I was just watching TV and saw a programme featuring Debbie Moore and the Pineapple brand. This suddenly set off a whole set of memories from way back.
I knew Debbie as both a model and business woman back in the late ‘70’s. I met her first when she was starting a dance centre in an old pineapple warehouse in the then undeveloped market area of Covent Garden, close to the Royal Opera House. The Pineapple brand was born from the dance studios she developed becoming a line of dancewear, using the new Lycra fabric.
Apart from the Lycra trend she is best known for becoming the first woman chairman to launch a company on the London Stock Exchange in 1982. Pineapple Dance Studios PLC became an International success.
Somehow the paths of Debbie and Fragrant Earth crossed and I have some happy memories of Debbie travelling down to Somerset and falling in love with the fields of wild flowers in the sunshine of the Somerset levels. I knew her as a shrewd business person, so when developing a range of toiletries for the Pineapple brand I was amazed at her method of choice for certain actives and products. She produced a pendulum and dowsed to see if the items Fragrant Earth had developed were energetic. I had not expected someone so ‘high up’ in business to consider such an unorthodox approach.
Other unexpected events of a similar nature set my own thinking processes into gear. One such was meeting George Dodds well known as a lecturer in biochemistry at the Warwick University and founder of the famous Warwick Olfaction Group. Our paths have crossed many times since then but it was our common interest in the science that lay behind the placement and energy fields of Stone Circles that made me realise there was more to life in aromatic materials than blind chemistry. George was of course a perfumer and it was he that brought me to that Damascus moment by helping me to understand the behaviour of molecules not the analysis of a compound.
Much emphasis is still laid in Aromatherapy about the chemistry of essential oils and their action is often extrapolated from the analysis of essential oils. Models are developed of expected actions following regular orthodox methodology. Practice however tells us a different story. Essential oils are notoriously difficult to pin down in double blind trials.
There are some clearly obvious reasons for this. The first is that many essential oils are not what they purport to be some being mere chemical soups. The drive for standardisation leads to nature being made to conform to what is no more than an industrial average by types of distillation or by simple additions and subtractions to conform to a set norm. In reality botany, geography and weather make for considerable differences as does the soil and farming practice so it is unsurprising that the majority of essential oils sold or used by money conscious therapists and consumers are considered to be industrial quality. They do a job and are reproducible so are ideal in everyday usage such as fragrance from floor polish to chic perfumes as well as perhaps the ‘relaxing’ massage that one gets in holiday resorts.
Next is the questionable use of chemistry as an arbiter of quality or worse the determinant of use as applied to Aromatherapy. Much information as to application is derived from some sort of internal medicine or dietary therapy with reports and trials. The inclusion of essential oils whether in the form of supplements such as garlic pearls or spices such as ginger, condiments such as thyme or specific medicines all follow the route of the dietary tract. Naturally then the breakdown of chemistry becomes the dominant feature. We are designed to break up foods and related substances into material we use as building blocks. Our liver processes our chemistry and helps us synthesise ourselves into what we are. So far so good but only by acceptance that the oral route cannot now be extended to show a likely action via the skin.
If an essential oil enters the skin it will be transported ‘whole’ to the liver via the bloodstream, it does not undergo a primary breakdown via the gut. Dosage or absorption therefore is critical. It follows that knowledge of the chemistry of essential oils and their potential hazards is imperative. The fragrance industry continues to review and classify many materials as CMR’s, that is carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprogenic. Arguments exist as to whether this emphasis on toxicity is valid or not.
Better understanding of our genes and how they actually change in life has helped us to understand that the only cancer we are going to get is our own and that will be unique to us. Hence the blanket treatment approach has of necessity been one of trauma. The future suggests that we will have more ‘customised’ treatment. Logically then toxicity is in many cases entirely personal. We already know the old adage that ‘there is no poison only dosage’ so leaving dosage to one side we can often observe in aromatherapy that essential oils are used in far higher quantities than are recommended for perfumery without any obvious reactions.
Caution should be considered though as to what is used in so called aromatherapy. I use the term so called because I think we should differentiate between say a qualified therapist treating people for medical or cosmetic conditions as opposed to a retail brand. I think it wise to also consider there may well be a considerable difference between a mass market international brand to a small high class brand. For after all in a world of Essential Oil shortage where do the mass market brands obtain oils with apparently endless supplies? Such cannot be.
In my lectures for Fragrant Earth I highlight the analysis of two German Chamomiles. One grown organically one not. The price of the two were different varying at the time by about ten percent not hugely different but significant when buying. There was however a considerable difference both in the bisabalol and chamazulene content and presumably as these two are markers concerning the ant inflammatory action the higher the content the better. So analysis can be useful but the reason for the difference was the method of growth.
This was at one time my position. Yet there is more to consider. This was the point George Dodds made to me so well and knocked on to the possibility that Debbie Moore’s approach was not so far off the wall.
I had never really considered the size of the molecule except into common ideas such as that large proteins that make up our cells make sure we are virtually chemical proof and certainly water and oil proof! The point made to me by quite dramatic illustration was that if the molecule was so small say a proportion of a man to a flea comparing a cell to an essential oil molecule then it is a wonder that an essential oil ever stays within the body. It is more like a wanderer in space!
So what is it that fixes the essential oil to its target. The molecule of course is mad up itself into constituent atoms all of which contribute to its form and spin, shape and action. We know perfectly well now having entered the realm of physics that it is a exchange of electrons that binds the atoms and at this chemical level (the molecule) it is this vibration or charge if you prefer that gives the molecule it’s characteristic. Once inside the being just as a electron can be trapped by a crystal likewise an essential molecule is retained by the energy web around it. This then makes ultimate sense that the molecule itself is little more than a communicant that stimulates a chemical or mechanical action much like the flea.
Of course, we have entered the world where today my principle interest lies – Aroma Physics. For many years the term subtle energy has been applied by Aromatherapists to the apparently inexplicable relationship some seem to establish with essential oils. Some take on an almost mystical view about essences. Whatever the name or philosophy we decide upon we can be sure that essential oils are vibrating full of energy and communicate. Sure, they can be broken down as a compound into constituents each of which has a undoubted use or function. This in no way conflicts with the alternative or holistic views that fragrance alone can heal whether via the nose or transit via the skin.
The skin itself is a bundle of nerves and receptors and still like the nose little understood. The Langerhans cells for example are aptly named skin watchers. These specialised cells organise for example the wound healing processes which are part of the so called immune system. Correctly then we can call these cells intelligent cells ones which react not mechanically but ‘thoughtfully’ to surroundings and circumstances that need action.
Clearly then a topical application of a volatile substance, in fact one that by its nature wants to convert from liquid to gas and disappear of this hot surface (the skin) into the ether, is as much to do with stimulation as anything else. A specific receptor responds to a given signal which in common parlance we may express as vibration. A study of the insect world soon shows this system at work whereby fragrance is interpreted in a way perhaps we would equate with visual and whereby communication takes place by odour. Every virus has its own wavelength and signature tune. Tune in and distort it and no virus!!
Reaction is therefore as is being discerned in a better understanding of genetic makeup going to be individual. Just as every human vibrates uniquely in its own wavelength so it will react that which surrounds it and again another adage holds a truth ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.
With a rational 21st century orthodox scientific view homeopathy sounds just crazy and will never be proven by double blind trials. Nevertheless millions swear by it and animals seem to react to it. Individualism and a subtle relationship with nature does seem to be at the heart of matters. Homoeopathists get very passionate about the materials they use. Aromatherapy doesn’t seem always to be so fussy. I think therapists are wise to avoid industrial materials even if cheap as messages can be mixed once it is accepted that we are dealing with more than chemistry.
Working especially in the commercial world of skincare I have found it quite impossible to gain acceptance that good skin care can be achieved with aroma or fragrance. Whilst this can be demonstrated it is unlikely in the near future to gain credence. The use of fragrance in skincare has generally been seen purely as an adjunct for saleability. Aromatherapy skincare is fairly limited and theoretically places action upon the chemical components with varied blends of essential oils. Many such blenders skirt around the law by not wanting to call the blend parfum as required by statute rather insisting these are actives not added for fragrance. Unfortunately the purpose in using a defined blend is never substantiated by trials.
New skincare ranges will undoubtedly lay more emphasis on fragrance especially as the fashion for eco or bio fragrances catches on. No doubt in this field as in medicine subtle effects will occur and replicable ‘miracles’ take place to be cast aside as anecdotal evidence. Such is the wonder of physics!