Aromatherapy in Canada

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

Aromatics have been used for thousands of years most commonly for the pleasure a beautiful aroma can invoke. Scent can stimulate appetite, desire, repulsion, and nostalgia. Recall the pleasure of scratch and sniff stickers from the 90s or the feeling you get when you think of fresh laundry. It's true scent has a strong connection to our mood states and, though we have lost much of our conscious ability to identify or respond to subtle scents, it may play a role in some of the important decisions we make.

It would seem that, today, more and more people are talking about essential oils and everyone knows at least one person who's “into" them. Interest in aromatherapy among complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) users in Canada has had a funny wobble to it over the last two decades; in 1997 81% had tried aromatherapy, in 2006 that dropped to 58% and in 2016 it rose again to 77%, with the majority using essential oils for wellness [1]. Currently we are on an upswing for use of essential oils for health maintenance and stress management, with the concept of aromatic therapy gaining some ground. Of the total population use has remained low. Interestingly, of the total population use of massage therapy has steadily been increasing over the last 20 years and has maintained approximately 50% of CAM users over that same period of time [1].

In Canada, the practice of aromatherapy is unregulated. In fact everything about aromatics is unregulated, except for labelling and the claims that can be made. Aromatherapists can be voluntary members of The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists (CFA), The British Columbia Alliance of Aromatherapists (BCAOA) and the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). They each have their standards of membership with accredited schools that offer training to meet those standards. At it's core, aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote health in body, mind and spirit. An aromatherapist is the person who practices aromatherapy [2].

Typically, essential oils are applied to the skin via massage with scented carrier oils or lotions, or are inhaled as a vapour. Treatment can occur in a massage setting and home-care remedies can be prepared and purchased by the client for personal use. These remedies can include topical applications like body oils and lotions, balms and salves, inhalant applications such as personal blends to use in a diffuser, personal inhaler sticks, or sprays for rooms or bedding. Since aromatherapy is most commonly practiced as a massage, usually complaints of stress and pain, or the pursuit of wellness and health maintenance are being addressed. In addition to this, people may use aromatics for symptom management of colds and flus, allergies, skin problems and digestive upset. In some parts of the world some practitioners prescribe oral dosing however, in North America the general consensus is this is excluded from aromatherapy.

Predominantly, people are taking a DIY approach to their care with visits to an aromatherapist declining [1] over the last 20 years, which may not be a bad thing. We alone are responsible for our health and the more we understand about our bodies, their maintenance and their ills, the better we can address simple problems at home and recognize more complex ones. So education about essential oils and their interactions with the body, what they can do for us within reason and evidence, in my opinion, is an important part of aromatherapy and likely one that can be easily over looked. While there is a lot of great information on the internet and in books, there's also a lot of chaffe and without some guidance it can be nearly impossible to discern between the two.

As education levels among Canadians change and people continue pursuing CAM therapies to help them manage their health, use of aromatics may continue to grow over time, gaining a stronger foothold in households across Canada. As aromatherapists embrace the changing trends of aromatherapy hopefully we will see more educational opportunities so Canadians can make informed decisions.


[1] Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Use and Public Attitudes 1997; 2006; and 2016. The Fraser Institute, April 2017. Accessed April 7, 2018

[2] The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists


The Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists

The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy

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Jen Fleming is a RMT in Hamilton ON with a primary focus on working with mental health and trauma populations. Otherwise she's gone hiking. 

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