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The Difference Between Essential Oils and Fragrances

The popularity of aromatherapy has grown in recent years, but if you think that all aromatherapy candles, body oils, sprays, gels. diffusers and related products are created alike, think again. Benzene, formaldehyde, methoxychlor, styrene, phenol, phthalates and paradichlorobenzene are just a few of the chemicals typically found lurking in non-organic oils, perfumes, fresheners and fragrances, according to The Organic Institute. These toxic chemicals include known carcinogens, pesticides and human hormone disrupters. While seeking out aromatherapy's advantages, you may unwittingly be jeopardizing your health.

Organic Essential Oils for Your Health

But breathe easy. You can safely enjoy the many benefits of aromatherapy by carefully selecting organic essential oils, the best aromatherapy products for your overall well-being. The term "essential" stems from the fact that these organic oils represent the "essence" of the plants from which they were taken.

Purchased from a reputable source of organic products, you are assured the organic essential oils you select are highly concentrated, distilled liquids extracted from flowers, leaves and other plant parts grown on organic farms or in the wild. These plant sources are free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and are manufactured without the addition of synthetic ingredients, many of which are toxic.

Organic essential oils—even in small amounts—have been shown through extensive research to exhibit significant therapeutic and health benefits. Specific benefits of these aromatherapy essential oils vary, depending on the type of plant involved. The plant-derived compounds found in organic essential oils have been used to fight disease, reduce stress, stabilize moodiness, improve concentration and improve digestion, among other uses. Organic essential oils are used in aromatherapy as well as in alternative medicine. They may be applied directly to your skin as part of your organic skin care regimen, evaporated with an essential oil diffuser, or used with a carrier oil. All are effective ways of realizing the many benefits of organic essential oils.

Attack on Your Olfactory Nerves

Nonorganic perfumes, fragrances and aromatherapy products work in an entirely different manner. While advertising may have you believing otherwise, these synthetic fragrances do not add natural, pure aromas to the air at all. Nor do they purify the air, as is often implied. Instead, they work by interfering with your natural ability to recognize scents. In the process, these products produce gaseous toxins from synthetic chemicals, covering up or overpowering any existing odors. Offensive smells are masked by releasing synthetic compounds. These toxins coat your nasal passages with a thin layer of oil. In some cases, they even deaden the olfactory nerves that would otherwise allow signals to travel from your nose to your brain.

While there may not be a great deal of research on the long-term effects of these toxins on human health, it is safe to say they represent a hazard not present with the use of organic essential oils. Chemicals used in these synthetic fragrances have been known to cause headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, coughing, migraines and even mental confusion. They have also been known to trigger asthmatic attacks and coughing. Children and individuals with asthma or allergies are at added risk.

Risks Linked to Various Forms

Sadly, there are about as many risks to using non-organic types of aromatherapy as there are forms of these products.

While harmful chlorofluorocarbons have been removed from aerosol sprays for decades, spray air freshener manufacturers have simply replaced them with volatile hydrocarbons, like methylene chloride, propane, n-butane and isobutene—all flammable petroleum-derived chemicals.

Studies have even shown that air fresheners may be contributing to an increase in asthma cases. In a 2007 European study, researchers concluded that using spray air fresheners as infrequently as once per week could raise the risk of adults developing asthma. The study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. As a baseline, it used data from one of the world's largest epidemiological studies of airway disease. Incidence of asthma developing increased with frequency of air freshener use, but was typically 30 to 50 percent higher compared with the risk seen in adults not exposed to fragrance sprays.

But don't think choosing a different form of conventional air freshener will help you avoid health risks. The Environmental Protection Agency found that non-organic aromatherapy products give off a harmful smog when heated, by flame or electrical outlet. This smog accumulates in your home, and triggers reactions that further generate formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and other compounds linked to respiratory problems.

Researchers for the Natural Resources Defense Council looked at over a dozen name-brand fragrances and fresheners, including gels, sprays and heated fragrances. They found that a full 86 percent of them contained phthalates, hazardous chemicals known to cause hormonal abnormalities, reproductive complications, respiratory problems and birth defects.

Seemingly safer forms of conventional aromatherapy products, such as scented candles, prove no better. These candles use paraffin wax, a byproduct of the gasoline industry. The scents added to today's candles are full of additional harmful chemicals. Black soot, produced when the candle is burned, is toxic and can be breathed deep into the lungs. Lead, which has been associated with learning impairments and brain damage in children, can be released from the wick. The American Lung Association has identified slow-burning paraffin candles as a serious health concern.

Choose Organic Essential Oils

Avoid non-organic fragrances in any form. Pure essential oils, from organic sources, provide aromatherapy essential to your overall well-being without exposing you to toxic chemicals. These organic products are the best essential oils you can select. Choose wintergreen as a massage oil targeting tension or sweet orange to sooth moodiness. Or, add a drop or two of your favorite signature essential oil blends into your bath.

By choosing organic oils and essential oil blends from a reliable and knowledgeable source, you can be assured of pure essential oils that are more potent and healthier for you and your family. Make organic essential oils a part of your regular organic skin care routine, along with other bath and body organic products.

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