For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


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.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight 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

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.