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Aromatherapist: Legal matters

What legislation applies to aromatherapy practices?

Although there is currently no legislation specifically regulating aromatherapists the profession is open to the possibility of introducing statutory regulation at some point in the future.

Aromatherapists are currently regulated on a voluntary basis by two regulatory bodies - the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies (GRCCT) and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). You can find out more about voluntary regulation on the GRCCT and CNHC websites.

Members of aromatherapy associations, such as the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA), must comply with a code of conduct.

"Herbalists' exemption"

At the moment, clinical aromatherapists rely on the "herbalists' exemption" to allow them to supply remedies that are made up following a one-to-one consultation without needing to be licensed. Although the government has been talking about introducing statutory licensing for herbal practitioners that would remove this exemption, to date this hasn't happened and the exemption still applies.

Health and safety matters

Essential oils must be used with care and some have been identified as being harmful in certain circumstances, for example where clients have skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has identified oils which should only be used with caution and some which they have placed on the banned list.

Essential oils fall within the scope of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations because they can be toxic and also can cause allergic contact dermatitis where aromatherapists use them a lot. You must make sure that you carry out a work place risk assessment and put in place systems so that chemicals are used as safely as possible. You can find out more about your duties as an employer under the COSHH Regulations from COSHH, a brief guide to the Regulations which you can download from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Under the terms of current chemicals labelling laws (REACH and the 'CLP Regulation') essential oils must be properly packaged and labelled. Suppliers must also provide their customers with information about the product, hazardous ingredients, details of the composition of the oil and details of flammability, danger of explosion and so on. There's detailed guidance on chemical classification on the HSE website.

If you make retail sales of aromatherapy products such as lotions, massage oils, soaps and so on, you should be aware of the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations. These cover the ingredients that can be used in cosmetic products and what must be included on labels. You can find out more in the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) guide to supplying or manufacturing a cosmetic product, which you can read on the CTPA website.

The Aromatherapy Trade Council provides its members with up to date guidance on the regulatory issues that affect the supply of aromatherapy products.

As well as making sure that essential oils are stored and used safely, you must also comply with health and safety legislation that covers all aspects of health and safety in the work place. Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety at work of all of their employees and those with five or more employees must prepare a written health and safety policy statement. You should contact your local authority health and safety section for advice and guidance.

Fire safety

All employers must comply with fire safety regulations - this means carrying out a fire risk assessment at your premises and putting in place fire precaution measures. These could include fire alarm systems and extinguishers as well as clearly signed escape routes. If you have five or more employees your fire risk assessment must be written down. You're responsible not only for the safety of your staff but also of anyone who might be on your premises, like clients or suppliers. The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced several helpful guides for businesses. You can download these from the website. Information about fire regulations in Northern Ireland is available on the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service website.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation that you must be aware of include:

  • The Employment Rights Act
  • The National Minimum Wage Act
  • The Working Time Regulations

Further information and guidance leaflets on all aspects of health and safety are available on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites.

The employing people section of the website includes information and guidance on all aspects of employment legislation. Information for businesses in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Business Info website.

Equality and discrimination law

You must not discriminate against anyone because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This applies to every aspect of your business operations, from taking people on to dismissing them. You may need to make reasonable adjustments to your premises and working arrangements so that you don't unfairly discriminate against disabled people.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland websites contain further information on your legal duties.