical components which make up essential oils, their effects on the physiology and pathology of the human being and the potential effects on the psyche. Hazards such as toxicity, skin reactions, etc. are explored in depth. In an aromatherapy course full body massage would play a major role, whereas aromatologists learn a limited amount of specialised massage for specific local conditions. Their training is more concerned with accurate assessment and treatment using a more prescriptive approach.

The focus of the discussion on essential oils as used in aromatology has focused more on the internal use than on any other. Although internal use of oils is taught about in depth, the actual use in practise is restricted mainly to digestive conditions. This is, of course, a generalisation, which disguises the plethora of different uses and applications in aromatology. Much more common, is the intensive application of neat oils through the skin. This can be as little as two or three drops or as much as 3 or 4mls depending on the situation presented.

In one particular case, when dealing with a client with M.E., 80 drops (ie. 4mls.) of a blend of skin-friendly2, immune system boosting oils were applied to the clients back each day for a period of five days in total. The result was significant improvement, with the client perception of their own energy levels enhanced. The treatment was enough to start the whole healing process and the path back to a more active and balanced life. While recognising that there are some who do not accept that M.E. is a valid disorder, the fact remains that the health of the client was dramatically improved by the intensive application of the essential oils. The effects were lasting and treatment was carried on using normal aromatherapy dilutions in a home treatment regime.

Clinical Research

In surveying the literature that is available there are a number of case studies, properly presented, which give testimony to the efficacy of aromatology.

Dew et al present a study on the use of peppermint oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The overall assessment of each treatment period shows that patients felt significantly better while taking peppermint oil capsules compared with placebo (p,0.001) and considered peppermint oil better than placebo in relieving abdominal symptoms (p,0.001). Patients taking peppermint oil had a lower daily symptom score (p,0.001) but there was no effect on the number of bowel actions per day (Dew et al, 1984: 398).

Valnet presents many case studies in his seminal work on aromatherapy, among them:

Mrs F, aged 56, suffered from deep-seated delirious madness. She had been in hospital for many years. She had previously had tuberculosis and had suffered for three years from a rhino-pharyngeal infection and chronic bronchitis with persistent fever, which resisted antibiotic treatment. Her general condition was poor. In October 1969 she was treated with trace elements and aromatherapy, both internally and by means of suppositories. Her temperature became normal in three weeks. These results were consolidated by twenty days treatment each month for six months (Valnet, 1993: 237).

Research by Zarno into the effects of Tea tree on Candidiasis produced very encouraging results. She confirms all that is regularly assumed to be true about the essential oil: that it is anti-septic, anti-fungal and an immuno-stimulant. Zarno recommends 2–3 drops of oil on a tampon for internal application twice a day; 6 drops in a bath and 2 drops in warm water as a gargle for oral thrush to be used after each meal (Zano, 1994).

Research carried out by May et al, shows the efficacy and safety of capsules containing peppermint oil (90mg) and caraway oil (50mg) when studied in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial in patients with non-ulcer dyspepsia.

After four weeks of treatment intensity of pain was significantly improved for the group of patients treated with the peppermint/caraway combination compared to the placebo group. Before the start of treatment all patients in the test preparation group reported moderate to severe pain, while by the end of the study 63.2% of these patients were free from pain. The pain symptoms had improved in a total of 89.5% of the patients in the active treatment group (May et al, 1996: 1149).

There are many such clinical uses of essential oils that have demonstrated efficacy, notable amongst these would be the work of Penoel. Along with Franchomme, Penoel has been at the vanguard of much of the experimentation and learning in the various aromatology applications. The total concept of aromatherapy has been embraced in England (and has therefore meant the introduction of aromatology) by Shirley Price. There were many others in the early 1970s who introduced some aspects of aromatherapy, only Price has continued to advocate the holistic approach to the use of essential oils. Tisserand, in the early days, also advocated this wider use of oils (Tisserand, 1977: 319).

The Argument for Aromatherapy

In the UK for various reasons, not least among them ignorance and fear, aromatherapy has been reduced to a fraction of its potential. It is no more than 'massage with smells' to so many people. Strong arguments have been presented by some (e.g., Lis-Balchin, 1997) against any use in aromatology, even at times claiming that such is illegal. These people would argue that the internal use of oil is dangerous. In so doing they demonstrate their ignorance of the very therapy they practise. Essential oils applied in massage are absorbed into the body though the skin (while the carrier oil largely remains on the surface). Once the oil has permeated the skin it is very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and carried round the body. Therefore, instead of taking aromatology and segregating it as a wholly separate study and therapy it needs to be held under the umbrella of aromatherapy for there is no sustainable argument that separates the use in massage from any other use. It is recognised that irresponsible use of oils internally can irritate the stomach lining. This has to be conceded. However, irresponsible use of any drug will do the same. Aspirin, for example, is known to exacerbate stomach ulcers, and some would suggest that Aspirin is amongst the causes of ulcers. This is why aromatherapists (who practise aromatology) need to be trained as thoroughly as any medical practitioner. The argument could be presented that brain surgery is dangerous and therefore should not be undertaken. Not all doctors would be competent to operate on the brain. However, a surgeon properly trained is able to carry out such procedures safely and hopefully with a positive outcome. Similarly, some essential oils can cause severe irritation of the skin if applied neat in large quantities but a trained therapist will have been fully schooled in the chemistry and hazards of the different applications of the particular oil.

While there is a general consensus on safety, there are differing views on the potential hazards of different oils (Tisserand et al, 1995, Price, 1995) just as there are different perspectives on the uses of the oils themselves.

In any training there are elements that will have to be assimilated for the purposes of gaining an award. Those who have trained in aromatology may or may not go on to use the various different ways of topical and internal applications that they have been taught. However, the training itself will raise awareness and give much more knowledge about the oils and their therapeutic uses than would an 'English style' aromatherapy course.

It may be possible that the rear-guard action fought by those who want to preserve the traditional 'English' usage is driven by a survival instinct. The period of study for this fuller use of aromatherapy is longer and the course is definitely more scientific. This advocacy of aromatology is not an attempt to drive out those who could not manage the academic study but who are naturally caring. As with every other discipline there are different thresholds which allow fuller practice, each level having its own distinctive focus. Massage remains a valid therapy but it is not the sum of aromatherapy. At this present moment the politics advocated by the various camps promoting their particular use threatens to eclipse the purpose of any therapy – to benefit people. Surely the only valid purpose in any therapy is to help people rediscover health and, along with that, a sense of self-worth. If aromatology has some positive contribution to make as an intrinsic part of aromatherapy to this end, then all arguments to the contrary are invalid.


• Drew, M J, Evans, B K, Rhodes, J. 1984 "Peppermint Oil for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Multicentre Trial." The British Journal of Clinical Practice (1984), 394–395.
• Elsona, C E, Underbakke, G L, Hanson, P, Shrago, E, Wainberg, R H, Qureshi, A A. 1989 "Impact of Lemongrass Oil, an Essential Oil, on Serum Cholesterol." LIPDS (1989) 24(3), 677–679.
• Franchomme, P, Penoel, D. 1996 L'aromathérapie exactement, Limoge: Roger Jollois.
• Lis-Balchin, M. 1997 "Essential Oils and 'aromatherapy:' their modern role in healing." Journal of the Royal Society of Health (1997), 117(5): 324–329.
• May, B, Kuntz, H, Kieser, M, Kohler, S 1996 "Efficacy of a Fixed Peppermint Oil/Caraway Oil Combination in Non-ulcer Dyspepsia." Arzneim-Forsch/Drug Res. (1996) 46(II), 1149–1153.
• Penoel, D. 1992a "Sinusitis and Bronchitis." The International Journal of Aromatherapy (1992) 4(2), 26–27. 1992b "Eucalyptus smithii Essential Oil and Its in Aromatic Medicine." British Journal of Phytotherapy (1992) 2(4), 154–159.
• Price. L 1995 Alpha To Omega: Constituents and Properties. Hinckley: SPA.
• Price, S, Price, L. 1995 Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
• Tisserand, R. 1977 The Art of Aromatherapy. Saffron Walden: Daniel.
• Tisserand, R, Balacs, T. 1995 Essential Oil Safety: A guide for health care professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
• Valnet, J. 1993 The Practice of Aromatherapy, Saffron Walden: Daniel.
• Zarno, V. 1994 "Candidiasis – A Holistic View." The International Journal of Aromatherapy (1994) 6(2): 20–23.
1 The GLC is the fingerprint of an oil when subjected to analysis determining its chemical constituents and their relative proportions.
2 The essential oils used in this blend were Eucaplyptus staigeriana, Aniba roseadora and Boswelli thurifera.


  1. Catriona Byrne said..

    Hi I am a qualified and insured aromstherapist .I am a member of IFPA .I need to become certified in Aromatology .How do I go about studying same ?

    Kindest Regards


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About Penny Price

Penny Price, Director of Training at Shirley Price International College of Aromatherapy, Hinckley, UK, is a qualified aromatherapist and teacher and has been teaching aromatherapy for 11 years. A member of ISPA and the AOC executive committee, Penny is also qualified in communication, counselling, and social skills. She is researching an MSc with Prof Lewis Ritchie, Dept General Practice, University of Aberdeen. Penny has published (in co-operation with her mother Shirley Price) Aromatherapy for Babies and Children, is completing  another book on the same subject and is working on two further books.

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