How do you know if the company you are purchasing your essential oils from practices ethical and sustainable harvesting of plant material? - especially when it comes from critically endangered or protected plant species such as Rosewood, Spikenard, Sandalwood, Palo Santo, Agarwood, and even one of the most commonly used essential oils, Frankincense. These plant species are critically endangered due to having been drastically over-harvested or harvested illegally for many years.
Let's talk about each of these essential oils and how they should be harvested. Always look for this information provided on the essential oil company that you are purchasing from. If this information is not present, I would either do research on the brand to ensure their practices are ethical or avoid them altogether if you cannot verify such information. This is a known issue in the aromatherapy world so this information should be easy to come by.
Rosewood trees are native to Brazil and are critically endangered due to developmental clear cutting and other unethical harvesting methods. The wood should be harvested sustainably from trees that are intentionally planted in forests. The tree tops should be trimmed similarly to the way in which you would prune an overgrown bush or tree in your garden. This will ensure that the trees are kept alive and healthy.
Palo Santo is protected by the government of Ecuador and a permit is required to harvest the oil from dead trees or fallen branches from dead trees, that have been lying on the ground for at least two years. It is important that when you purchase this precious oil that the company whom you are purchasing from is educated in sustainable and ethical practices and deals with brokers and distributors who harvest the plant material legally and ethically.
Spikenard is hard to cultivate since it grows naturally in rocky soil at very high elevations in Nepal. It has been critically endangered since the mid-1990s. Permits are needed to buy and trade spikenard root for essential oils and is heavily regulated by the Nepalese government.
Agarwood should be sustainably produced from the heartwood of two different species of evergreen trees. The essential oils is usually produced from a wild, private tropical forest plantation in Thailand. They ensure that their agarwood is sustainably and ethically produced and follows local government regulations.
Sandalwood is endangered because of illegal smuggling and over-harvesting of wild-growing trees in India. The depopulation has occurred over many decades causing the industry to collapse in India. It is primarily cultivated in Australia these days.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii -- as opposed to other types of Frankincense) has been over-harvested in Somalia and other parts of North Africa. Due to the popularity of this essential oil, it will inevitably be moving up the list of endangered species.
When critically endangered plants or ones that are teetering on the edge of being over-harvested without regard for ethics and sustainability, the supplies will either run low or cease to exist. Additionally, governmental regulations may be mandated to protect these plant species from extinctions. This will also drive market prices through the roof. Today, a 5ml bottle of Sandalwood can run upwards of $100 and Agarwood runs closer to $200 for a 5ml bottle. The others remain reasonably priced considering their scarcity.
This is where using your essential oils in a sustainable manner and not overusing them comes in to play. Don't just assume to throw 10-15 drops of 3-5 different essential oils in a roller and call it day. Understand proper dilution ratios, you will only need 1-2 drops of Rose oil as opposed to 20, which would be an expensive waste. If you are using these particular essential oils on a regular basis please do so with intention knowing that every drop is precious and not to be wasted.
Knowing and trusting the company or companies you purchases your essential oil products from is crucial in this industry and I have and continue to use numerous different brands of essential oils. Early on in my essential oil journey, I began using Young Living essential oils because they were the best, most pure, therapeutic grade essential oils and the company owned their own farms.
Earlier this year in January, when I was working on my first aromatherapy certification, I contacted Young Living specifically to ask what chemotypes their Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme since they were not on the label or website and they do not provide GC/MS reports on their website or by request.
For your reference: “A chemotype occurs when a plant of a specific genus and species produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of geographic location, weather, altitude, insect and environmental interactions, and the like. A chemotype is not a different species or genus, nor is it a type of chemical; it is merely a chemical anomaly within the plant that occurs naturally.” -[ The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, Aromatic Scholars program.] To learn more about chemotypes of certain essential oils, please read my previous blog post: What are Essential Oil Chemotypes?
Young Living’s Product Support responded in February saying that “We do not have a specific chemotype for our essential oils available to provide as we do not standardize our essential oils by chemotype. However, we are able to provide the key constituents on a specific oil you have concerns regarding. “
This did not sit well with me because it seemed as if they didn’t really have a good understanding of what chemotypes were at all. How can you standardize something that occurs in nature based on things like weather and whatnot. I even inquired with my colleagues and aromatherapy instructors all of which agreed that this claim makes no sense -- I even asked Robert Tisserand during one of the weekly Q&A sessions during the Essential Oils Safety Masterclass and he said that it "made no sense."
Young Living does not release their GC/MS reports to the public, so there is no way to confirm this information, but it would appear (in the past) that even if they do not standardize oils by chemotype that their Basil is high in Methylchavicol, Rosemary with 1,8 cineole, and Thyme with thymol.
Fast forward a couple of months, I followed up with a few questions:
I was told that " We do not have a specific chemotype for our essential oils available to provide as we do not standardize our essential oils by chemotype. However, we are able to provide the key constituents on a specific oil you have concerns regarding." I was given the corresponding chemical constituents for the oils requested (Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme). But the first statement is concerning to me as chemotypes are very important to know for these essential oils."
"You should be able to tell customers what chemotypes of oils that you are selling. This is not a standardization, chemotypes occur in nature due to a variety of factors including: chemical composition including environmental conditions such as light, soil, temperature, moisture, climatic influence and altitude as well as geographic area.. Many essential oils have chemotypes and it is always important to know which one you are working with as therapeutics and safety may differ. Do your chemotypes stay the same? Do they change depending upon the harvest? This information is hard to ascertain since you do not publish your GC/MS reports."
To which Young Living Product Support responded:
"Young Living® no longer standardizes its essential oils by chemotype (CT). Chemotype is another name for chemical variety (a specific variety of a plant species based on chemical profile). Young Living has adopted the use of "Seed to Seal®" to standardize its essential oils by. Seed to Seal includes standardization by chemical profile as well as growing conditions, distillation, and manufacturing process."
I responded again with:
"This seriously makes no sense, while yes, a chemotype is a chemical specificity or variety, it is one that is based on numerous factors. For your reference: A chemotype occurs when a plant of a specific genus and species produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of geographic location, weather, altitude, insect and environmental interactions, and the like. A chemotype is not a different species or genus, nor is it a type of chemical; it is merely a chemical anomaly within the plant that occurs naturally."
"So unless you can control the weather and the aforementioned factors, I am suspect about your claims that you can "standardize" your oils by "Seed to Seal" without altering the chemical makeup of the oil artificially. I understand that some aspects can be controlled, but you cannot account for one crop having had more rain than another and have it not have a relative chemotype."
"I would like further clarification upon this subject because there are vast different therapeutic properties for different oils with chemotypes. For instance, Rosemary can be used for hair growth - this is true of the verbenone chemotype, but not 1,8 cineole or camphor chemotypes. This is particularly frustrating since Young Living does not share its GC/MS reports with the public."
I am rather frustrated and disappointed that they could not answer a simple question and seem to not even be all that educated in the science of essential oils, which is also a bit off-putting since they are one of the biggest essential oils companies in the world and like to claim that their oils are the most pure, the most therapeutic grade, and seed to seal.
Finally in August they replied….
"We recognize that pure essential oils will have natural variances in chemical makeup from batch to batch caused by many different factors including time of harvest, amount of sunlight, amount of water, geographical location of harvest, etc. However, our Seed to Seal® quality commitment ensures that every batch of oil contains the optimal levels of natural bio-active compounds. We verify the chemical constituents of each batch through testing before we begin selling the oil. From this information, we can assure you that the active constituents in each batch and bottle of essential oil meet our specifications and thus have the same therapeutic value."
"The key constituents for Basil, Rosemary, and Thyme given to you past provided the ranges for the levels of those constituents which were considered within our Seed to Seal specifications at that time. Due to a recent change in company policy, we are no longer able to provide ranges for the chemical constituents in our essential oils. This information is now regarded as proprietary as it discloses the constituents we deem most therapeutic in value, and therefore the information is considered trade secrets. Patents and trademarks do not adequately protect this information, as you cannot patent or trademark an oil."
So after close to 9 months, I still have no answers, and they seem to be stuck on seed to seal trumping chemotype considerations which occur naturally due to a variety of environmental effects. This is why companies need to provide GC/MS reports on their website or at the very least by request. This is not proprietary information. The "because we are awesome and we say so" argument does not hold up here at all. I am highly disappointed by their responses and lack of actual information beyond the company marketing lines.
One of my favorite aromatherapy bloggers: The English Aromatherapist wrote a recent post called OUCH! HOW NOT TO USE ESSENTIAL OILS and I, of course, was intrigued and inspired to write about the subject matter touching upon two controversial DIY "essential oil hacks" -- essential oil tampons and eye drops. Yes, you read that correctly. People put essential oils on their tampons and in their eyes!
Not all advice on the Internet is good advice and some of it can be downright dangerous and detrimental to your health -- even if it comes from your favorite essential oil company or their reps. Suffice it to say, professional aromatherapists and other industry professionals DO NOT advocate or recommend using essential oils on tampons or as eye drops for many safety reasons. We are not being killjoys, your safety is our concern. We love essential oils too and we do not want to see anyone get hurt by improper usage.
I am trained in French Aromatherapy, which promotes the safe use of essential oils and herbs internally, but there are many things to consider and essential oils should never be taken internally without using an excipient or some type of carrier oil or butter. People are being advised to soak tampons in undiluted essential oils, usually Tea Tree, to treat various ailments. This can be extremely dangerous and lead to chemical burns and scarring. Many essential oils are mucous membrane irritants and therefore should be avoided in sensitive areas like the genitals and eyes.
Vaginal pessaries and rectal suppositories can be useful for treating ailments affecting the vagina, rectum, and colon due to their near or direct contact with these parts. Pessaries can have antibacterial, antifungal, antiprotozoal, antiviral, labor-inducing and spermicidal agents, prostaglandins and steroidal properties. To use properly, individually the pessary or suppository should weigh about 3 grams with the essential oil content for each being no more than 4-6 drops for adults. You will ALWAYS need to use Cocoa butter, Coconut oil, or Sesame oil with your Essential Oils and powdered herbs for this route of internal application. Never, ever is it recommended to use undiluted essential oils vaginally or rectally. [French Aromatherapy Certification Program, The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies]
When it comes to using essential oils in or around the eyes, it is best to avoid practice -- and that includes making eyelash growth serums. I tested the typical eyelash growth serum out early in my essential oil experimentation days and avoid the practice all together. Typically, they call for blending castor oil with varying amounts of Rosemary, Cedarwood, and Lavender -- up to 15 drops of each oil plus some castor oil in a mascara tube. I used a couple drops each plus castor oil and no matter how careful you apply it, you will get it in your eyes and it will burn. It just is not worth the risk. I use Latisse and the method of application for this product is not to use a mascara wand and apply to the entire length of your eyelashes, but you get a delicate straight brush and apply one drop across the base of your eyelashes because that is where your eyelash growth comes from. I cannot imagine using essential oil eyedrops since I wear contact lenses and do not want to damage them, I have never intentionally gotten essential oils in my eyes. Renowned essential oil safety expert Robert Tisserand states that there is no evidence that essential oils will improve eye health and using essential oils in the eyes should be avoided.
As a professional aromatherapist, I love essential oils, a lot actually. My collection includes over 140 different oils and is continually growing as is my knowledgebase and research. I keep a database of every oil, its safety precautions and therapeutic applications for reference. Research should always come from reputable resources, not Pinterest boards or the advice of untrained essential oil enthusiasts. They may mean well, but your health is not worth the risk.
After writing my original blog posts on the subject of cats and essential oils, I still get a lot of questions and they continue to be some of my most popular posts to date. Some information has been or needs to be updated to provide more clarity on the subject matter. So I thought I would create a quick reference guide for those still looking to assuage their fears of using essential oils around their beloved cats. I did a lot of research including contacting my veterinarian as well as the University of Pennsylvania's Vet School for information.
I will say this much--I have a healthy 15 year old cat. He had an unrelated (and expensive) health scare last month and after a battery of blood tests, an MRI, and spinal tap, they concluded that he is very healthy for his age. That said, I use essential oils all the time. I don't diffuse as much as I used to, but I always make sure to not diffuse oils that could be potentially harmful to cats.
This summer I have been working on my Natural Skincare Formulation Diploma program through the School of Natural Skincare in the UK. It has been an amazing experience in learning more about all the other components of high end botanical skincare products. I already had a solid foundation in my understanding of essential oils for skincare through my aromatherapy certifications, and the additional education has been very enlightening.
Natural skincare provided my formal entrance into the world of aromatherapy. I started making basic skincare products two years ago--which is hard to believe--and really love crafting natural products using essential oils. I have expanded my original practice which was just a day cream, night cream, and undereye roller to include so many wonderful products, which I am working on putting up on my online store.
Suffice it to say, moving to all natural facial and skincare products has really changed my life. Take care of your skin, folks!
On the left, here I am at age 41 without makeup before incorporating natural skincare products into my life, and on the right, here I am at age 43, with no makeup after two years of using natural skincare products. I can't get over how bad my eyes used to look - puffy, red, dark circle, lines and whatnot. At some point last year, I even tried Botox, which didn't really make any noticeable difference. I wish I had photos in the same lighting situation, but I moved last year, so that changed and I also got a new phone.
My current facial care regimen includes:
I'm currently working on a facial/body beauty balm for glowing skin. I don't think that I would use it daily or maybe I would use it combined with the Ultra Restorative Body Lotion.
I love working with natural skincare products and it is one of my primary passions. I cannot stress the importance enough of taking care of your skin, especially with the changes that come with aging. I used to be a "I just wash my face with water" girl and never moisturized... and as you can see in the photos above, what a difference it has made!
Check out my store for more natural skincare and aromatherapy products
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.