Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
This section should be read in conjunction with the entry on Health: Therapies (General)
Aromatherapy is the use of plant essences, which some believe can promote spiritual, physical and emotional health and well-being. Essential oils can be applied directly to the skin through massage, added to bathing products or lotions, inhaled with steaming water or spread throughout a room by a spray or diffuser.
The CAP Code requires that all objective health claims be backed by robust documentary evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people (rule 12.1). Medicinal claims for aromatherapy products are not permitted unless the product is a licensed medicine (rules 12.1 and 12.11).
Beauty products containing essential oils are often described as having aromatherapy properties. One advertisement offered readers an aromatic cushion with lavender oil and claimed that it could treat a list of medical conditions. The advertiser was unable to substantiate the efficacy of the product (BBC Magazines Ltd and Jem Marketing, 7 February 2001).
In 2018 the ASA considered advertising claims in a poster about an aromatherapy air spray which included claims that the product “improves the quality and duration of sleep”. In the context of the ad, the ASA considered the claims were medicinal claims to treat sleeping disorders. Because the product was not a licensed medicine or a CE marked medical device, the ASA ruled that the medicinal claims had been made without the necessary certification or authorisation (Puressentiel UK Ltd, 17 October 2018).
CAP understands that tea-tree oil is a commonly used plant essence and that some practitioners claim it has anti-microbial and/or anti-fungal properties when used topically. However, the ASA and CAP have not yet seen clinical evidence to support these claims and marketers of these topical oils are advised to ensure they hold suitable clinical evidence to support such claims.
Additionally, marketers wishing to claim that aromatherapy or plant essences have an anti-viral or anti-bacterial action should take care to avoid making medicinal claims for unlicensed products. Marketers wishing to make these claims should seek MHRA guidance on medical products or, if relevant, this MHRA guidance on medical devices.
For information about the type of evidence you would need to hold to support claims about therapies and devices, we recommend reading this CAP Guidance on Substantiation for health, beauty and slimming claims.
Although the claims that marketers may make about the benefits of aromatherapy are limited, the ASA and CAP accept that when used during massage, aromatherapy might help people to de-stress and that it may therefore potentially aid sleep. CAP advises that these types of claims are only likely to be acceptable if made in the context of the oils being used alongside massage.
Therapists may also claim that the use of essential oils combined with massage might help to relieve muscle strains or muscle tension but again, the emphasis on those claims should be placed on the massage and not on the action of the oils.
Claims that the aromas from the oils promote a sense of relaxation or wellbeing are also likely to be acceptable.
Claims to treat conditions for which medical supervision should be sought can discourage essential medical treatment. Marketers should not claim to diagnose, offer special advice on or treat those types of condition unless that diagnosis, advice or treatment is carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. The ASA and CAP are not likely to consider that aromatherapy practitioners are ‘suitably qualified’ unless they also hold a general medical qualification and the advice or treatment in given in line with that qualification (rule 12.2). This CAP Guidance explains this position further.