Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Aromatherapy proponents claim essential oils derived from plants can do everything from alter moods to cure bladder infections. It’s certainly big business. But are aromatherapy products harmful? Last July, the Donna Karan Beauty Co. discovered that its Nectar Watermist fragrance, intended to soothe stress and anxiety, contained Burkholderia cepacia. The pathogen colonizes in the lungs and can be fatal to people with respiratory diseases such as cystic fibrosis, according to Food and Drug Administration spokesman Arthur Whitmore.

DKBC responded quickly, reporting the problem to the FDA and recalling the product only weeks after it hit store shelves. But while the company was required to report the recall, there’s not much the FDA can do to prevent such problems, because it doesn’t regulate aromatherapies unless the manufacturer makes a medical claim.

Most aromatherapies are inhalation-based and work by stimulating the brain’s olfactory lobe, which affects the emotions. Few studies have been done to prove whether their claims have any scientific basis. “The cart is before the horse,” says the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation’s Dr. Alan Hirsch, who is currently conducting studies of aromatherapy products. Among his findings thus far: Lavender and pumpkin pie scents increase penile blood flow and may serve as a possible cure for impotence.

But Dr. William Jarvis of the National Council Against Health Fraud takes a harder line, calling aromatherapy “quackery by definition.” He says it’s like the myth that dancing around roses would prevent the black death. “Eventually, they all died anyway.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate