As the recent news regarding the safety of commercial sunscreen hit the global news outlets yesterday, I did some research into it and as a skin care formulator and product safety advocate I found that there are numerous risks in making your own DIY sunscreens. I experimented with it last summer. It seems simple enough to do, but there are other risks involved in the process. I spoke with my peers at the School of Natural Skincare and The Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild and they all unilaterally stated do not make DIY sunscreens. There are tons of recipes on the web, but here is what you need to know about the risks of DIY sunscreens and how to buy commercial mineral-based sunscreens.
The study in question Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients A Randomized Clinical Trial shows that many chemicals contained in sunscreens penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream very quickly. You might wonder how the FDA could approve such chemicals. Initially, sunscreens were developed to be used for short periods of time on vacation or at the beach and not meant for daily use. The problem is that many of the chemicals even when used short term enter the blood stream and can be hormonal disrupters and can cause other health issues
These are the ingredients to avoid in commercial sunscreens:
It is not all bad news though, there are plenty of commercial mineral-based sunscreens that are safe for your whole family. I reviewed the ingredients for the sunscreens listed below and they do not contain the aforementioned dangerous chemicals. They can be bought on Amazon, Whole Foods or any type of organic market.
But What About DIY Sunscreen?
Now you may be tempted to make your own DIY sunscreen. There are some natural ingredients that have are purported to have a natural SPF. DIY sunscreens might help to prevent sunburn, but they do not have the ingredients that block UV rays and reduce skin cancer risks and they are not waterproof.
Sunscreens have physical and chemical UV filters, unfortunately, many of those chemical UV filters are on the list above. Those can be avoided by using sunscreen with natural mineral UV filters like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. To simplify, chemical UV filters penetrate the skin to protect it from UV rays, while mineral UV filters sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays away from it.
While Zinc Oxide is commercially available, it is hard to work with and clumps together making its coverage uneven so UV rays can still penetrate the skin leading to skin cancer risks. To properly blend, a sunscreen formulation with zinc oxide you would need professional cosmetic equipment like a homogenizer, which can cost upwards of $1,000 or more because a normal stick blender won't suffice. That said, the information that is passed around about the SPF of carrier oils is not conclusive enough to warrant them to be effective sunscreens.
Read DIY sunscreen: why you should NOT make your own sunscreen by the School of Natural Skincare for a more in depth analysis on how sunscreens work and why they do not recommend making your own DIY sunscreen.
All sunscreens have to be rigorously lab tested due to FDA regulations in order to determine SPF. This is quite cost prohibitive costing upwards of $5,000 or more.
My advice is to avoid products with the list of dangerous chemicals above and to use natural mineral based sunscreen instead of attempting to make you own DIY sunscreen.
A few things to look for when choosing a brand or brands of essential oils: GC/MS reports, ethical harvesting practices, information provided on the website, and pricing.
GC/MS is short for Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry. Gas chromatography tests the volatility of the sample, meaning how fast or slow it is to evaporate, and Mass Spectrometry identities the type and amounts of chemicals present in the sample. GC/MS reports will vary from batch to batch of essential oil as the chemical makeup can have variations due to weather conditions, insect activity, soil, and a variety of other factors. This does not mean that the oil is bad, per se, but there is a therapeutic range for each chemical in an essential oil. For example, if the linalool present in Lavender is supposed to be between 25-50% and it comes back at 18% then the GC/MS indicates an issue with the amount of the chemical present and its potency may be affected. If it comes back too high at 60%, it might indicate that the oil has been adulterated. Linalool can be isolated naturally or produced synthetically and added to the batch. These reports will list the chemical components of each batch of an essential oil and their percentage specific to that batch. GC/MS reports do not produce proprietary or trademarked information.
The video below by Scott A. Johnson explains in depth using Lemon, Lavender, and Peppermint essential oils from six different companies and compares the results of each GC/MS test result.
The image below is a sample GC/MS report from StillPoint Aromatics. I like the organization of their reports better than some other websites because they list the type of chemical component i.e. Monoterpenes and then the individual chemicals by amount present. It is fascinating to research the chemical components because they are directly responsible for the therapeutic actions of the essential oil beyond the aroma.
Side note: I am a professional web content creator and manager by day, so I am a stickler for accurate and compelling website content across the board.
When I am researching essential oils, the company websites and the information they provide are one of my top priorities, even if they don't include GC/MS reports, the information they provide needs to be accurate and specific. They should be able to tell you the scientific name of the oil as to prevent confusion because common names have numerous variations in some cases or their are different species of the same oil like Lavender and Frankincense.
Here are four different company product profiles on Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) that give an excellent amount of information on Frankincense.
Now lets compare them to other companies lacking in complete or accurate information.
This is one of the ways I ascertain which companies where I will purchase my essential oils. Occasionally, I have to deviate off the beaten path if I want to purchase something that is not widely available at multiple companies.
In the case of critically endangered oils like Agarwood, Palo Santo, Rosewood, Spikenard, Sandalwood, and Royal Hawaiian Sandalwood and others, the importance of ethical and sustainable harvesting cannot be under-emphasized. If a company sells them without noting that they are ethically and sustainably harvested then it is best to avoid them. 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 extinction. This will also drive market prices through the roof. Today, a 5 ml bottle of Sandalwood can run upwards of $100 and Agarwood runs closer to $200 for a 5 ml bottle. The others remain reasonably priced considering their scarcity. Read more about this issue here.
Compare the price of the oil with the same oil on multiple websites to see what the average cost should be. If you are buying a bottle of rose oil for $20, it probably is not a pure rose oil because it takes 22 pounds of rose petals to make one 5 ml bottle of oil, which is why it is one of the most expensive oils on the market. The average costs for a 5 ml bottle of Rose Essential Oil will run anywhere between $150-$200, with the exception of Rose Absolute, which is solvent extracted, and usually costs $50-$75 for a 5 ml bottle. Higher price does not equate to higher quality as some things are just really expensive to produce.
The lesson in all of this is that it is nearly impossible to determine quality and purity of essential oils and much of what you see is nothing more than clever marketing language. It is best to avoid superlatives and definitives i.e. "the best", "the only", "the most", etc. These tips will help you out when researching where to buy your essential oils.
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.
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.
In February 2018, I received my Level One Aromatherapy Certification from the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies. My passion for working primarily with essential oils began in 2011 when I started dabbling with using them for anxiety, stress, and depression. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was doing and that there were drastic differences in the quality of essential oils depending on the brand. I got away from them for a little while and my interest was renewed after taking an Aromatherapy and Yoga workshop at a local yoga studio. The instructor introduced the class to the Young Living brand and we made a few items to take home with us. Thus my journey began.
I started researching essential oils and learned how to make basic skin care products. At the time, I was having a hard time with my skin care regimen and my skin looked unhealthy. Much to my surprise, my skin issues resolved within a matter of months. I purchased a selection of essential oils from Young Living and became a member. I didn't really know much about MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) companies at the time. While I eventually got away from the Young Living experience for personal reasons, I learned so much that got my started on this journey.
Due to the lack of scientific information, misinformation, and proper aromatherapy practices, I decided to become a certified aromatherapist. The New York Institute came highly recommended and I enrolled in their dual program in the Foundations of Aromatherapy and French Aromatherapy certification programs. I'm still working on my final paper for the French Aromatherapy certification after changing my focus a couple of times. For both programs, I had to conduct several case studies with friends and clients, which really helped me to hone in on my practice and apply what I had learned through my studies.
I had been working with my business coach Carlee Myers of Work You Love Now and in April I decided to start my own aromatherapy business. We worked through all of the beginning stages of the process, setting up an LLC, getting business accounts, service and product development. We continue to work together to grow my business.
My thirst for knowledge was increasing exponentially and I took on several other programs, classes, and workshops. I completed programs in teacher training, natural skin care formulation, essential oils safety, incense crafting, soapmaking, and an introductory course in perfuming. I am also working on completing my Level Two Aromatherapy Certification program and an Herbalism Immersion Program.
I am a creative person by nature--I hold a BFA in Art History and Studio Arts from Moore College of Art & Design. My background in the arts has been invaluable as it has helped me to create my visual branding and product photography for my business.
I started expanding my product offerings beyond the store on my website to include Etsy and Amazon Handmade and my sales have been increasing exponentially. I have also embarked upon selling my products in person at local craft fairs in the Philadelphia area.
I am excited for what 2019 will mean for my business as it continues to grow. I have a few vending spots at upcoming craft fairs in February under my belt.
So what's the deal with ingesting essential oils? Is it safe? A friend linked me to a post in Eden's Gardens Facebook page about this topic and I thought to share my response on the subject matter and perhaps expound upon it further. I am a certified aromatherapist and have completed my coursework in French Aromatherapy. I also completed the Essential Oil Safety Masterclass through the Tisserand Institute and we covered safety concerns with ingestion as well.
Outside of French Aromatherapy, which includes ingestion, inhalation, and dermal application of essential oils and herbs, the practice of ingesting essential oils is fraught with many differing opinions within the aromatherapy field and many are adamantly against it. In France, some essential oils for ingestion are only available by prescription only.
That said, my advice is that you should not ingest essential oils without knowing the particular safety precautions and contraindications for each oil as some like Cinnamon Bark can interact with diabetes medication and others should not be used if you are on anticoagulant medication. It is also crucial to know the daily maximum doses for each oil as some are fine to ingest, but only in very small doses. There are some oils that should never be ingested as well. In addition, the dosage should be based on body weight while also factoring age and any internal health conditions that may be present. Everyone is different, and just arbitrarily taking X drops of a combination of oils in a capsule or water (see below for more information on water and oils in particular) because someone shared a recipe that they got from somewhere is not advised.
The primary safety concern with ingestion is that you could have an internal reaction without knowing whereas in dermal application you can tell if your skin becomes irritated or inflamed. Most reactions to internal use of essential oils will probably involve nausea and vomiting, but some can have neurotoxic or hepatotoxic effects, which may be harder to ascertain.
As a matter of information sharing when it comes to interactions with prescription medication is that oils high in Citral, Methyl salicylate, and alpha-Bisabolol and Chamazulene provide the highest risk factors. This includes, for example:
The main problem I see coming from people ingesting essential oils is that a lot of people do not know the proper methodology in using excipients* to disperse the oils because essential oils by themselves are not water soluble. For instance, putting a couple drops of lemon oil in your water is pointless because it is just going to float at the top of the surface and never disperse fully throughout the water. It doesn't necessarily pose a safety concern though it could burn your throat. The same thing goes for tea, in which case, it is recommended to first blend the oils with honey or syrup and then add it to the tea. There are many substances that work as dispersants for essential oils. I have a product called Solubol which works well for this. The French also use neutral tablets moreso than gel capsules, but unfortunately the tablets aren't available in the US. Though, you could use the homeopathic blank tablets instead.
*Excipients include: solubol, honey, alcohol, gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, neutral tablets, sugar cube, honey, fatty oil capsules, charcoal, tincture/s, bread, rice flour capsules, syrups, dried powdered herb capsules.
[Source: The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, French Aromatherapy Certification Course]
I have personally experimented with making recipes suited for ingestion, but I have to tell you, some oils taste horrible, I made some herbal pastilles and geranium tastes quite awful. Another method, I have been experimenting with is making herbal tinctures which can be used with oils since the tinctures are made in vodka, which acts as a dispersant.
There are many things to take into consideration when considering ingesting essential oils, and I do not, officially, advise against it. BUT, I cannot express this enough that you really need to know and do the following:
To that end, I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young's Essential Oil Safety book for reference.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.