Who is Steering Eighteen Years Later?

“The “Purdue initiative” was the name given to a group of people involved in the aromatherapy industry who took the Aromatherapy program at Purdue in 1996 and 1997. The group showed concern for:

  • A perceived lack of education standards in the aromatherapy industry
  • Instances of unsafe practices
  • The prospect of the FDA regulating the sale of essential oils if the FDA perceived a need to act to protect public safety
  • The prospect of governmental regulation if the industry was not able to provide a self regulation system.
  • The lack of any independent credential available to a person in the industry.” [ref. http://aromatherapycouncil.org/?page_id=75]

Eighteen years later and the essential oil industry and the aromatherapy community are still facing the exact same challenges.

The education standards in the aromatherapy industry range from an afternoon of sales and marketing training in selling essential oils, to 30 hours for a Foundation Level set by NAHA to 100 hours for the exact same “Foundation Level” set by the AIA. And in reality, these standards are not enforced…people still refer to themselves as an aromatherapist with no actual training, and any multi-level-marketing salesperson can hand her classroom of recruits a certificate titled “Certified Aromatherapist” when they leave with their new sales kit!

Unsafe practices have led to liver failure, permanent scarring, sensitization, comas and even death. And the only national association in the USA in the field of aromatherapy, not only failed to keep records of injuries reported to them, they disbanded their safety committee entirely! Keeping track of this data has fallen to volunteers as a result!

The FDA has sent Warning Letters for medical claims ranging from life threatening claims such as marketing essential oils to treat cancer, to ones which are not only safe – but appropriate – like using tea tree for acne.  And yet the FDA DSHEA allows for the most hazardous and fraudulent marketing of essential oils as nutritional supplements to be ingested in water on a daily basis, and yet that is all completely legal.

The industry not only does not self-regulate effectively, but attempts to establish a realistic and appropriate system of self regulation, this American Essential Oil Trade Association, is viewed by some with fear. We have contributors who to this day, choose to remain anonymous because of threats made against them if they show us any public support.

Promoting SAFETY is characterized by some, as “fearmongering”. Empowerment is valued over education by big business. Our industry has completely lost the holistic aspect of holistic aromatherapy, essential oils are pushed like drugs…except it’s often friends and family we trust doing the pushing, or people with a reputable standing in the community; pretty bottles and slick packaging, instead of white powder in baggies.

The only measurable progress made in 18 years is an independent credential available to a person in the industry, that of Registered Aromatherapist™. The Aromatherapy Registration Council which evolved out of the “Purdue initiative” and the original Steering Committee which followed, has been successful in creating a standard, with recognized credentials and true meaning within the Aromatherapy Community. But, until the other titles people appoint themselves, such as Certified Aromatherapist, are also defined and credentialed, consumers are going to continue to assume anyone who refers to themselves as a Certified Aromatherapist, has some measurable and acceptable base of knowledge about essential oils and aromatherapy.  There needs to be some *thing* in between no education other than marketing, and the level required to sit for the exam and become a Registered Aromatherapist™.

A criteria needs to be set and a title which indicates a basic foundation of knowledge, established and trademarked. Someone who has a 30-hour basic foundation level understanding of aromatherapy and essential oil safety should be able to document that, by some standard which is recognized. But this is not the role of the AEOTA.  NAHA or the AIA should set some kind of criteria for the title Certified Aromatherapist, or come up with some other title and credentials which has meaning in our industry. Waiting 18 years is long enough.