There is a lot of internet chatter about essential oils versus fragrance oils as of late. I'm a certified aromatherapist and I primarily work with essential oils, but on occasion I do use fragrance oils. I use them sparingly and always in combination with essential oils because fragrance oils on their own have no therapeutic benefits. Primarily, I use them in soaps, bubble bath, and perfumes. So, what's the difference between essential oils and fragrance oils?
Essential oils are organic compounds extracted from plants that have therapeutic properties. They can be found in the plant’s flowers, stems, leaves, roots, grass, bark, resin, or fruit. The chemistry is extremely complex and may consist of hundreds of different and unique chemical compounds that influence the therapeutic benefits of each oil or blend.
Fragrance oils are a combination of natural and synthetic produced in a lab to mimic different aromas as some plants do not produce essential oil extracts even though they may be fragrant by nature. It is important if you do use fragrance oils to consider the purpose and be sure that the fragrance oils that you are using are phthalate free. Phthalates are industrial chemicals that are used as solvents in cosmetics and other products. They can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system in animals as well as humans. Read more about the impact of Phthalates on human health with links to other research on the CDC's website.
Both essential oils and fragrance oils are generally safe for the skin -- though it is always recommended to research possible skin sensitivities such as photosensitivity (risk of adverse reaction of some essential oils combined with sun exposure or UV rays from a tanning bed) with essential oils and always adhere to proper dilution ratios. There are also specific calculators available to measure how much fragrance oil to use by volume.
The ingredients of fragrance oils (aromatic chemicals, essential oils, and essential oil chemical components) are all tested and have usage rates outlined by IFRA (International Fragrance Association). Aromatic chemicals are comprised of synthetic and natural ingredients that are produced through distillation, synthesis, and extraction. They may even have the same chemical compounds found in nature. An essential oil compound may be an isolated aromatic chemical such as limonene.
Each fragrance oil ingredient is tested by the RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials). They test for irritation, solvency, absorption, flash point, specific gravity, flammability as well for carcinogens and other factors that may deem them unsafe for use. Fragrance oil suppliers should follow IFRA’s guidelines and use only RIFM approved ingredients in their fragrance oils. That said, not all manufacturers and suppliers may adhere to these stringent guidelines in the same manner that some suppliers boast to sell 100% pure essential oils, but sell diluted, adulterated, or synthetic substances and pass them off as 100% pure essential oils.
Properly tested fragrance oils can be perfectly safe for the skin while others may be specifically for use in things like potpourri or candles. Now, the question is, do I use or avoid fragrance oils? That is up to the individual. As I mentioned earlier, I use them sparingly in certain formulations. I particularly like to use them in place of skin sensitizing essential oils such as cinnamon bark and clove. I love their aroma, but they are too caustic for the skin. If you are looking for 100% all natural products then you probably want to avoid using fragrance oils altogether.
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
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.
It's no secret that there is a lot of strife between the professional aromatherapy community and MLM Essential Oil Distributors and Wellness Advocates. There are numerous reasons for it, but the primary ones seem to come down to education and misinformation about essential oils and the aromatherapy practice. I remain in the middle of the road on this argument. I think MLM essential oil companies have their place in the aromatherapy world, but I will always and continue to advocate for education and safety first. I have many friends and colleagues on both sides of the argument.
A lot of people have serious and well-founded misgivings when it comes to Multi-Level Marketing companies (MLM's) at large. I'm sure you have heard them called scams or pyramid schemes, which is an entirely different issue that I am not going to address in this blog post. This post will also refrain from addressing any particular controversial issues about the MLM companies at hand as that is not the point of this post.
Let's start with my personal back story. I started using store bought essential oils in 2011 for mood support when I was dealing with anxiety and depression. I will admit, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing, I had a heat diffuser and would occasionally put them in my bath water or place a few drops of lavender on a tissue under my pillow. I got away from them for a time, but came back to the essential oil world in 2016 when I attended an essential oil and yoga workshop at a local yoga studio. This was my first introduction to Young Living. From what I learned I was intrigued, until I looked at their website and found the starter kit and oils to be extremely expensive in comparison to the store bought ones I purchased in the past. I was unemployed at the time so I put that starter kit on hold.
In the meantime, I was having some skin issues on my face and around my eyes, and started tinkering around with making my own skin care products since nothing I purchased from high-end to drug store brands ever seemed to work for me. Within a few weeks my skin improved vastly and I was hooked on essential oils. Fast forward about six months and add in a new job - I finally decided to invest in a starter kit through Young Living.
I do in fact like their oils even though they are quite expensive. I was hooked up with a knowledgeable community that shared so much information and really got me comfortable using my oils for more than just skin care. Within a couple months, I was encouraged to start selling oils, and I thought "what the heck and gave it a try." Life got in the way shortly thereafter and I put it on hold for a few months and then came back to it. In the end, it just wasn't the right fit for me.
I have always had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to learn more about aromatherapy and essential oils. Usually the recommendations were to read books by authors associated with Young Living, not that there is anything wrong with that per se, but it didn't give me the science that I was looking for and the foundational basis for understanding aromatherapy practices.
By December 2017, I decided that I wanted to seek out becoming a certified aromatherapist and was referred to the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies and enrolled in their dual certification program in the Foundations of Aromatherapy and French Aromatherapy. I received my Level One certification in February 2018 and am in the process of finishing my final paper for the French Aromatherapy certification. In addition, I have completed and passed the Essential Oils Safety Masterclass through the Tisserand Institute and the Aromatherapy Teaching Training Program through the Aromahead Institute. I am currently working on certifications in Natural Skin Care Formulation through the School of Natural Skin Care and am working on my Level Two certification program through the New York Institute of Aromatic Studies.
As I started learning more about the science behind essential oils, different modalities of practice, and essential oils safety through my certifications and connections within the professional aromatherapy community, I started to see a lot of negative things about MLM essential oil companies focusing on the lack of experience by some of the distributors and wellness advocates in addition to marketing misinformation about essential oil safety and practice. There are a lot of myths out there perpetuated by MLM companies that are untrue or at best partial truths. I don't think that this is done with malicious intent by any means, but on some base level a lot of the myths and practices seems to be for the sole purpose of selling and using more product.
Some MLM essential oil companies espouse being based in "French Aromatherapy," which is true to some extent though cooking with essential oils and putting undiluted essential oils in water without an excipient, are in fact, not practiced within the purview of French Aromatherapy as I discovered in my certification program. I recently wrote a blog post on this subject clearing up myths from fact about the internal use of essential oils. Is any of this dangerous? Not really, but you probably aren't getting any benefits from cooking with essential oils because the heat will evaporate any therapeutic benefit the same way it burns off alcohol when it is used in cooking. It tastes good, but you aren't going to get drunk from bourbon chicken. Most importantly, oil and water don't mix, so when using oils in a hydrous liquid you always need to use some sort of excipient or dispersant so that the essential oil actually blends with the water otherwise it just floats on the surface. I also wrote about ingesting essential oils.
Another problem that comes from the MLM model is overusing oils especially in rollers. It is pretty simple, the more oil you use, the more oil you buy. Once you learn proper blending ratios and dosages for each purpose, you will learn that sometimes "more oil is just more oil" and it does not actually increase the benefit of the product by using more. For instance, your rollers should probably have under 20 drops of essential oils MAX. Undiluted or "neat" application can be beneficial and used for targeted or acute circumstances, but doing this daily for a prolonged period of time has a high risk of adverse reactions or sensitization. Given that these high quality oils are so pure, why would you have to use more of them that the recommended safe doses to get a desired effect?
All essential oils regardless of their purity will oxidize due to heat, light, and oxygen exposure. It is also pertinent to know that most carrier oils are good for 1-2 years which will change the shelf life of any products that you make. While there are many unscrupulous essential oils companies out there that sell adulterated or low quality oils, there are many other companies that sell high quality, pure, unadulterated essential oils.
But, it's not all bad, I do acknowledge that for those who sell through MLM companies that it can be a life-changing and enriching experience and I think that is truly great. However, I find that marketing the business aspect with "all you need is a starter kit to start your business" is a bit worrisome. Knowledge, experience, and training are essential in any business and it is easy to get bogged down by conflicting information passed down through Facebook groups, Pinterest recipes, and general Google searches. I don't think that everyone has the time or financial resources to enroll and complete aromatherapy certification programs, but there are many aromatherapists and industry professionals who will work with and educate clients on essential oil usage for free or an affordable fee.
As I mentioned earlier, I remain in the middle of the road on this argument and I am not trying to be a killjoy. I think MLM essential oil companies have their place in the aromatherapy world, but I will always and continue to advocate education and safety first. I don't begrudge my experience with selling for MLM's as it provided a valuable experience in laying the foundation work in my professional aromatherapy practice. My goal is always to provide the most accurate information and to disseminate factual information from trusted sources with many years of experience. Education is extremely important to me and a journey and I am always willing to share information along the way.
I would like to personally thank Robert Tisserand, Jade Shutes, Andrea Butje, Amy Galper, Cathy Skipper, Joy Musacchio, and Cynthia Brownley who's courses, webinars, and workshops have provided an invaluable experience to me as an aromatherapist.
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.
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.