I write a lot about the tenuous relationship between the professional aromatherapy industry and the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) essential oils industry from my experiences on and in between both worlds. So, let me clear the air a bit because both sides really need to find a way to meet in the middle in order to peacefully coexist and to learn from each other.
As a professional aromatherapist, I love talking about all things aromatherapy, I have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars educating myself in this field. It can be a daunting task because there is so much bad information out there that is accessible on the internet and social media. Standards and practices change on both sides. I have older texts on aromatherapy from the 1990s and some of that information is outdated or has been expanded with new research or safety measures.
I started dabbling with essential oils in 2011 and knew nothing about them at the time. Undiluted Peppermint Oil in the bathtub is an interesting sensation and not one I am ever going to repeat. I got away from regular essential oil use for awhile, but got back into in 2016 when I started becoming more interested in making my own skincare products. Soon thereafter, I joined Young Living, and while their products are pricier than other brands, I do like them, and have nothing against their products per se, despite some vague technical concerns about specific information, but I won't bore you with the details.
Several months in to my essential oils journey with Young Living, I became interested in becoming a certified aromatherapist and learning the science behind the craft and practice. I found the knowledge and advice from the Young Living community, while it gave me a decent starting point, that it didn't really give me the whole picture as the vast majority of recommended resources were all from internal Young Living folks. I need to see the full picture, not just a sliver of the image. My thirst for knowledge lead me to where I am today. I was blissfully unaware of the tension between the professional aromatherapy industry and the MLM essential oils industry.
The more I learned in my aromatherapy courses, readings, and research, I was shocked to learn that so much of what I was originally taught through the MLM community was incorrect and in some cases extraordinarily wasteful of the oils themselves. I have an academic background (BFA in Art History and Studio Art plus a year of grad school) and am learned in proper research methodologies. I do not accept that one single source of information is the be all end all and know how to vet my resources and cross reference for some semblance accuracy. Of course, some things are open to interpretation and purely subjective. If 100 resources say X and two resources say Y, I want to know why and will investigate it further.
If you want to get an idea of what the past year and a half has looked like for me, you can view the list below of certifications, courses, workshops, classes, and webinars that I have completed or am in the process of working on, in addition to reading dozens of books and the thousands of articles and blog posts. I am active in several international aromatherapy based Facebook groups and professional membership organizations. We share information and experiences every day and engage in healthy discourse about aromatherapy practices.
Certifications & Courses
Workshops & Classes
So why is there such a massive disconnect between the two factions of the same industry? We both love essential oils, right? I'm honestly not sure where it all started, but it seems to come down to marketing. I don't think either side is guilty of malicious intent. The professional aromatherapy community is not comprised of fear-mongers or gatekeepers of information. We thrive on educating ourselves and others on the safe use of essential oils. Most of us use them every day and have incorporated them into various facets of our lives. But, we have learned from mistakes and fact-based evidence of scientific data, research, and the experiences of others. The problem we face is the resistance from a large proportion of the MLM community when we present information on practices and safety standards based on our education and experience and get shunned, dismissed, and chided in response. Buying some essential oils and reading Facebook posts, doesn't make anyone an expert. Aromatherapists study the craft through different educational organizations and investigate specialties like pregnancy, babies and children, or for specific practices.
I have many friends and colleagues from both ends of the spectrum and engage in healthy discourse every day. We learn from each other and we teach each other in the process. Aromatherapists are not a monolith, we disagree with each other too. Some aromatherapists are adamantly against ingestion and undiluted application, while others are perfectly fine with both practices. We are always here to answer anyones questions and most of us will take time out of our day to do so. We do not think that everyone needs to be a certified aromatherapist to use and enjoy essential oils, but firmly believe that education needs to be multifaceted and to come from multiple resources - even if those resources conflict with things you have been told by others. Don't be afraid to challenge assumptions, not everything you have been learned is accurate - and that goes for both the professionals and MLM folks.
I write a lot about the nuances and specifics of French Aromatherapy (or Aromatic Medicine) because not only is it a topic of interest, but it is also the subject of my final research paper for my French Aromatherapy certification. I completed the coursework almost a year ago and got sidetracked by business development and other certification programs so I ended up putting the final paper aside. It is still a work in progress, but I have done considerable research on the subject matter.
There is a lot of buzz and significantly misinterpreted information when in comes to the actual practice of French Aromatherapy, much of which comes from the MLM (Multi Level Marketing) side of the aromatherapy spectrum. The information passed down under the rubric of French Method/Model comes from Young Living and doTERRA and is a very loose interpretation of the actual practice of French Aromatherapy.
In this blog post, I am going to break down what the MLM companies are telling their reps and members about the "French method or French model" and counterbalance that with the actual practices of French Aromatherapy and general practices across the professional aromatherapy industry. They overlap in theory, but are extremely nuanced in approach.
The "Schools" of Aromatherapy: British, German, and French.
The Importance of Essential Oil Safety and the work of Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young within the practice of French Aromatherapy.
MLM companies use the French method/model which places a high emphasis on the quality of essential oils and encourages "aggressive" use of essential oils.
Ingestion of Essential Oils, Europeans widely practice this because they follow the French model, but everyone else follows the British model and is firmly against the practice.
Detoxing is a normal response to your body removing toxins from your body.... use more oils...
Negative effects of essential oils are extremely rare and no one has ever died from essential oils
In conclusion, and I say this a lot, the aromatherapy industry loves essential oils and we want everyone to experience their benefits and to do so safely. Do you need to be an aromatherapist to use them? Of course not, but knowledge is power. Safety precautions are not tantamount to rabid fear-mongering. The aromatherapy industry is not just a bunch of kill-joy gatekeepers, we are here to help and glad to do so. I answer countless questions on a regular basis from people who contact me personally with questions regarding safety, myths, and proper use of oils. Ask questions, learn something. This is how I became an aromatherapist.
Ever since I completed my French Aromatherapy Certification coursework last year, I have been curious about the trend of folks cooking with essential oils as a means of ingestion often touted under the tutelage of the "french method." Nowhere in the certification program was cooking with essential oils even once mentioned, nor have I seen it in any authentic French Aromatherapy articles, blog posts, or books. Cooking with essential oils seems to have come out of the MLM faction of the essential oils industry. Personally, I don't see the point of the practice as it is both expensive and wasteful, but lets delve a little deeper into the mythos surrounding the practice.
Setting aside the safety concerns about improper ingestion of essential oils, my gut feeling on cooking with essential oils is that it is nothing more than an expensive waste. I look at it the same way as cooking with alcohol -- my bourbon chicken is going to taste great, but I'm not going to get drunk on it because the heat required to cook or bake the dish burns off the alcohol content. The same would apply to essential oils, if you are using them for their therapeutic benefit, the heat is most likely taking that away and you will be left with expensive flavoring. So why not use fresh or dried herbs instead or even herbal infusions?
Essential oils do not contain any vitamins or minerals like herbs do. I have and am continuing to study herbalism extensively and one of the things I love about true French Aromatherapy is that it is a combination of herbalism and aromatherapy. They exist in harmony and balance and practitioners chose the best mode of application - would making an herbal poultice for a burn be a better application than putting an essential oil salve on it? Both are trusted methods of treatment and viable options.
Regarding the safety of ingesting essential oils in food, let us revisit the fact that essential oils are fat soluble meaning they are attracted the fats and not water. Once again, OIL AND WATER DO NOT MIX and that is just elementary science. With any mode of internal application of essential oils, the same safety principles apply, some essential oils are mucous membrane irritants meaning they could cause irritation in your mouth or digestive tract. Other essential oils can interact with certain medications when ingested. These are things to consider with the practice.
The potency of essential oils cannot be understated - you will often see the example comparing one drop of peppermint essential oil being the equivalent of twenty-six cups of peppermint tea. Would you drink that much peppermint tea a day? every day? GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) status does not necessarily indicate that there are zero safety concerns when it comes to ingestion. Things that were deemed GRAS by the FDA were done in parts per million not individual drops in a single beverage or dish. This article clearly outlines the particulars of essential oils and GRAS status.
As an experiment, I wanted to make Rose infused brownies, and I was not going to use a single drop of my precious and expensive Rose essential oil in it. However, I used a rose petal infused olive oil in addition to some powdered rose petals in the brownie mix and it was delicious. In my herbalism studies, there are so many amazing food and beverage preparations with natural materials that do not contain a single drop of essential oils. I prefer herbal infusions for flavoring. I've made infused honey, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and am eager to experiment further.
If you want to cook with essential oils, no one is stopping you, but consider that there are much better alternatives to doing so that are safer, less expensive, and more sustainable in the long run.
I've been thinking about my why when it comes to aromatherapy especially pertaining to essential oil safety. I am a knowledge seeker and want to know as much as I possibly can about my field of study. Its not enough to look at the science of essential oil chemistry and throw caution to the wind as if they are unfounded or will never happen to me. I cannot do that for personal reasons based on a horrible medical experience I had several years ago. I will share that story now.
In 2011, I was suffering from major depression and constant anxiety so I began seeing a new psychiatrist who within a 15 minute session diagnosed me as Bipolar II. I had already tried Lithium and Depakote, neither of which worked for me, so he prescribed Lamictal. He warned that there is a potentially fatal rash that can occur and to check my skin daily for any signs. Thankfully, I did not get the rash. Lamictal is a psychiatric medication that is also used to treat epilepsy and you have to slowly increase the dosage over time to get to the therapeutic level. Almost immediately, I started having significant neurological issues, any stimuli like lights, noise, motion, sound, and smell would make me feel like I was about to have a seizure. I was assured this was normal and to continue with the medication increases every two weeks. Over that time more and more neurological symptoms arose; I was forgetting things, using similar, but incorrect words, repeating myself without knowing it in a short period of time, and talking in what can only be described as "word salad." I thought I was losing my mind. I was still having stimuli triggered feelings like I was going to have a seizure. My gait was affected too, for some reason, if I was walking in a straight line, I would always end up veering to the right. I felt unhinged, like I was coming apart at the seams.
One evening I was in crisis mode, wandering around the city before my therapist appointment at the same office and asked if I could see the psychiatrist that evening. I was given an emergency appointment and then scolded that this was not a walk-in clinic and that I had to make an appointment in advance. So in addition to feeling like I was about to have a mental breakdown, I was being guilt tripped for being an inconvenience. I talked with the doctor and I don't recall if anything changed at that time. The neurological symptoms did not go away. So, I decided to research the medication more and there it was, ALL of the neurological side effects, that my doctor 1) never warned me about and 2) failed to recognize as a serious problem directly resulting from the medication. Soon thereafter, I made another appointment and demanded to be switched to another medication, which he did. But, I had to slowly decrease the Lamictal and remain on it for another few weeks. Even once, I had stopped taking it. It took another 10 months for it fully to be out of my system. Most of the neurological effects subsided during that time though I had lingering anxiety and panic attacks if I had to be in a car, so I could no longer drive and would be a nervous wreck in the passenger seat because I still could not process all of the visual information of speed, movement, lights, other cars, etc. Luckily, after such a horrible experience, I started seeing a new psychiatrist, whom I adore and still see to this day.
Even though I recovered, I truly believe that if I stayed on that medication it would have killed me and that is not an exaggeration. Years later, I would also discover that his initial diagnosis of Bipolar II was incorrect, so I was in effect being treated for an illness that I did not have in the first place.
This is my why. This is why I am 100% committed to knowing the power of the essential oils and proper application methodologies. I prefer to know all of the contraindications no matter how slim of a chance they are to occur. Looking at my situation, if I was using an essential oil that affected the enzyme(s) used to metabolize that medication, either dulling or increasing the effects, it would have made the situation even worse. My purpose in aromatherapy is to ensure the safety of everyone that uses essential oils in their daily lives. I choose to be an informed patient and understand that not everyone has the impetus to do the same thing, so I do my best to disseminate the correct information based upon my research and studies. If I knew what to look for regarding the side effects from Lamictal, I would have saved myself months and months of trauma.
If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that I am keenly aware of essential oil safety issues and misinformation and love to research and write about the topic. When safety concerns come up pertaining to essential oils and aromatherapy practices, it goes beyond "listen to your body." Self-awareness is a crucial component, but not the be all end all good advice. No one will be able to tell if they are damaging their liver and kidneys by ingesting improperly diluted essential oils on a regular basis. It would take routine blood tests to ascertain that type of issue.
It takes a lot to keenly "listen to your body" because we encounter so many different things on a daily basis from what we eat, drink, breathe, allergens, pollutants, fragrances, etc. It is an obvious sign that if I put an essential oil product on my skin and I get a rash that most likely that was the cause... or was it a combination of different factors? Will it happen all the time? This can happen with anything. I realized rather shockingly that while I have never had a problem consuming anything using baking soda as an ingredient that I cannot use natural deodorants that contain baking soda as it turns my armpits into itchy, red, fiery, painful pits of agony. There is a lot of gray area when some signs might not be obvious.
Recently, I discovered that German Chamomile should be avoided all routes with the blood pressure medication that I take -- I did not notice any issues, but I do not use German Chamomile regularly, but it is something to be cognizant about. I switched out the two things that I occasionally use with German Chamomile in it with another oil with similar therapeutic properties. Knowing this, I will have to be careful when preparing blends for clients and customers so that I don't accidentally cause myself to have issues by incidental exposure.
According to Tisserand & Young: German Chamomile is to be avoid all routes (topical, internal, and inhalation) due to drug interactions with German Chamomile for drugs that are metabolized by the enzymes CYP2D6, CYP1A2, CYP2C9, and CYP3A4.
To explain what this means, a chemical component or multiple components in German Chamomile and other essential oils inhibit the way that drugs are metabolized by the aforementioned enzymes. Enzymes function works is different for everyone. Some people are ultra rapid metabolizers and others are slow metabolizers. The risk is that if a drug is metabolized too quickly, it may decrease the efficacy conversely if the drug is metabolized too slowly, toxicity could result. This is probably why there is a general precaution for drugs metabolized by this enzyme since it would be hard to know if you are an ultra rapid metabolizer or a slow metabolizer simply by listening to your body if not obvious symptoms emerge. Safety warnings are just that, they are there to provide us with the necessary information to make an informed decision about our health.
This is another case where "listen to your body" doesn't cover all bases. Some will argue that there are no documented cases of anyone having major issues. While that may be the case, everyone has a different physiology, so while 10 people on the same blood pressure medication may not have had an issue, you do have to take into account the 1 person who did have an issue. It all comes down to evaluating risks and knowing what those possible risks were. It is also important to note that not everyone reports injuries due to essential oils as it may not be obviously the culprit.
As an aromatherapist, I could not in good ethical practice, encourage someone to use a product that is contraindicated with their medications or a health issue. What if they were that one person who had a negative reaction? Their health and well being is not worth the risk. There are other essential oils that have the same therapeutic benefits that could be used in place of the problematic one. Besides which, this would be a huge liability issue. The mantra of anyone practicing in traditional Western medical fields or complementary alternative medical fields is "first, do no harm."
I urge you to read "The Unspoken Truth About Essential Oils" by Stacey Haluka and Kayla Fioravanti. It drastically changed my perspective on how safety issues are handled in the aromatherapy world especially when you have numerous people without any formal training selling essential oils and espousing dangerous myths and potentially dangerous misinformation. Stacey's story is a must read for anyone who uses essential oils personally or professionally -- even aromatherapists and other industry professionals need to read her story so they know what is at risk and how to avoid the pain and suffering Stacey had to endure.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.