Aromatherapy smells good once more

THE RANGE: Some of the essential oils from the US-founded network marketing company Young Living. Sales have grown a mind-boggling 816 per cent since it started its office in Singapore almost three years ago.

SINGAPORE - Now that Jennifer Aniston has embraced the ancient treatment of cupping, and "going Paleo" actually applies to a diet rather than an insult for those prone to imbecility, it's no surprise that the age-old practice of aromatherapy has made a comeback.

Today, essential oils are regarded way more seriously than overpriced air fresheners. In fact, they have been adopted to aid counselling sessions, promote concentration and even fend off an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease.

Too good to be true? Try telling that to legions of devotees, and businesses with a nose for aromatherapy's lucrative potential.

"The recent increase in the use of essential oils is definitely in sync with the growing interest of people in searching for a lifestyle improvement, thinking healthier and wanting natural products to live with," says Will Halterman, South-east Asia general manager of Young Living Singapore.

"This growing trend is most prominently seen in cities such as Singapore, where a stressful and busy work life is seemingly unavoidable."

Young Living is perhaps the biggest success story for the practice, which can be traced back to the use of incense by the ancient Egyptians in honour of their deities.

The United States-founded network marketing company retails pure essential oils cultivated and distilled on farms in countries such as Ecuador, France, Oman and the United States. Sales have grown a mind-boggling 816 per cent since it started its office in Singapore almost three years ago.

Another aromatherapy company that has been making plenty of cents from natural scents is home-grown chain Mt Sapola.

After successful forays into 12 countries, including the US, Britain and Bahrain, the group has recently made its debut in Taiwan, 17 years after former civil servant Cheryl Gan decide to pursue her passion for naturopathic aromatherapy.

Starting out as a company selling natural handmade soaps in Thailand, Ms Gan opened her first store here in 2007, and witnessed a huge demand for aromatherapy products.

"One interesting insight that we received is that the demand for 'natural' and 'ecological' products in body-care and food industries has moved from a niche area to a booming market in recent years," said the IT engineering graduate.

"People are more concerned about the increasing use of powerful medical drugs and their side effects."

According to Eugene Tay, psychologist and programme director at PsycHealth Practice, it remains unclear if aromatherapy is effective as a form of medical intervention in treating conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Nevertheless, its other benefits appear promising: inhaling lavender essential oils has been shown to help reduce some symptoms associated with dementia, especially that of restlessness.

"Within my practice, I use various essential oils as they bring forth a sense of tranquillity and concentration," says Mr Tay, who is drawn to working with patients experiencing mood-related disorders. "Some of the common oils used to help focus are that of peppermint or a blend of rosemary with lemon.

"Usually in my counselling sessions, I diffuse lavender or eucalyptus as they provide a pleasantly delicate scent, which seems to calm nerves and help clients feel more relaxed."

And apart from adding an evocative edge to skincare, essential oils are finding their way into medicine cabinets.

"The first oil I used on my children was Young Living Thieves essential oil," says Tania Boh, a mother of three who is an aromatherapy devotee. "I apply it on the soles of their feet every morning before they go to school, after school and before they sleep to keep them protected from bugs in school or public places."

A blend of several essential oils including that of cloves and rosemary, the highly popular Thieves Oil is believed by others to support the immune system, and even reduce the duration of certain viruses such as hand, foot and mouth disease, although there isn't any scientific evidence of its efficacy.

This article by The Business Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.Get The Business Times for more stories.