I just assumed that aromatherapy was aromatherapy.  Turns out there are different aromatherapy schools of thought.

That was my first mistake.  It’s a pretty common mistake, though, maybe you’ve thought the same thing?

My second mistake was thinking that essential oils are pretty much a standard product that only varied by price point.

It was super confusing because people really love to argue about essential oils.  In fact, arguments about essential oils are some of the most vicious arguments you can get into.  Of course, everyone acts like they’re an expert.  But I didn’t need a bunch of home-grown “experts”. I needed facts.

In fact after my first two failed attempts at using essential oils, I decided I needed to get a lot more information.  What I found out about the different methods of essential oil use ultimately helped me to become comfortable with giving them another try.

So why is everyone arguing about essential oils?

Did you know that there are three primary essential oil schools of thought about the proper usage?  Yeah, me either.  Oh and people will tell you that the whole school thing is made up by people like meIt’s not.  Because: Evidence.

The French school, British school, and German school focus on completely different results.  They also focus on different ways of using essential oils, too.

When you’re talking with a person about essential oils you need to know the point of view they’re coming from.  The same thing goes for reading an aromatherapy website or book.  If you assume they’re coming from one perspective and they’re not, it’s going to be confusing.  Very confusing.

Most of the time you’re only going to encounter the British and French theories of aromatherapy. How does this affect you?  Let’s get a little background first.

Modern Aromatherapy

Even though cultures have used essential oils for thousands of years for many different purposes, they are experiencing a huge revival.

Here is how people started to disagree about essential oils.  In the 1920s, experts in France began exploring the use of essential oils in working with patients.  A French medical doctor by the name of Jean Valnet wrote the first textbook on the matter and found success in working with soldiers during World War II using the oils and techniques that had been discovered by the French community.  Even though the medical community had pioneered this method, Dr. Valnet did not believe that the practice of essential oils ought to be limited to professionals.  He believed that anyone who had a basic understanding of oils and had a quality source could safely and effectively use them.

At about the same time as Dr. Valnet and his contemporaries were pioneering the use of essential oils for health, an French biochemist named Marguerite Maury began pioneering her own methods of using essential oils.  Instead of taking a clinical perspective, Maury focused on the client as a whole, body, emotions, and mind.  Her focus relied mainly on using oils for massage, perfuming and scent-related methods.  She moved to Britain and became a leading expert in the practice of aromatherapy there.

They may both have had their roots in the early 1900s, and with French representatives to start, but they couldn’t be more different.  Here’s how.

British School (also known as “Traditional” Aromatherapy)

  • This is the most commonly practiced and promoted method of aromatherapy in the United States.  The vast majority of registered aromatherapists and English language books use the British school methods.
  • In the British theory, all essential oils being used on the body must be heavily diluted with a carrier oil, applying oils neat (undiluted) is portrayed as being very dangerous.
  • Actively discourages the use of essential oils internally.
  • There are extensive lists of essential oils which should never be used, although the oils on these lists often vary widely between authors.
  • There is not as high of a focus on the correct sourcing of essential oils.   Typical sources could include the oils that you would find in a health food store (also online health stores), drugstore, or grocery store.  Higher quality oils may be used for this method by British school aromatherapists, but are not typically as easy to find or as widely promoted.
  • For the most part, those who practice this form of aromatherapy are extremely opposed to the French school of thought and often are very vocal about their opinions of the perceived dangers.  Many aromatherapy “scare” articles come from this perspective.

French School (also called “Popular” or “Modern” Aromatherapy)

    • Less commonly practiced in the US than the British method, although it has been gaining popularity, especially over the last twenty years since more high quality essential oils have become readily available.
    • Fewer English language books are available to provide guidance than from the British school, but there are still some excellent resources.  For starters, look for books by Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt and other recommended authors.
  • The French method includes options for undiluted (neat) application of therapeutic grade oils directly on the skin, as well as taking select oils internally, and inserting them into bodily orifices to deliver more oils directly to areas of the body.  Most who practice the French method also use inhalation of essential oils as desired, which is officially the focus of the German school.
  • There are a wider variety of acceptable essential oils and the French use oils that the British do not, so long as the oils are of genuine quality.  In other words, they may believe that a genuine version of a specific oil can be safe even if a lower quality version of that same oil is not.
  • To be safe, you must only buy authentic essential oils that are not adulterated.  In other words, it’s dangerous low-quality oils for the French method. Keep in mind that no company that will admit to selling adulterated oils.  Every single company will swear theirs are pure.  The truth is in the process alone.  What do they do to guarantee purity?  You really owe it to yourself to do your research.  Labels are not helpful, they are just for marketing purposes.  If you only want to use low cost alternatives, then please use British school methods for your safety.

Summing Up

Just knowing that it was just a difference of points of view would have been helpful starting out.  Being able to narrow my focus would have saved me a lot of confusion, wasted money, and disappointment.

Are you new to essential oils?  Then ask yourself this to make sure you’re on the right track:

  • What do you want to get out of using essential oils?

I’m planning on casual use, mostly for cleaning and DIY projects.

Do you want to use essential oils mostly for craft making?  Do you want to make natural cleaners or foot and body scrubs? Do you plan on making soaps, freshening the air, or brightening mood by diffusing? You may actually prefer the British method of aromatherapy.  You’ll be able to find a lot of websites and books that can give you good advice.  If you just plan on casual aromatic use, grab your oils at the health food store to save some money.  Do realize, though, that they’re less active than their higher quality counterparts.

I want consistent targeted results.  They’ve got to work.

If you plan on using essential oils for a specifically targeted use, then the French method is where you should concentrate your research.  You need to be be more choosy about the quality of the oils that you use. To be very plain, professional aromatherapists don’t use essential oils from Amazon, Whole Foods, or the health food store.  They are very choosy and only buy oils from companies that they have researched carefully.   You should be just as choosy if you’re wanting results from your oils.

Hopefully this has helped you focus your idea of what essential oils are of interest to you.  Want to hear more of what I had to learn?  Check out PART FOUR!

New to the series?  Check out Part One and Part Two.