Have You Been Suckered Into Aromatherapy Yet?

The world of buying little containers of concentrated smells — “essential oils” to the initiated — is one way to throw money out into the void that I have so far resisted, but I feel my strength waning at every mention. I want to be a woman who has a little kit of cute bottles that she lends to people in times of need! I want to diagnose my friends’ problems and then seem magnanimous when I lend them peppermint smells!

My resistance got a little bit futile-r when I read Pacific Standard this week, where Katie Heaney makes a great case for embracing the aromatherapy placebo (and your inner East Village witch):

They recommend wearing the oil as a perfume, and/or burn a few drops of it in a candle. I’m told a white one would be best, as white candles are also good for uncrossing, letting go of negativity. The process of this stuff—how or why it’s supposed to work—is as vague and elusive as it ever is with essential oils, no more or less so because we happen to be buying it from a witchcraft supply store. And though I don’t believe in the oil itself, I do believe in placebos, and symbolic gestures, and the camaraderie of the young woman selling it to me. “It’s just good if you’re feeling, like, you know,” she says, somehow shrugging in the kindest way I’ve ever seen. And I do.

Photo: vincent desjardins

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11 Comments / Post A Comment

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

This is weird for me because I use essential oil to make stuff like room diffuser sprays, moisturizers, soaps, etc. I dont dab essential oil ON me undiluted, it’s REALLY POTENT

@DarlingMagpie I don’t think that’s what they’re doing, either-most things labeled ‘essential oils’ aren’t really those, and are more like perfume oils-way diluted in some sort of base.

jillcool (#2,123)

Ugh I have a friend who is really into essential oils. I get that she believes in their magical powers but, really, it’s so annoying when she thinks they will cure everything, even my sister’s debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. It’s to the point that anything anybody says, she points out that she has an oil for that. What started out as a quirk has quickly become irritating.

I do believe in aromatherapy, for one thing: GETTING RID OF MICE. Or rather, forcing the mice to move to someone else’s space. They hate the menthol smell of pure peppermint oil, so I put it on cottonballs and hide it behind my furniture,and I’ve seen nary a mouse in three days. Which is good, because in case it didn’t work, I also put down traps. Never can be too invested in that hippie mumbo-jumbo.

yulya (#1,996)

i am the woman who has a little kit of cute bottles! except that I never lend them out – they are expensive. I was raised with aromatherapy though, so I was the kid putting tea tree oil on my face in high school. I firmly and completely believe in the magical powers of essential oils and am happy to discuss/argue with anybody at nauseam .

RiffRandell (#4,774)

@yulya Where do you get pure tea tree oil and does it really improve your skin? I tried tea trees products for acne to no avail.

yulya (#1,996)

@RiffRandell I get them from a company called young living which is a pyramid structured type thing like mary kay. I know there is a name for this but I forget what it is (ponzi scheme? just kidding?). Their stuff is super high quality (voir:expensive) and i use it because my mom uses it, but i’ve not seen anything better on the market. i am highly doubtful about anything that they sell at wholefoods or anywhere else. young living has differnt grades of oils – so there are some that are safe to ingest some that should only be used topically, and some that should only be diffused.

Goodie (#5,447)

I use lavender oil to help me sleep. I dont know if its a placebo affect but the smell helps me relax and I do sleep better.

readyornot (#816)

Ha, I was just getting really happy about the part in Emily Oster’s pregnancy book where she is, like, there is no evidence that any kind of aromatherapy makes labor any easier, and those concrete facts were what were reassuring to me. The idea of something I don’t understand doing something with my energy kind of makes me uncomfortable?

But I do LOVE it in massages when they use the amazing woodsy smelling oils. Meaghan, maybe we are homeopathic opposites.

I mean, the idea that certain smells make you feel better makes sense to me-certain tastes also make me feel better. The same with certain sounds. I do not believe, however, in the curative properties of them.

Susan Tidebeck (#5,691)

@Jake Reinhardt Absolutely. All curative claims of aromatherapy are woo and must be eliminated from our culture, the sooner the better.

From rationalwiki:

Like most woo, aromatherapy starts with observable, real effects of smells on humans, and extrapolates and exaggerates into a whole range of treatments from the effective, to the banal, to the outright ridiculous.

The total of aromatherapy products sold through health-food stores was about $59 million in 1995 and $105 million in 1996.

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