Gen Y is by far the most health, environmentally and economically conscious generations to date. As a generation raised on Dystopian novels, magic powers, and the rise of radical self-love it is little surprise that the collective attitude to holistic health and self worth have changed too. Recently, I received the greatest invitation by Brisbane babe Holly Walsh (at www.holwa.com.au who blogs about all things good: vibes, energy and beauty) to attend a social meet with other Brisbane boss babes to talk essential oils; something Holly has become quite an aficionado with. Much like our mothers would hold tupperware and linen parties, our generation is instead getting its social fix by heading to trendy hip cafes in the middle of Brisbane to learn more about aromatherapy and how it can help heal.
Personally, I am a big fan of essential oils; specifically I am a fan of anything that smells delightful. An avid collector of candles, incense and soy wax melts means my house is a collective hub of gadgets, candles, various types of fire lights and then some – followed by a mirage of smells that constantly changes throughout the day, apart from a faint, and ever lingering hint of Sandlewood (it is a personal favourite). One of my biggest gripes with essential oils is their chemical compounding. Not to be “an oil snob” but I hardly feel any product called an essential oil should fit many uses, and this should include as a consumable product. Now that isn’t to say I sit around swigging from a Jasmine roller bottle or frequently add Patchuli into my beverages or that I want to, but the point of oil therapy is to create a holistic, personal collective to better assist with health and well being – having one you can only put into a burner seems a little obsolete in my books. This was a gripe I intended to ask the oil experts at this Brisbane meet.
The oil party was in full swing with some oil-converts leading the question charge and the incredibly knowledgeable Peta, our Wellness Educator from doTerra- the showcase oil company for the evening, was willing and able to answer all quick fire questions like nobody’s business and before I could ask about its eatable qualities, she, and some of the other tried and tested converts assured me you totally could.
I was already sold.
doTerra is an little American company who back in 2008 spread some wings and took a foot hold in the feel-better industry. doTerra founders were keen advocates of aromatherapy and hoped to create a better, more fulfilling product for families across the globe that could better their rivals and really bring a new and unique experience to the complimentary medicine market. The main issue, was there was little to no benchmark for grade, consumption or creation testing of essential oils at that stage (which makes it pretty hard to become the best when there are no standards to beat). So being the over achievers that they are, the doTerra founders created one of the quality system framework now used to measure the quality of essential oils called the ‘Certified Therapeutic Grade’. For those who know me well, quality assurance and management is my jam – I love a good audit and any framework built after identifying weak parts in policy integrity just get me all excited; so before I even knew anything about their products I was already in deep -doTerrra already had my vote from the get go.
The use of essential oils in complimentary therapies is by no means a new concept; we have evidence dating back to Ancient Egypt that priests would claim to mix and blend essence of fruit rinds, flowers, and herbs to create scents that could cure aliments and appease the Gods. Today, the use of essential oils has changed somewhat, with the holistic properties of oils celebrated by many in the alternative medicine community and surprisingly to some, modern medicine is wholly endorsing the use of essential oil therapy in many avenues of health care.
A 2010 Japanese noted improved moods of subjects exposed to lemon aromatherapy daily over a period of eight months, and some subjects were able to have a decrease in their usual antidepressant dosage. A 2011 meta-analysis found that when added to oral care interventions, essential oils could reduce the risk of gum inflammation, ease dental pain and aid medications used for treating oral dysfunctions to work quicker.
A further 2012 quantitative study reviewed data collected over the previous ten years discussing the link between essential oil use and sleep. This paper established aromatherapy could help people with mild sleep disturbances and could assist with inducing sleep for those with mental health disorders.
Another 2011 systematic review from Cochran, followed a large cohort to measure the affects of aromatherapy in child birth (n=515 women). Different oils were used in each control setting and delivered in a variety of ways, such as via acupuncture, diffused, or consumed etc. However little evidence suggested the oils worked with actual pain management, what was apparent however, was the concrete action of adding, using, and consuming the essential oils developed a shift in the subject’s response to painful stimuli; this proceeded to reduce tension, fear, anxiety and distress thus improving positive birth outcomes and experiences. In conclusion of the study, it was agreed further studies into the use of essential oils from a medical and physiological stand point was needed for prospective use, nonetheless from a holistic and qualitative view, it was a proven success. Newer studies in 2016 (n=78 women) by British researchers determined specific aromatherapy oils had shown to be just as effective as medication for women suffering hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness), although they did also conclude the results of their findings were not transferable to various disease states, it showed that even in severe cases aromatherapy offered better relief than placebo management.
While these studies are small in comparison to modern medicine reviews, their evidence helped change the path for complimentary medicine in modern hospitals. Common practise now is for Intensive Care Units, Sleep Study Labs and Paediatric Units to use oil burners and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety and distress, promote a calm and homely environment, and personalise a medical area (can vouch as I have used them in hospitals myself!).
There are hundreds of essential oils and a variety of blends out there for a variety of uses; for example lavender is usually recommended for sleep, and ginger for nausea, where as lemon and peppermint are used as stimulants. Adding a drop of pure peppermint oil to your green tea will perk you better than a cup of coffee (green tea has more caffeine per gram than coffee anyway and is full of antioxidants, the peppermint is delicious- look, just trust me on that one!). Anyhow, not oils are created equally and like all medicines there are risks associated with essential oil use resulting in many health authorities issuing warnings on government health websites.
This is no way an omission from the aromatherapy community, on the contrary they are usually the first to tell you; however the wonder that is the effectiveness of essential oils means the negative is usually cast aside and forgotten by the community at large. So I thought in true #beautyscience fashion, I would put my research hat on and compile some points on how best to approach essential oil therapy from a scientific mind a holistic heart and list some key points to factor before you rush to embark on your own oil filled journey:
There is no international standard: “But you just said doTerra…” yes I know what I wrote, but that is THEIR OWN standard; it is not necessarily one anyone else utilises or more importantly, it is not one anyone HAS to utilise. Just like the cosmetic tattoo industry does not yet have a formal international standard of practise, essential oil companies do not hold a quality code. To keep us further hoodwinked, some essential oil companies use buzzwords like ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘sulphite free’ and we think ‘Great, it must be good for me!’ but that does not mean they do not have potentially harmful metals, sulphers or other nasty surprises in them. A review of 11 online oil companies (that I found in specific to Australia) found this was typically the case, and the only one that followed an appropriate quality framework was doTerra. While many of these other companies waved the banner of being ‘Therapeutic Goods Act’ approved, this banner is not used for essential oils. Here in Australia, the TGA uses its standards to categories essential oils into ‘low’ and ‘high’ risk consumables, never to grade them on their effectiveness, total chemical safety or eatable quality. When purchasing oils, be mindful of the ingredient list and make sure you are buying from a reputable company rather than your local dollar store!
They can make your skin photosensitive: this is by no means a shock as some cosmetic oils can do that by stripping natural amino acids from skin; this is quite typical of Lactic Acid (while not an essential oil) it is one used frequently in beauty routines and is best used at night for this very reason. A 2015 study from the British NHS found a total of 71 cases of severe adverse reactions to aromatherapy treatments (sadly, two were fatalities) with the major cause for hospitalisation being dermatitis. Essential oils are recommended to be diluted with coconut or jojoba oil for skin application, this will also reduce the likelihood of a chemical reaction or irritation of sensitive skin (plus adding a drop of rose oil to jojoba for a facial sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?) If you do want to add essential oils to your beauty regime, consider using citrus based oils in the evening to best reduce risk of increased sun damage as these typically have the highest rate of dermal side effects along with lavender and ylang-ylang.
Not all of them are edible, but they don’t tell you that: Long ago I owned a tea stand. I am an avid tea drinker and my biggest love was making strange and exotic cold brewed tea like lavender and lemon, french early grey and coconut, or my own green blend full of skin brightening goodness; so you can imagine my disappointment when I searched for months for a bergamont oil to amp up a Lady Grey – but I found nothing.
Disappointed, I did some research and eventually found out not all oils are created equal. Out of those 71 cases of adverse effects, several were from ingestion (one fatality due to esophageal burn, which as an ICU nurse, I can is not the best).
If you do want to embark on using essential oils for ingestion: simply read the label. Companies may not have to disclose what is in their oils but THEY DO have to disclose if they are fit for human consumption; again doTerra are all edible (and I can vouch, they taste delicious) but follow the instructions as a little goes a long way, moderation is key, and excessive use of anything can be bad for you.
Some of them can be bad for your pets: a strange but true fact! Some animals particular dogs and cats (I’m not sure if research has been done on other animals) are sensitive to essential oils and just last month, an American woman who was using eucalyptus oil to treat her head cold inadvertently poisoned her cat (another woman using tea tree oil for 72 hours induced liver toxcity in her dog)! Essential oils do absorb into the skin (I’ll explain that in a minute) and they do work in aromatic diffusers by becoming airborne pathogens; however cats and dogs have different metabolic rates and a different respiratory system so what is good for us, is not always good for them. But the point remains, you may want to consider your four legged friends before anointing them or setting a constant aromatherapy burner in your house.
Some are just plain not safe due to medical complications, medications or conditions: this is a pretty broad statement but let me explain: As an example, Wintergreen, is an evergreen, natural herb used as a folk remedy for numerous aliments including pain relief, arthritis, joint and muscle discomfort, poor circulation and heart concerns. I’ve had numerous people explain to me you “cannot use Wintergreen if you are on blood thinners at it interacts”; but this is only a half truth.
All oils can be absorbed through the skin; our skin’s membrane is permeable to fat soluble membranes. Essential oil molecules are so minute that when applied to skin they pass through the outer layer easily. Wintergreen is a liquid salicylate, a derivative of salicylate acid which is an organic hormone, and fatty acid found in plants; the concern with Wintergreen is it can easily be absorbed into capillaries due to being such a teeny tiny molecule, and become as risky as aspirin. Thirty mls of Wintergreen oil is approx 55gm of aspirin, or around 170 tablets; but you would use approximately .2ml at a time with an oil dropper, which roughly equates to just under half an aspirin tablet added into your day; mixing blood thinners with more blood thinners? Hard pass.
Not to mention the risk of preexisting heart conditions added with extra blood thinners can be problematic; and if you apply this theory to pregnant or breast feeding mothers using these oils and passing them through membranes, you create an increased risk of potential complications. While Wintergreen is just one example there are quite a few (grapefruit oil can interact with certain cardiac and neuromuscular medications); be sure to check with a health professional first before embarking on your own anointment journey – and again, don’t believe everything you read online (even this!): asking your own questions and find your own answers is the safest, and best way.
Does this mean you should not use oils because it is unsafe?
GOSH NO! I for one love using oils in my tea, as perfume, and for aromatherapy in my home (I may also have a doTerra shopping list a mile long that I may have created at said doTerra party….) but after exploring, reading and searching my options and how it all works! It as simple as adding any cure to your system, be wary, be wise, treat them like you would a medicine: note the recommended dose, use, administration route and be wary of potential side effects. If you have concerns, speak to your GP about drug interactions and an aromatherapist or Wellness Educator about potential side effects of various oils; complimentary medicine can be used alongside conservative medicine making you whole and happy all the same time!
I hope you found this useful! Do you have any go to oils? Or any questions about oils?
Comment below! Would love to hear from you – until then, stay informed, stay Shiney!