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Aromatherapy science: a guide for healthcare professionals

Pharmacists, along with other health care professionals, are being encouraged to evaluate complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) from a more scientific point of view and recommend to patients only those therapies that are accompanied by some evidence to support their use. Unfortunately, acquiring reliable evidence on CAM is not easy, so this book is a welcome addition to the rather sparse scientific literature on aromatherapy. It brings together the evidence available and explains it well, discussing safety and efficacy issues that affect the use of essential oils and explains why external application may not produce similar effects to internal administration. Various other misconceptions are also addressed in this book, such as the idea that the essential oil distilled from a herb is equally as safe as a herb in the form of tea.

The book is composed of eight general chapters and around 80 monographs which provide detailed information on important oils, including the popular basil, cassia, geranium, frankincense, lavender, tea tree, orange, rosemary and peppermint, as well as the lesser known elecampane, kanuka and manuka. These monographs cover adulteration, toxicity, irritancy and sensitisation, use in food and perfume, and general bioactivity.

There are specific sections dealing with use in pregnancy and lactation and in young children. These are important given that women are most likely to use essential oils for themselves and their families and are also likely to purchase them from a pharmacy.

The chapters cover topics such as the “science of smell and psychological effect”, the “bioactivity of essential oils” and “legislation: past, present and future” — all are generally interesting, useful and well-referenced. There is often a further discussion of the use of the medicinal plant from which the oil is obtained, which potentially gives the book a wider appeal.

Although the information given in this book is relevant to anyone interested in either aromatherapy or essential oils, it could be most useful for pharmacists. Patients often use CAM without consulting their doctor, so pharmacists may be in a particularly advantageous position to intervene or give advice. They frequently sell essential oils, often have access to medicines’ records and usually have a good relationship with the patient.

There is no question that essential oils have pharmacological activity, but many of the studies demonstrating this have been done on isolated tissue or after oral ingestion. Their effect after aromatherapy massage will largely depend on penetration through the skin. These are pharmaceutical issues of course, so pharmacists are ideally placed not only to understand them, but also to explain them to patients.

Maria Lis-Balchin has published widely in the area of essential oil pharmacology and in this book she has produced an authoritative and invaluable reference source.


Elizabeth Williamson
Elizabeth Williamson is director of pharmacy practice at the University of ReadingSchool of Pharmacy

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10001788

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