Byline: C.T.

NEW YORK — Confusion over how to define aromatherapy might be the greatest stumbling block to the category’s development in the U.S. market.
A two-part seminar on aromatherapy at this week’s Extracts show sought to dispel at least some of the confusion. Held Monday at 8:30 a.m. before a sold-out audience of more than 100 retailers and manufacturers, it was led by Michael Scholes, an aromatherapist and the founder of The Michael Scholes School of Aromatic Studies in Los Angeles.
The question “What is aromatherapy?” is on the lips of many retailers these days as more manufacturers come out with products touting “aromatherapeutic benefits” — everything from bath products to candles and room diffusers.
Part of the confusion, explained Scholes, comes from the fact that in the U.S., herbal extracts have not been tested by the FDA — meaning that manufacturers cannot make specific claims as to benefits.
As a point of contrast, in France, essential oils are prescribed by doctors for certain ailments and covered under the national health plan.
Scholes’s definition of aromatherapy: “The use of natural, aromatic plant oils in the pursuit of emotional, physical or esthetical well-being.”
Explaining that the use of essential oils dates back to some of the oldest civilizations on earth, Scholes listed the common uses of essential oils: personal fragrances, home cleaning, physical well-being, romance and ritual.
The second part of the seminar, which discussed the marketing of aromatherapy, made some connections between it and the fragrance industry. For example, Scholes said aromatherapy and traditional fragrances share roots in the fragrant extracts of herbs and flowers.
The fragrance business has evolved over many years, though, to include many synthetic ingredients.
He also pointed to the different images for each category. Fragrances are perceived as glamorous and are known for highly stylized and well-budgeted advertising campaigns. Aromatherapy, on the other hand, is perceived by most consumers to be homemade and away from the mainstream.
But traditional fragrances and aromatherapy are starting to converge, he continued, as consumer demand for natural products increases and marketers learn to glamorize “feel good” products.
According to Scholes, answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about aromatherapy are: l Essential oils are fragrant, highly concentrated, volatile extracts from plants. Each oil contains properties to which the body and mind respond. It takes almost 5,000 pounds of rose petals to yield one pound of essential oil, which in turn has a market price of $2,500.
Essential oils vary in price depending on the particular plant. High- yielding plants, such as lavender, produce more essential oil, while low-yielding plants, such as roses, produce small amounts.
The optimum shelf life of an essential oil is approximately one year. After this time, they lose some potency.
Essential oils can be used to treat cuts, bites, rashes, burns, daily aches and pains and constipation. They can also help with emotional issues like stress management and improving sleep or low self-esteem.
In the U.S., there is no governing body in aromatherapy and thus no recognized certificate for practitioners of aromatherapy. In England, hundreds of hours of training are required to be accepted as a member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists.

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