Do you know what the average shelf life of a water-based product with essential oils is before it starts "going bad?" Even if you refrigerate it? THREE DAYS! That is, if you do not use a preservative! I started using Benzylalcohol-DHA which Making Cosmetics describes as "a broad-spectrum preservative blend consisting of benzylalcohol (aromatic alcohol) (87%), dehydroacetic acid (8%) & water (5%) and is an effective alternative to parabens. It is soluble in water, alcohols & glycols." This is the natural preservative that I chose to use in all of my water-based products. That includes things like hydrosols, aloe vera, and other water-based extracts.
I knew you needed to use preservatives in hydrous products, but I didn't know how fast things start to degrade without it and how prone they become to microbial growth. You can also add antioxidants like Vitamin E Oil and Rosemary Antioxidant (which is a plant extract and not an essential oil) to properly ensure your products shelf life, but they do not act as preservatives on their own. I used to make my own foaming hand soap with a simple recipe using distilled water, castile soap, and essential oils -- without any preservatives. Guess what, that all natural soap I made would be floating with microbial growth in a matter of days!
There are preservative calculators that can assist you in figuring out the correct weight to add to your finished products. I like the one from HumbleBee & Me, but you need to keep in mind that it is basing the weight in grams, which is the standard unit of measurement for making topical cosmetic applications. There are also conversion tools available to figure out the total weight in grams if you are using ounces. One ounce roughly equals 28.3495 grams. Most kitchen or lab scales can be adjusted to switch from ounces to grams as well.
There are many FDA regulations in place when it comes to legally selling hydrous products -- those being products that contain any type of water-based ingredient. I started using Sagescript Institute, LLC in Colorado to test my products. Sagescript states, "The FDA does not require any microbiology testing but it is a responsible thing to do to protect your formula and your customer. The FDA does say that a cosmetic should not be adulterated which is interpreted as meaning it should not contain harmful bacteria or fungus." All this means is that if you are making and selling products, you are liable for them. Pro tip: It is also a good idea to get yourself some business and personal liability insurance. The Indie Business Network and The Handcrafter's Soap and Cosmetics Guild offer discounts as a membership benefit.
Each product will cost between $28 and $32 for microbial testing. You package and label your samples and mail them to the lab, they test them, and then send you the report. The whole process can take about 2-3 weeks. It is recommended that even if you are using the same base ingredients, but make a slight variation to the coloring, essential oils, or fragrance oils that you should also have those products tested too -- even though they will most likely yield the same results as the base products that were originally tested.
Preservatives exist for a reason and the natural ones will conform to your personal or philosophical standards that you may adhere to in your product creation process. There are numerous natural preservatives available on the market in the US, UK, and Europe. When in doubt, if it has any water or water-based products in it, use a preservative!
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.
The article Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers came across my newsfeed this morning. To sum it up, the aforementioned study found that patients who received complementary (alternative) medicine were more likely to refuse other conventional cancer treatment. For this reason, they had a 2-fold greater death risk than those not receiving complementary medicine. Which, as a person in the alternative medicine field, I find very concerning.
Complementary alternative medicine and practices are just that, complementary. They should happen in tandem with tradition medical approaches and not replace them fully -- this is especially pertinent when it comes to cancer care. These practices can include aromatherapy, homeopathy, herbalism, vitamins, yoga, diets, meditation, massage, etc. It should be noted that with cancer, there can be interactions between herbal and aromatic preparations with chemotherapy, surgeries, and the medications that a patient may be taking. It is always recommended to clear any alternative therapies with the oncology team first to avoid any complications.
I see so many people posting on aromatherapy Facebook groups things like "my friend has cancer, I want to make her something, what should I make her?" This is very concerning for a number of reasons. There is the misconception that since plants are natural most of them are safe. While most are, there are definite safety considerations to take into account even for completely healthy people. This is especially true when using essential oils since they are so potent. Also, taking advice on the Internet from well meaning friends and acquaintances who are not professionally trained in safety especially as it pertains to herbs and essential oils can be downright dangerous. For instance, peppermint, ginger, and spearmint are great for nausea, but it might be better to use an aromatic inhaler or diffuser than to apply them topically or to use them internally. Special care also may need to be taken when considering a dosage as you may only need a few drops of essential oils in an inhaler.
Complementary alternative medicine can be used to improve the physical and emotional state of someone dealing with cancer, but again, it should not replace conventional cancer treatment and always should be done first by consulting the oncology team. It can be effective in treating things like nausea, pain, depression, and anxiety associated with cancer and cancer treatments. Using them for palliative and end of life care is a different story as the treatment(s) are used to provide comfort to the terminal patient as usually conventional cancer treatments are no longer in use by that point outside of pain management and other palliative care measures. The fact that cancer patient that who alternative medicine are more likely to refuse conventional treatment puts the onus on those of us in the field to be clear about the limitations of alternative medicine.
What is French Aromatherapy?
There is a popular misconception that the practice of French Aromatherapy justifies ingesting essential oils on a regular basis. The practice is more nuanced than that and the term "ingestion" should be replaced with "internal application" as this includes methods of application such as rectal suppositories and vaginal pessaries as well. There is much to be understood about the complexity of French Aromatherapy as the internal application of essential oils and herbal preparations. This is the only difference between other valid schools of thought often referred to as British and German or Anglo-Saxon Aromatherapy which do not advocate internal application of essential oils.
[Side note: I have completed my coursework and exams for my French Aromatherapy certification through the New York School of Aromatic Studies and am in the process of finishing my case studies for the final paper that I am writing on stress and aromatic preparations.]
French Aromatherapy uses the following methods of essential oil application
Internal application, via the oral route, of essential oils involves more than just putting a couple drops of lemon oil in your water or tea or seasoning foods with essential oils as a replacement for fresh or dried herbs and spices.
There are several methods of internal applications using proper excipients and dispersing agents for each method because as we know - oil and water do not mix. Excipients include: solubol or disper, honey, alcohol, gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, herbal pastilles, neutral tablets (only available in Europe, but homeopathic blank tablets might be a comparable replacement,) sugar cubes, honey, fatty oil capsules, charcoal, tinctures, bread, rice flour capsules, syrups, dried powdered herb capsules. [New York Institute of Aromatic Studies] When you add essential oils to your water, they will just float on the surface and when you drink from your glass you in essence will be ingesting undiluted essential oils. This may not cause any noticeable discomfort or issues, but can cause internal damage over time.
French Aromatherapy does not advocate putting drops of essential oil in your water or tea without using one of the aforementioned excipients, nor does it advocate cooking with essential oils - these are both common misconceptions about the practice of using essential oils internally. Cooking with essential oils can be a costly endeavor and much of the therapeutic value will evaporate with heat - especially the heat required to cook or bake any type of food dish.
While French Aromatherapy advocates using essential oils internally this is not usually intended for frequent or daily use for long periods of time and there is much emphasis on safety considerations for ingesting essential oils — regardless of purity or quality. There are different doses and duration of use specific to acute or chronic conditions -- this applies to both adults and children.
Why Use Essential Oils Orally?
Oral use of essential oils is primarily used for "digestive disorders, infectious diseases, immune support, candida infections, liver detox/cleanse, liver support, preventative to tropical diseases, colds, coughs, flu, sinusitis, oral candida, periodontal disease, mouth ulcers, terrain support, urinary tract infections, insomnia, some acute nervous states: anxiety, etc." [New York Institute of Aromatic Studies]
As for sublingual use, which means placing one drop of oil under the tongue, this can help with the rapid onset of therapeutic action as the absorption is 3-10 times greater than the traditional oral route, but is often short acting. Sublingual use can be self-administered, but it can be challenging to get just one drop - I suggest using a pipette or a syringe so that you do not accidentally use more than one drop.
Internal Application Essential Oil Safety
There are numerous safety considerations to take into account when using essential oils internally - just because they are GRAS or 100% pure does not mean that they do not come without any contraindications or safety precautions.
Recommended Oral Dosages & Duration
For Adults, the typical recommended oral dosage is 1-3 drops up to 2-3 times a day. The maximum daily dose is 12 drops per day depending on age, general health, medications, purposes, and condition.
For Children, the oral route is used when they are over 7 years old. Some exceptions apply such as cough syrup for children who are 5 or 6 years old. Otherwise, rectal suppositories are used to treat infants and children under 7 years old.
For acute conditions: Oral dosage should be used for up to 21 days total starting with a high dosage for 1-4 days and then reduce to lower dosages for the subsequent days.
For chronic conditions: Essential oils should be used orally only 21 days out of the month, then go a week without oral use. 1-2 drops 3 times a day can be used for an extended period of time, but it is recommended to have blood work done including liver panels when you are taking essential oils internally for over 1 year.
[New York Institute of Aromatic Studies]
The Truth About Internal Use of Essential Oils
While I am trained in French Aromatherapy, I do not advocate using essential oils internally beyond the aforementioned dosages and duration. There is a lot of misinformation on the web and you have probably come across it on websites, blogs, Facebook groups, and from well-meaning friends who have been inadvertently passing along such misinformation. Internal use of essentials oils is a highly controversial topic among the aromatherapy community - many advocate to never take essential oils internally, while others, like myself, are generally okay with it as long as you know what you are doing and follow the safety guidelines that I included above.
"Neat"application of essential oils simply means applying an oil or blend without using a carrier oil. Typically, this should only be used in acute situations or for short periods of time, but we are seeing more and more that people are applying neat essential oils or blends on a daily basis for a variety of reasons. Many people just pop a roller top on their essential oil bottle and call it a day. But, is it safe?
This is one of those controversial topics within the aromatherapy industry underscored by many safety concerns and the risk of adverse reactions. Personally, I rarely do this save for special circumstances such as blemish spot treatments, minor skin inflammations or small cuts, and burns. Though there are other circumstances when you may desire to apply an oil or blend undiluted -- most aromatherapists and industry experts seem to agree that this should not be the go-to application method for essential oils due to their potency and the risk of adverse reaction by those who are unaware of any known safety issues with a particular oil. Undiluted application should only use 1-2 drops per application in small targeted areas. Robert Tisserand specifically states to never apply essential oils undiluted on the skin. Read more about How to Use Essential Oils Safely and also New Survey Reveals Dangers of Not Diluting Essential Oils
Some people who have sensitive skin or other skin issues should not apply undiluted essential oils to their skin as they may be more prone to having a reaction. Others may never have a reaction to undiluted application. I prefer to err on the side of caution.
There is a reason that the vast majority of essential oils based recipes use some type of carrier oil or blend of oils, butters, waxes, etc. to administer the topical application of essential oils. They are fat soluble and disperse evenly when diluted properly. The fatty oils make oils that are potential dermal irritants or sensitizers safer to use -- this is not to say that you will never have a reaction, but it minimizes the risk. You also need to know proper blending and dilution ratios as using a dermal sensitizer like Lemongrass even with a carrier oil can still cause a dermal reaction.
I was in the beginning process of writing this blog post when a compelling article came across my Twitter feed on this very subject.
We all love essential oils, right? and use them in various ways every day. As essential oils have grown in popularity to the point where you can even purchase them in drugstores, the reports of adverse reactions have gone up in tandem. It is not that essential oils are inherently unsafe, but there are safety precautions for every essential oil and a potential risk for adverse reactions -- even from something as innocuous as Lavender.
There is a popular myth that if someone has a dermal reaction to an essential oil or blend that their body is just "detoxing" and that the reaction is the bodies way of saying that "you need this oil" or to continue using the oil or blend even if it is causing dermal irritation or sensitization. This information gets passed down a lot on websites, blogs, YouTube, and in essential oil related Facebook groups and it is categorical misinformation -- regardless of the purity of the oils that you are using. Purity does not equate to safety. Adverse reactions don't only happen when using cheap, adulterated oils, and this is an unfortunate fact. I am not intending to scare anyone, but you should be aware of essential oil safety before using oils yourself or making products or recommendations to family and friends.
If you have an adverse reaction to an oil - you may never be able to use that oil again for years or for the rest of your life. There are several factors that can lead to such reactions: incorrect dosing, frequency of use, longevity of use, type of application (especially "neat" undiluted applications), and your own personal bodily constituency. If you or someone you know has an adverse reaction, it is recommended to stop using the oil and seek medical attention. Not everyone will have skin reactions and most might be very minor.
Types of Skin Reactions
My recommendation for burgeoning aromatherapists and essential oil distributors is to research and educate yourself on essential oils in general and their safety precautions -- and most importantly to do so through reputable resources because anyone can publish a blog or post to a forum or Facebook group inaccurate information. Many aromatherapy schools have free online courses about essential oil basics as well as advanced certification courses.
Recommended reading and resources:
The simple answer is YES... even if a company claims they won't due to their purity, BUT, here is what you need to know...
Essential oils shouldn't go rancid, unless they are mixed with carrier oils or other synthetic or adulterated substances. However, they can oxidize. Three things come into play with oxidation: light, heat, and oxygen.
Oxidation is a process in which a chemical substance changes due to heat, light, and oxygen. What happens is that it is going to change or degrade the composition of the oil. Citrus oils are high in d-limonene, what will happen is that after the bottle is open, it will begin to oxidize over time meaning that the d-limonene levels will go down. You may not notice this as it will smell the same, but the therapeutics can decrease, and the risk for a dermal reaction may occur. Citrus oils can become cloudy if oxidized.
Some oils, especially citrus oils should actually be stored in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation to protect them from heat exposure.
Most essential oils come in dark amber or blue bottles, which helps to protect them from light, but once we use them in homemade products they will be exposed to light and oxidation can occur. Most oils last between 2-3 years, some more, some less.
When you are using your oils and you have oxygen in the bottles is that you can transfer them to smaller bottles. You can also date the bottles with the month and year of when you opened the bottle. Unopened bottles will be fine as long as they are stored properly.
When it comes to light exposure, you want to avoid direct contact with sunlight. May of us keep our oils on display, but there are things that can be done to avoid sun exposure. I keep my oils in a case that has foam enclosures in which the oils sit.
If your oils become oxidized, it is recommended to not diffuse them or use them dermally, but you can use them in your cleaning products without any issues.
The oils most prone to oxidation are: Angelica Root, Bergamot Mint, Cannabis, Cilantro, Elemi, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Manuka, Melissa, Neroli, Orange (all types), Palo Santo, Rhododendron, Taget, Tangerine, and Yuzu. [Source: The Tisserand Institute]
What is a chemotype?
Chemotypes are variances of the chemical composition of certain essential oils extracted from one botanical species yet they vary in chemical compositions. They are not different species of the oil. Chemotypes occur when a plant produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of many environmental factors such as light, soil, temperature, moisture, climatic influence, altitude, insect activity, and geographic area.
Plants with different chemotypes: Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Hyssop, and Niaouli. I will mostly be talking about Rosemary and Thyme for this blog post.
The three main chemotypes of Rosemary are camphor, cineole, and verbenone. Each has its own distinct aroma and therapeutic applications and safety.
Thyme has five chemotypes: linalool, gerianol, borneol, thymol, and thujanol-4. Each has its own distinct aroma and therapeutic applications and safety.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.