Essential Oil Myths You Probably Believe...
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” – Ephesians 5:11
The plants and fruits given to us by God to use as our food and medicine, as well the essential oils extracted from them, are some of the greatest gifts He has given us (See Genesis 1:29). Unfortunately, many people avoid essential oils due to vast amount of misleading information and anti-Christian teachings from several companies.
False, misleading, or otherwise deviously dangerous misinformation is what has made many essential oil (EO) companies highly successful, but it’s also what has also driven many potential consumers away from the field entirely. Unfortunately, for each new essential user attempting to learn about the industry, there are entire flocks of vulturistic EO sales representatives trying to convince you that their company is better because their oils are (insert false marketing ploy here).
In this article, we will discuss some of the more common myths of the industry, including: Therapeutic grade, Internal use, Dilution, GC/MS Testing, and Quality / Value.
The Cause of the Myths:
The simplest way to explain the cause of the vast amount of misinformation available today in the world of essential oils is unadulterated Greed. Nearly all essential oil companies have only one goal: To sell as many bottles of oil as possible, making as much money as possible. They do this by using two methods: Customer acquisition/retention, and increased sales per retained customer.
- Acquisition/Retention: The most successful EO companies in the industry are mainly comprised of the most expensive, but nowhere near the highest quality. The only way they can convince people to continue paying such high prices for mid-quality products is to mislead them into believing that other companies are inferior.
- Increased Sales per customer: If a tiny bottle of Frankincense oil lasts the average customer 4-6 months before running empty, the company’s sales are limited to 2-3 bottles per year for that customer. If this company can convince their customers to use Frankincense in larger quantities and in more applications, they can double or triple the sales each year to their current customer base. Therefore, they teach unsafe and/or ineffective methods of use in order to sell more bottles.
This problem is infinitely multiplied when companies incorporate multi-level-marketing structures. People with little to no experience in aromatherapy sign up to be sales representatives for these companies and are educated not on the honest information or the safe and proper usage of the products they sell, but on whatever methods will convert the most customers and cause them to use the most oil possible. These representatives innocently teach these unsafe and unethical methods to their customers on blogs, posts, and websites not out of malice, but because they simply do not realize that their knowledge is flawed. They trust that the company they “represent” gave them honest and accurate information.
We have broken down what, in our opinion, are most the common misconceptions in the industry, as well as included some basic essential oils safety information that every consumer should know. We have also included information from the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA), which we believe to be foremost authority on essential oil usage. Hopefully this article can dispel some of this misinformation and get consumers back on the right path toward safe and natural healing:
Therapeutic Grade: The largest scam in the industry…
“Therapeutic Grade” is a term created in 2007 by one company who trademarked their version of the term (so no one else could use it), then began advertising that any oil which is not “therapeutic grade” is inferior. The term itself means absolutely nothing and is simply a dishonest marketing ploy.
The misleading marketing campaign was so successful that other companies began arbitrarily using different variations of the term in order to compete. The problem is that each company makes up their own standards on what constitutes this imaginary grade, as there is no set industry standard or 3rd party testing to certify or grade any EO.
Many products on the market today under the label “therapeutic grade” are 100% fake, synthetic fragrance oils, though they advertise as “100% pure therapeutic grade organic essential oil”.
The next time you hear someone using this term, know that they are a misled representative or victim of a multi-level-marketing company and are not a valid source for accurate information on essential oils.
Anything which possesses the power to Heal, also inherently possesses the power to Harm.
Let’s begin by discussing the most dangerous and most prevalent danger of essential oils, internal use (swallowing oils). While there are certain oils that can be used internally under certain circumstances, the large-scale belief that internal use of essential oils is safe is completely false!
Many advocates claim that virtually no deaths have ever been attributed to essential oils. While very few deaths have been recorded as the cause being “accidental overdose” involving essential oils, this does not mean that misuse of the oils have not contributed to thousands of deaths.
Example: Jane Doe is complaining about indigestion to her friend Jamie, who is a sales representative of an essential oil company. Jamie sells Jane some oregano essential oil and tells her to put a few drops in her tea and drink it. Jane does so, which seems to help so she continues using it. Jane is on blood thinners and had diabetes. She doesn’t know that the potent oregano essential oil inhibits blood clotting, as well as lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics. When Jane dies either of diabetic ketoacidosis, or of a small wound which bleeds out due to her blood thinners and inability to clot, the death is not ruled “death by oregano essential oil”, though the death would not have occurred had she not listened to Jamie when she advised the internal use of essential oils.
Bearing this story in mind, also realize that “Jamie” can be sued by Jane’s family for recklessly “prescribing” a supplement which contributed to her, as she was not knowledgeable about the supplement she suggested, nor did she have advanced knowledge of Jane’s medical history. A recent lawsuit of $20 million was won by the family of a decedent after she had taken a common supplement recommended by a personal trainer which led to her death in a very similar way.
Several companies fall back on FDA guidelines of “GRAS”. This means the FDA rules a specific plant, oregano for example” as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) to use as a Food Additive or flavoring agent. This does not by any means indicate that drinking the extremely concentrated essential oil of that plant is safe. The FDA actually forbids the teaching of internal use of essential oils for medicinal purposes, as they have NOT deemed this practice as safe.
Another heavily abused falsity involves representatives claiming that only their company’s oils are safe to use to use internally because theirs are more pure, or “Therapeutic Grade”. There is no such thing as “therapeutic grade”, and if their oils are actually safer, then they would also be less pure. Pure essential oils are too heavily concentrated to be used internally and should never be used internally unless under the direction of a physician who knows the intimate details of that patient’s medical history.
The Alliance of International Aromatherapists states: “AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level.”
Undiluted Skin Application:
There are almost zero cases in which a knowledgeable aromatherapist would recommend the undiluted skin application of any essential oil.
The AIA states: “Essential oils are concentrated substances, and because of this we do not recommend using them without diluting them first. Add essential oils to a carrier oil such as jojoba, coconut, almond, or others, before using. Diluting them in this way provides a measure of protection from skin irritation, allergic reactions, and even sensitization.”
While there are oils which can be used undiluted on rare occasion and in extreme circumstances (such as lavender on a big bite), most oils should be diluted to levels between 0.5% and 10% depending on which oil is used and the age and medical concerns of the patient. Many companies push much higher dilution recommendations, as it helps them to sell more oil. This makes it obvious that the company cares little about the health and welfare of their customers, but are more concerned with profit.
Even the safer oils, such as lavender, can cause major effects if used undiluted over time. While there may be no observed adverse effects of using undiluted lavender on rare occasion, persistent use can lead to desensitization, which can cause severe allergic reactions.
As a general guideline, if you are unfamiliar with the exact dilution recommendations of an oil, dilute to 1% (1 drop per teaspoon) for children and elderly patients, and 2% (2 drops per teaspoon) for adults.
The double edged sword of aromatherapy:
GCMS (Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry) testing breaks down the oil into all of its chemical components (Constituents) including the percentage of each constituent contained within the oil. Two organizations (ISO and AFNOR) have created their own standards of what constituents an oil should contain and at what percentage. In nearly all cases, GCMS test results are compared to ISO or AFNOR standards to determine whether or not an oil is what it’s supposed to be. Until recently, this was a completely definitive test.
As many companies began producing synthetic fragrance oils and labeling them “100% pure essential oils” or passing off cheaper, less expensive oils as more expensive versions (such as labeling cornmint oil as peppermint), the industry began using GC/MS testing to ensure that oils are pure and meet specifications. Every oil should be GCMS tested when a company receives it from their distiller to ensure quality control. The results of these tests should also be made available to the customer for their own assurance; however, a “passing grade” on a GCMS test no longer means that your oil is pure, or even that your oil is what you think it is…
While these tests are still essential in the field, they are now commonly circumvented by chemical laboratories which are able to take a synthetic or alternate, less expensive organic oil, and then add the constituents necessary to falsely “pass” a GC/MS analysis. One large chemical laboratory in China consistently produces synthetic oils which pass GC/MS as pure, organic oils and have an aroma quite similar to the natural oil they are emulating. These synthetic oils are sold by many popular companies throughout the USA and Canada. One of the largest and most expensive oil companies in the USA was recently proven to have been cutting Peppermint oil with Cornmint oil, yet still passed GCMS testing by adding specific chemicals which gave their samples a “passing” score.
Companies have also been caught altering the GCMS tests results before passing them on to their customers. The average high-school student with a laptop has the ability to alter a PDF file to make the numbers say whatever they wish. In most cases, the average user cannot contact the lab where the test was performed in order to verify the honesty of the company.
The quality/purity of essential oil:
If you aren’t using a quality essential oil, you are never going to gain the therapeutic benefits you are seeking. More importantly, using synthetic or low quality oils which may include pesticides and other chemicals can be downright dangerous or deadly. This leads us to the biggest question: “Where do I buy quality essential oils?”
We are obviously a bit biased (as we work with By Faith Wellness Ministries who offers the highest quality essential oils available at very reasonable prices under a non-profit business structure supporting Christian charities – yes, this was a shameless plug); therefore, we will not name any companies (good or bad), but we will give some guidelines as to what to look for:
- Price: If a company is substantially cheaper, there’s a reason. As an example, ordering in the largest possible quantity directly from the farm/distiller, our Lavender oil costs us nearly $12 per ounce when broken down. This is before shipping charges, import taxes, or the cost of bottles, labels, caps, etc. There are companies selling “Pure 100% Lavender Essential Oil” at $20 for 4 ounces… It’s impossible to bring a pure, quality product to the marker at these prices.
- GC/MS Testing: While, as we’ve discussed, these tests can now be faked, it’s still important to know what’s in your oil. If you’re buying from an honest company, they should provide basic GCMS testing results.
- Organic: Unfortunately, the term itself no longer has much meaning today. There is very little regulation as to who can use the term and under which circumstances. We have seen countless products which claim to be “certified organic”, though chemical testing to show insecticides, adulterants, and even some prove to be 100% synthetic.
- Plant Information: Do not buy from any company which does not openly provide the following information: It should be found either on their label or easy located on their website. Withholding any of this information is a strong indication (almost a guarantee) that they are selling synthetic, adulterated, oils or are producing oils from genetically modified plants:
- Plant Name: (Rosemary)
- Botanical Name: (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Research the botanic name and make sure it’s what it should be. For example, some companies sell a “lavandula officinalis” oil, when the only true lavender is “lavandula angustifolia”.
- Extraction Method (Steam Distilled) – A real essential oils should only be steam distilled or cold pressed. Avoid any companies who uses chemical or CO2 extraction methods. If they don’t provide this information, find another company.
- Chemotype: (Cineole 1,8) – Some plants, like rosemary, have various chemotypes. Rosemary ct. Cineole is an extremely different oil than rosemary ct. verbenone. When researching companies, we recommend looking first at rosemary. If they don’t list the chemotype, find another company.
- Part of Plant Used: (Flowers/tops) - It’s very important that only the proper part of the plant Is used for extracting the oil. Some companies will distill the entire plant, which produces a “pure oil” of similar scent, but will not have the therapeutic value of a properly distilled version.
You don’t always get what you pay for. While you should avoid companies which are unrealistically cheap, you should also be weary of those who are extremely overpriced compared to their competition. It’s literally impossible for a large scale company to offer the absolute highest quality, as the best quality oils come only from the highest quality crops. There are simply not enough top quality crop produced each year to support the demands of the larger companies; therefore, they should never be near the top of the price range. Finding out what a company’s average markups are is the true indication of value. As an example, By Faith operates on an average 30%-40%, whereas the two largest Multi-Level-Marketing companies operate on a 400%-600% profit margin.