Aromatherapist legal issues

Woman receiving back massage with massage products in front of her

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.

What licences does an aromatherapist need?

Local authorities in some areas require businesses that offer 'special treatments' (for example aromatherapy or massage) to obtain a licence from them. Contact your local authority to find out the position in your area.

You should also be aware that if you keep computerised records of individuals' personal details you may be required to register as a data user with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

Voluntary registration

You can also choose to register with one of the voluntary regulatory bodies for complementary medicine practitioners. These are:

  • the General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapists (GRCCT)
  • the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)

There is a fee for registering with both bodies.

"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 & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

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.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for an aromatherapist

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • professional indemnity
  • practice rooms, equipment and stock
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • employer's liability
  • public liability
  • product liability
  • motor insurance (for business vehicles)

To be registered with a voluntary regulator - either the General Regulatory Council For Complementary Therapies (GRCCT) or the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) - you'll need to take out professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

Industry bodies such as the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) and Complementary Health Professionals have negotiated special insurance packages for their members. Visit their websites for more details.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form

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