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Aromatherapy, like pharmacology, is inseparable from toxicology. Toxicology is the science of poisons; it can be summed up in a single sentence: “The important thing is the dose! "

When using active substances, one must keep in mind this precept of Theophraste von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus (1493-1541): “If you want to explain precisely the action of each poison, then you must ask what is not poison? All substances are poisonous and none are harmless. It is the dose that makes a substance non-toxic. "

Any substance would therefore be potentially toxic, and this toxicity would be linked to the dose administered. The veracity of this reasoning however depends on the dose arriving at a given organ, that is to say on its toxicokokinetic profile (fate of the substance in the organism) and toxicocodynamic (action on its target).

This result is the combination of :

  • The dose and concentration used
  • The route of administration
  • Method of administration
  • Bioavailability
  • The toxicological mechanism
  • To assess the degree of toxicity of a substance, factors specific to the exposed subject such as age, weight, sex, physiological state, etc., as well as environmental factors, should be taken into account.

The use of essential oils having benefited from a certain revival of interest among the population, the risk of intoxication has increased in parallel.

Aromatherapy is therapy using essential oils. It is the use of aromatic compounds extracted from plants for medical purposes. This differentiates it from herbal medicine which makes use of all the elements of a plant.

A concentrate of plants is used; it is not alternative medicine ; there are many contraindications and precautions for use.

Essential oils are products of complex composition containing volatile active ingredients contained in plants. To obtain them two methods are recognized today by the French Pharmacopoeia:

  • Cold expression : For Rutaceae (citrus). We will then speak of gasoline and not essential oil.
  • Steam entrainment

Note : Depending on the part treated, the same plant can give different essential oils . The analysis of an essential oil by chromatography allows to know its compounds. The main ones are terpene, sesquiterpene carbides, alcohols, mixtures of esters and alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, ethers, etc.

Each essential oil must be identified by 3 criteria :

  • The precise and complete botanical species (in Latin)
  • The producing organ from which the essential oil is extracted
  • The biochemical specificity necessary when the same species produces essential oils of different composition according to its conditions of existence or its vegetative stage.

Examples :

  • Salvia officinalis is not the same plant as Salvia Sclarea , both being sage
  • Cinnamon Cinnamonum Zeylanicum produces two different essential oils one extracted from the bark, the other from the leaves
  • Thymus Vulgaris to Linalool does not have the same properties as Thymus Vulgaris to Thymol

This is why only an essential oil clearly defined by these 3 criteria can be used safely in therapy.

Essential oils are not harmless products. They are lipophilic, and therefore quickly absorbed, whether by respiratory route, skin, or digestive.

Essential oils used in therapy must be registered with the French Pharmacopoeia where the physicochemical standards are published.

The supplier must be able to present, for each EO, a chemical profile carried out by gas chromatography (GC) and which defines the ranges of constituents considered to be important for a given essential oil.

Essential oils are very volatile, oxidize easily, and are both photosensitive and heat-sensitive. This is why they must be stored away from light, heat and especially oxygen in the air.

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