The information which follows is not intended to be an argument about whether you should or should not ingest essential oils, but about sifting the information out there which might influence your choices.
Ok, first of all, there are no essential oils with dietary supplement labels sold by any company which the suggested use on the label directs one to add 10 drops to water multiple times per day. In fact there are none which give a suggested dosage on the label of 10 drops at all, much less added to water multiple times per day, so this is an exaggeration to say the least. It may be true there are some individuals who recommend adding 10 drops of an essential oil to your drinking water and doing this multiple times per day. The unspoken implication here is that typical recommendations for water consumption are 8-10 8 oz glasses per day so that could be 80-100 drops of essential oil per day. There are 100 drops of oil in a 5 ml bottle. One company which offers Frankincense oil as a dietary supplement is priced at $29.75 for 5 ml wholesale and $39.14 retail. The suggested use is 1-2 drops, up to three times per day, not 10 drops multiple times per day equaling possibly an entire 5 ml bottle a day.
Secondly, it needs to be understood that there are a whole range of dietary supplements out there, and different people take them for different reasons. However, no one takes the maximum dose of every single dietary supplement they might decide to try, every single day for the rest of their life. Much less some highly inflated dose that is drastically different from what the label recommends. Especially when the cost of this ridiculously inflated dose could be $30 or more per day. No one is doing that, and even if they wanted to, it would be cost prohibitive. Besides the very obvious fact that 100 drops a day would be a toxic dose for almost any oil, especially if continued for multiple days indefinitely.
Now lets examine the logic that ingesting frankincense oil is equivalent to ingesting turpentine because both happen to be high in terpene molecules. Following a similar logic we could argue that house cats are potentially as dangerous as lions and cougars because they are all members of the family Felidae and share many characteristics. They are all carnivores with fur, four paws and a tail, and they all have sharp teeth and claws. They all growl when they are mad. Neither is it just size that makes one potentially more dangerous, as there are many species of wild cats similar in size and appearance to house cats which are quite vicious.
Ok, so how about the argument that you should not ingest solvents? That sounds like a bad idea, right? However, a solvent is merely the liquid in which a solute is dissolved to form a solution. WATER is a solvent and we all drink that and need to.
Now lets consider a seemingly harmless substance regularly consumed by most Americans. Did you know that according to the USDA, the average American consumes 150-170 POUNDS of sugar per year? Just imagine if you took 30 or more 5 lb bags of sugar and stack them in the corner of your kitchen on New Year’s Day and declare to yourself that you are going to eat all of that by the end of the year. Sugar causes many more health issues than essential oils and these issues are well documented.
In many social media groups and blog posts you hear horror stories of people having holes burned in their esophagus, kidney and liver destroyed etc etc. Often people “know” this so and it is “proven” that essential oils caused these issues because they heard it from their best friend whose aunt’s doctor had a patient who suffered these consequences of essential oil ingestion. In some cases people say it is their own first hand story of what happened to them and they know it was the oils and their doctor agreed it was the oils that caused their issues.
However, it is nearly impossible to find documentation of medical reports or published peer-reviewed studies to confirm these reports, while at the same time, such information abounds for many prescription drugs, foods, and other products. Key information such as age and previous health history such as being a cancer survivor (no one is cured from cancer, they are only said to be in remission if the cancer goes away); family history of kidney or liver disease, medication history, or a host of other issues are often not taken into consideration when someone posts a claim stating they know their issue was caused by essential oils. Also missing is key information on which oil or oils were used, brand, quality, dosage, duration, and other factors which might be pertinent. Instead you see statements like “”lemon oil will dissolve a styrofoam cup! Imagine what it would do to your insides!”” (Never mind that our intestines are not made of styrofoam).
According to analysis conducted by Transparency Market Research, the global essential oil market is expected to reach $24.79 billion by 2022. According to Grandview Research, the essential oil market in the US is expected to reach $7.34 billion by 2024 while the US population is projected to reach 334.5 million by 2020. Although current and projected essential oil use includes a wide range of quality and purity, it is not difficult to see that use is certainly widespread enough that if essential oils really were causing a fraction of the health issues claimed in these Facebook groups and blog posts, real proof and documentation that these adverse events were occurring would not be so difficult to find.
A lot of very misleading information is posted on these threads, particularly when understanding what it means to say essential oils are concentrated, and unfortunately, people are drawn in by it. One blog proclaims that a single drop of lemon essential oil is the equivalent of eating 20 lemons! This is incorrect. Dr. Jean Valnet, a medical doctor who practiced aromatherapy for more than 30 years and who was considered one of the leading authorities in the world on essential oils and their therapeutic use, stated that about 3000 lemons were required to distil one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of essential oil. This works out to about 50 lemons per 15 ml bottle, or per 300 drops; 5 lemons per 30 drops, or 1 lemon per 6 drops. In other words consuming a drop of lemon oil is nothing like eating 20 whole lemons, it is like adding one small slice of lemon to your water or tea, a fairly common practice.
And while some may argue that essential oils added to foods are trace amounts measured in parts per million, the truth is most are proprietary formulas and don’t really state how much is in them. Many essential oils have been ingested in foods and home remedies for hundreds of years, well before the term “aromatherapy” was coined. That is not to say that one should ingest essential oils without investing in the training and/or research to learn about the oils you are using and why you might ingest them. What is right for one person may not be right for another. However, exaggerated safety claims promote drama, not education.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. Government was quietly growing and distilling essential oils to research their medicinal benefits, and the FDA was taking steps to ensure that only patentable, synthetic drugs approved by them could ever be used to treat any illness, Gattefossé’s work was not entirely forgotten in France.
Jean Valnet was born July 26, 1920 in what is now the city of Châlons-en-Champagne, France (formerly known as Châlons-sur-Marne, the name was changed in 1998). As a boy he had opportunity to observe the healing power of plants on many occasions, used by adults who seemed to be aware of the medicinal properties of many of the local plants surrounding them, and who seemed to accept them in a matter of fact way without really understanding how they worked. Jean Valnet wanted to know more, and tucked this observations away in his enquiring young mind for future reference.
He served in combat during World War II (1940-45) and began to study medicine at the Military Academy of the Arrow, at the School of the Military Department of Health, and the Medical College of Lyon. From 1944-1945 he was Assistant Chief of Surgical Services for Evacuation Hospital 412, and he earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1945, as well as Diplomas in Forensic Medicine, Psychiatry, Microbiology, Hygiene, and Colonial Medicine. As a soldier, he earned many honors. He was an OfficerCroix de Guerre 1939-1945 of the Legion of Honor and held the Croix de Guerre during the years 1939-1945. He earned six Cross TOE (Theatre of External Operations) citations and the honors he held included ” Cross of the Fighter,” “Cross Volunteer Fighter ,” “Cross of Resistance Fighter Volunteer ” and ” Medal of the Free French .”
Following his graduation in 1945, he was appointed Lieutenant and served as Assistant Surgeon for Evacuation hospitals 412 and 501 in Germany. He also served as doctor for the School of Application of the Infantry, and the prestigious Special Military School of St. Cyr, which is the foremost military academy in France.
This academy had originally been founded in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte at Fontainebleu near Paris, using the historic buildings of the Maison Royale de Saint-Louis The Maison Royale de Saint-Louis was originally founded in 1685 by Louis XIV for impoverished daughters of noblemen who had died for France. Several other moves of the school followed, and in 1808, the cadets eventually settled west of Paris in Saint-Cyr.
In 1948 he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and served as Surgeon of the Advanced Surgical Unit at Tonkin, the leading surgical unit in this location, from 1950 – 1953. In 1954, Valnet earned a Bronze medal for his scientific work. He found consistent results and great success in using many essential oils and aromatic solutions in dressing the wounds during this time. Later, he served as chief physician to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the French armed forces, including the Chief of the Secretary of State for War, Staff of the Army, and Office of the Secretary of the Army. Dr. Valnet also earned the academic decoration of being appointed Commanding Officer of the ” National Order of Academic Palms ” at the age of 36 for his exceptional scientific research and services to Higher Education. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1958 and served as commanding doctor and physician for Emergency Services. Other awards included the Golden Civic Star and Silver Medal of Physical Education. Valnet was also Officer of the Franco-British Alliance, Commander of the League for Protection of Children, and Commander for the National Order of the Ivory Coast as well as a member of numerous medical and cultural organizations.
Dr. Valnet retired from the military in 1959 and continued his medical practice at his Paris surgery in the Avenue Kléber, continuing to advise his patients that a healthy diet and phyto-aromatherapy were important in maintaining wellness. He chaired the first Symposium of Medical Aromatherapy in Paris in 1960, and his first reference work, titled “Aromatherapy : the treatment of ailments by Plant Essences” was published in 1964. This was followed by a second book, “The treatment of ailments with vegetables, fruits and cereals” in 1967. He wrote “Doctor Nature” in 1971, and “Phytotherapy : the treatment of ailments by Plants” in 1972. These works were based on Dr. Valnet’s clinical observations, and spurred him to continued research in studying the anti-infectious properties of essential oils. In collaboration with Dr. M. Girault of Dijon, he coined the term “aromatogramme” to describe a method using essential oils to test antimicrobial
susceptibility. Valnet also foresaw the dangers of overusing antibiotics.
Dr. Valnet founded the first association for the research and study of phyto‐aromatherapy in 1971, and from 1976 until his death in 1995, he organized a a major annual international phyto‐aromatherapy conference which was widely attended by medical doctors, research scientists, and academics. In 1981, Dr. Valnet also founded the college of phytoaromatherapy and field‐based medicine in the French language. As a result of Dr. Valnet’s extensive research, he is generally considered by many as the “father of modern‐day phyto‐aromatherapy”.
The forward thinking ideas of Dr. Valnet were well ahead of his time. In his book, the Practice of Aromatherapy, published in 1980 as a culmination of his research and clinical observations, he wrote, “Normal preventive medicine, which consists in giving healthy people drugs and injections of products whose future effects are unpredictable, is an aberration. Bringing about change by non-toxic means is the only efficacious course, among which aromatic plants and their essences have been, are, and will remain in the front rank.” Dr. Valnet was the first to record the specific properties, indications, and dosages of essential oils useful in medical practice. His work is credited for being the foundation of two great trends, which are the clinical and scientific approach which is regularly used by doctors in France, and more general popular trend of aromatherapy geared towards wellness and a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Valnet formulated his own line of 44 specifically recommended essential oils, and in 1985 selected Cosbionat Laboratory to produce his famous preparations. Cosbionat is located in the beautiful Loire Valley of France, on the fringes of the Vendômoise forest. The laboratory was originally founded in 1981 by Marie-Thé Tiphaigne and her late husband Jackie Tiphaigne, who had followed Dr. Valnet’s teachings for 13 years.Dr. Valnet continued to review and update his rearch until his death in 1995, after which the Tiphaigne’s continued to market his exclusive line of essential oils. Following the passing of her husband, Marie-Thé Tiphaigne still continues the work begun by Dr. Valnet. The oils are carefully sourced from long-time organic growers across five continents and steam distilled at low pressure. Citrus oils are cold pressed. Each batch is then tested against certified benchmarks for gas chromatagraphy, density, optical rotation, refractive index, and sensory testing of color, smell, and taste. Additional tests are conducted for environmental contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
To learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may help support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.
If this information has been helpful, you may make a small donation to help defray the costs of research. Thank you!
The question has been raised, “At what percent true essential oil can an oil still be labeled as “pure”. In other words, if an adulterated oil can still be labeled as “pure”, does it have to contain any essential oil at all?” This is a very good question. Some FDA guidelines on labeling The FDA’s guidelines for Fragrances in Cosmetics provide some general guidance, but still it is vague and doesn’t really provide definitive answers. For any essential oils intended for use as dietary supplements or food flavorings, multiple ingredients are supposed to be listed on the label, however some ingredients considered as trace are not always listed. Essential oils intended for topical use are generally considered cosmetics. However, the FDA allows the words “fragrance” or “flavor” to be used instead of specifying exactly what those are. And sometimes fragrances or flavors can be synthetic, in fact, when these words are used they most likely do contain synthetics.
As one example, NOW Foods Lavender oil which may be purchased on Amazon for as little as $21.16 for a 4 oz bottle is labeled as 100% pure lavender oil. So what does that mean? Some have used this to suggest that companies who sell oils through Multi-level marketing and charge much more for lavender sold in 15 ml bottles are overcharging their customers because NOW sells for so much less and has good reviews. But, not necessarily. Young Living’s Lavender retails for $30.92, dōTERRA’s lavender retails for $28, and AMEO’s retails for $31.67, and all have wholesale pricing for members. Original Swiss Aromatics, which is not an MLM company, sells their genuine and authentic fine lavender at $28.10 for 15 ml, so there is actually not much difference in the pricing of this oil between these companies known or claimed to have high quality oils. They also have different descriptions on their labels such as “Therapeutic Grade”, “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade”, “Clinical Grade”, etc., all of which in fact are simply terms to describe each company’s individual quality standards.
There is no independent body which certifies that oils are pure, therapeutic, or clinical grade. Any oil properly grown, harvested, and distilled without use of chemicals or pesticides, without synthetic chemicals or additives, or without being extended with cheaper oils of other species, and properly tested, will be therapeutic and able to penetrate cells, there is no difference between clinical grade or therapeutic grade if all these conditions have been met. The growing body of scientific and clinical studies clearly demonstrates this, as oils from different sources have been used for these. However, there are very few companies who actually monitor this entire process and who consistently have trained experts involved with the whole process for every single source.
Companies which post test results of their oils online may seem impressive, but the truth is, the vast majority of consumers do not know how to read these tests. Also, posting a test result for a particular batch number is really no different than any of the other claims on the label. The consumer who has purchased the oil from that batch number still has to rely on the company’s word that the test displayed really is the actual test done on the bottle of oil they are holding. The average consumer also cannot accurately judge quality or purity simply by which one smells the nicest. Unless you have a lot of experience using essential oils for years, and/or had extensive training in essential oils chemistry, your nose will only tell you what you think smells “nice”, you will not be able to break down the complexity of a fragrance or really understand the nuances. The majority of companies in the U.S. selling essential oils are simply brokers or rebottlers. They buy the oil from a distiller who tells them it is pure (and very often the distiller is not the grower and it may even have passed through several sources before reaching the company who bottles and sells it under their own label. Or they may buy the raw material and have someone distill it for them. Even plant materials which have been painstakingly kept from contamination at this stage still may have lost much of their potency by the time they reach a distillery, but are then bottled and sold as “pure”, which may be entirely truthful, but the quality is simply not the same.
Then there are many other companies with prices in between the seemingly expensive brands to low-priced ones. All these oils, as well as many others are labeled “pure”, and we will get more into different companies later on, but for the serious user of essential oils there is actually much more to consider. If you look at the NOW Foods lavender you will see it says Lavandula officinalis (spp). But it says 100% pure lavender, and the Latin name looks authentic so many people are not even going to pay any attention to that, or know what it means.
Lavender is part of the mint family and in fact there are at least 39 different known species, all of which have differences in their chemical profiles, their properties, and therapeutic uses. Then on top of that, there can be many more variations as to quality and complexity depending on where and how the lavender was grown, soil and growing conditions for that particular crop, how and when it was harvested, how long and what was done with it between harvest and distillation, how it was distilled, the quality of the equipment used, temperature, pressure, etc, and the knowledge of the persons distilling it. Then, how it is tested, bottled, sealed, and delivered to the consumer. There are also other considerations with lavender, for instance whether it is wild, whether it is grown from seed, or from cloned plants.
The name Lavandula officinalis is sometimes used interchangeably with Lavandula angustifolia, or it is occasionally referred to as Lavandula vera. However, when the latin name is followed by the letters “spp”, this means multiple species. All of which are lavender. So NOW Foods may be truthful when they say 100% pure lavender, and the Lavandula officinalis (spp) is right on the front of the bottle. But, they also sell “organic” lavender, for as low as $15.69 for 1 oz. This is still about half the price of the others but certainly far more expensive than their 4 oz bottle, although both claim to be 100% pure lavender and are labeled Lavandula officinalis (spp). So, you don’t really know what species of lavender are in these bottles, or even if they came from a single crop. They tell you it is steam distilled from the flower, and they do conduct some testing. Depending on what different people want, the NOW lavender might be adequate, but it most definitely is not the same and really does not provide evidence that the others are overpriced.
While multiple ingredients are supposed to be listed on the labels, strictly speaking, “pure” seems to be a term that has not really been standardized or defined by the FDA as yet. The FDA is currently asking for public comments on use of the term “natural”. So in short, “pure”, may not always mean “pure”, and the question of purity may not really be all you want to find out. An article by Valparaiso University Law School Assisant Law Professor Nicole Negowetti provides a good overview of the general issue.
What was happening in America with essential oils during the time when the Gattefossé brothers were discovering their therapeutic benefits? The first Pharmacopeia in America was published by the Medical Society of Massachusetts in 1808, followed by the very first United States Pharmacopeia, published in 1820. The idea of a National Pharmacopeia was first proposed when Dr. Lyman Spalding submitted the idea to the Medical Society of the County of New York. The founding U.S. Pharmacopeial convention was held in Washington D.C. for the purpose of creating a system of standards and a National Formulary. Essential oils were included in these works.
At the time René-Maurice Gattefossé applied lavender oil to the severe burns he suffered in a lab explosion, a number of essential oils had been in regular use by U.S. doctors for more than a hundred years. At that time, the United States Pharmacopeia was revised every ten years. During the first hundred years oils were included as individual pure volatile oils with directions for steam distillation, as important components for medicated waters, medicated spirits, liniments, ointments and other compounds. About 10 oils were included in the 1808 Pharmacopeia of Massachusetts. A few of the less common oils would come and go but overall the number of oils climbed over the years, peaking in 1890 with around 44 oils mentioned. However, by this time, synthetic and artificial forms of wintergreen were included, and the 1900 version included several more synthetic forms and isolated components of volatile oils. By 1910 the number of individual pure distilled oils had tapered off to about 35 while synthetic and artificial versions and isolated components continued to increase. Later, the publications of the United States Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary were joined into one volume and published annually.
In 1900, Congress transferred 400 acres of the historic Arlington estate in Virginia to the Secretary of Agriculture for use as a general experimental farm. The Pentagon is now located on this site. This became one of several sites where the U.S. Government conducted what they referred to as “drug plant investigations”, which would continue for more than 50 years, managed by the Bureau of Plant Industry which was established in 1901. The U.S. Government was in fact growing medicinal plants for research purposes, and among The Bureau of Plant Industry’s other projects studying various crops, farming methods, plant diseases and so forth, the project for drug plant investigations specifically included a number of experimental stations, ranging from botanical gardens to small farms used for the cultivation of aromatic plants, which they steam distilled to produce essential oils. Some were researched for perfume, fragrance, and food flavorings, while others were recognized by the government for their medicinal and therapeutic properties. Several government reports and bulletins were published mentioning details of cultivating aromatic plants for producing essential oils, and the methods and equipment for distilling them.
In 1906, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt with the Pure Foods and Drugs Act, which prohibited interstate commerce in foods or drugs which were misbranded or adulterated. While the law was intended to protect the consumer from unnecessary and potentially harmful additives to foods and drugs, the FDA sometimes had their own way of regulating this. One of the early problems they sought to solve began in 1907 with the certification of food colors. Merchants had begun a practice of injecting foods with dyes to enhance their appearance and make them more appealing to the consumer, and to cover up defects. Dyes were also added to drugs. Some of these dyes were quite harmful and so the FDA, instead of forbidding the practice of adding these chemical dyes, they decided they would screen them all and certify which ones could be used. In 1928 they certified more than 600,000 pounds of dyes permitted for use in foods and drugs. (The Arlington Experiment Farm, U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook for Visitors, 1928). This was thought to be a great improvement because the certification rules were so strict.
Dyes were then also added to cosmetics and the practice of using FDA certified dyes continues today. A huge list of these dyes which the FDA has removed from the list or added further restrictions due to safety issues and problems discovered after they had been in use for some time may be found on the FDA’s Color Additive Status List. The FDA collects substantial fees for color additive certification which are regulated under Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations Section 80.10 They get paid by the pound for these certifications and just in the quarter from Oct 1- Dec 31 2015 certified more than 6 million pounds of dyes added to foods, drugs, and cosmetics. In recent years, the safety of dyes remaining on the FDA’s approved list has come into question. The Global Healing Center, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola are just a few who warn of the dangers of several dyes the FDA still allows.
The more extensive Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. This law required FDA approval before any new drug could be brought to market, and also prohibited false therapeutic claims. Through the years, the FDA has developed a very broad interpretation of this law which includes prohibiting therapeutic claims that are true, and by defining any random product as a drug if you intend to use it for something they consider a disease. This also includes a long list of words which could be associated with various diseases. For instance, if you use something to help with inflammation or joint pain, in the eyes of the FDA that product is likely to be considered to have become a drug. In 2010 for example, the FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Foods declaring that their walnuts had become drugs due to therapeutic claims they had on their website based on extensive scientific research. The FDA collects substantial Application, Product, and Establishment Fees for each new drug. In addition, Product and Establishment Fees are assessed annually. In 2014, the most recent year for which a financial report is available, the FDA collected more than $796 million in prescription drug user fees. 45 new drugs were approved by the FDA for 2015. FDA approved drugs, used as prescribed, are, according to their own website the 4th leading cause of death in America.
Meanwhile, in 1939, the work of the Arlington Experimental farm was transferred to the Research Station at Beltsville, Maryland. By 1952, the Bureau of Plant Industry had a 14,000 acre Agricultural Research Center at this location with 2100 employees, of which more than 900 were scientists. Experiments on growing aromatic medicinal plants and distilling their essential oils were still being conducted at this time. The next year, 1953, the Bureau of Plant Industry became part of the Agricultural Research Service, (ARS) which continues to the present. Both the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library are filled with peer reviewed clinical studies which have been done on various medicinal and therapeutic uses of essential oils. Some of these studies are done by ARS scientists. The interest in scientific research on essential oils and the growing body of evidence that they do have valuable therapeutic uses continues to expand despite the FDA’s proclamation that only a drug (approved by them, and at great expense paid to them) can be used to prevent, treat, cure, or mitigate a disease.
Unfortunately, the essential oil research and experiments conducted by the U.S. Government were little known and mostly buried in obscure government reports and bulletins which few average citizens had access to, or took the time to wade through them if they did. With the development of the pharmaceutical industry, the major focus became isolating active compounds of various essential oils believed to be responsible for medicinal effects, and creating synthetic versions which could be approved by the FDA as new drugs. Synthetic versions were also often used for food additives and flavorings, as well as for perfumes and fragrances. Thus, despite the government’s role, the essential oil industry in the U.S. was following a very different path than the one in France influenced by the research René-Maurice Gattefossé. Pure essential oils were very scarce in the U.S. Their therapeutic properties were largely forgotten, and the development of aromatherapy would take many decades before finding its way to the U.S.
Next: The Research of Dr. Jean Valnet
To learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may help support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.
If this information has been helpful, you may make a small donation to help defray the costs of research. Thank you!
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Essential oil safety seems to be a huge topic with widely varying answers, and with a rapidly growing interest among those who seriously wish to use them for therapeutic purposes, it is a valid question. However, it does not need to be nearly so confusing, and certainly does not need to deter people from enjoying the benefits of high quality therapeutic grade oils. It is important to understand the different schools of thought in the application of essential oils. The German model relies primarily on inhalation as a way to receive the benefits of essential oils. The British model takes a very conservative approach of using very diluted oils for massage. They have a long list of oils which they believe should NEVER be used for any reason, and generally frown upon applying the oils neat (undiluted) or taken orally unless under the direction of a licensed healthcare professional. The French model, however, embraces application of essential oils through both neat (undiluted) and diluted topical application, internal use through ingestion and suppositories, and inhaling or diffusing the oils.
Most Aromatherapists in the U.S. are trained according to the British model, and the prominent National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) relies heavily on this school of thought. Generally, they do not recognize therapeutic grade oils but tend to adopt safety precautions that do not distinguish between the many classes and grades of oils available, and make the assumption that the general public is likely to come to great harm using essential oils if they do not adhere to this very conservative philosophy. Much of the fear-mongering results when these ideas are posted widely on various blogs and forums as broad generalizations and promoted as being widely accepted by leading authorities. The inherent implication is that any other school of thought is automatically wrong regardless of reasoning. Unfortunately this very narrow approach has little basis in fact and is very confusing for those who are simply and honestly trying to learn what essential oils may have to offer. One often repeated theme is advising people to purchase only from small dealers and not from MLMs or large corporations due to integrity or quality concerns.
Here is what Dr. Daniel Pénoël, M.D. one of the foremost authorities on the therapeutic use of essential oils has to say about Young Living, the world’s leading essential oils company which also happens to be MLM:
Another common theme in fearmongering is that all representatives of MLM essential oil companies recklessly recommend, advocate and prescribe unsafe practices and uses of essential oils for the sole purpose of trying to sell the oils or sign up distributors. It is interesting that many of these generalizations often come from small private aromatherapy practitioners who stand to gain customers of their own products and services by frightening them away from the MLM companies. Sadly, these kind of practices are harmful for all essential oil companies, and for everyone who wishes to enjoy essential oils.
In fact, Gary Young of Young Living was the first health company leader willing to actively work with the FDA to achieve full compliance. Young Living was audited by the FDA in January of 2015 and was the only health company in 7 years to receive a grade of 100% compliance for the company website and materials. Young Living is actively working to make its members aware of what they can and cannot say while sharing their products to remain in compliance with FDA rules.
The truth is that a wide range exists in both MLM and large and small companies of experts truly knowledgeable in the many uses of essential oils. Whether the company is large or small, MLM or not, really is not the defining factor. It is also not accurate to portray that independent distributors who practice applying certain oils undiluted or ingesting them orally are doing so out of blatant ignorance and/or greedy motive, or that all or even the majority of respected authorities frown on such practices. Such a philosophy completely ignores the French model of teaching about essential oils, which has been in existence much longer than the British model has, and is sustained by a large body of current and ongoing scientific research which has worldwide respect.
Aromatherapists aligned with NAHA and the International Federation of Aromatherapists (IFA) continue to warn loudly about undiluted application or oral ingestion and imply that anyone advocating or daring to do this without the explicit guidance of a licensed healthcare professional is engaging in something highly dangerous. While it is true that essential oils can be very potent and powerful when properly grown and distilled for therapeutic purposes, they are not drugs. If an essential oil is on the FDA GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) List, this means they have a very long history of safe use when used as intended, going back more than 50 years.
Influential author and educator Robert Tisserand is often widely regarded as the father of modern aromatherapy, and to him we are certainly indebted for the English translations of Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy, the first aromatherapy book written by Dr. René-Maurice Gattefossé in 1937, as well as Dr. Jean Valnet’s 1964 book, The Practice of Aromatherapy, which Tisserand also translated. A native of Great Britain, Tisserand began practicing spiritual healing on his friends at the age of 17, and was fascinated the next year when his mother returned from Paris with an autographed copy of Valnet’s book. He began selling essential oils out of his bedroom apartment four years later, and founded his essential oils company in 1974. He still serves as a consultant for this company, now known as Tisserand Aromatherapy. His 1977 book, The Art of Aromatherapy, became an international best seller. Later he become increasingly concerned with essential oils safety and his most recent updated version of Essential Oil Safety: A Guide For Health Care Professionals is widely considered the go to book for answers. Although Tisserand himself is neither a physician nor a chemist, and in fact does not claim any degree on his website, his intensive research and years of personal experience with the use of essential oils have gained him a worldwide reputation. He has won many awards and presented at numerous conferences. Tisserand, who came to the U.S. in 2000, generally represents the more conservative British view, however even he notes in the first edition of his Essential Oil Safety, “We are aware that a book such as this could have the effect of presenting essential oils as generally dangerous substances – this is certainly not our intention. On the contrary, there are several instances where we have shown that supposed dangers do not in fact exist. The majority of essential oils turn out to be non-hazardous as they are used in aromatherapy.” Many aromatherapists have placed undue emphasis on Tisserand’s safety statistics without fully understand the context. He notes, for example, that the text is largely drawn from the toxicology reports from the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. In other words, the safety issues apply primarily to oils of fragrance grade. The testing was also mainly done using the LD50 levels for laboratory mice or rats. This means that the test rodents are given increasingly large doses until half of the ones tested die – that dose is considered to be LD50. These doses, incidentally, are generally much larger even than a human would use (consider a human weighing maybe 150x as much as a large laboratory rat) let alone a dose that might be appropriate for something as small as a rat or a mouse. Tisserand states, “Toxicologists increasingly acknowledge that giving excessive doses of a substance to a genetically in-bred mouse living in a laboratory may not have great relevance to the human situation.”
Yet, numerous postings from the aromatherapy community continually refer to cases of poisoning and fatality from self-dosing of essential oil, yet none of them ever cite the source where the records of all these so-called poisonings and fatalities from essential oils may be found. If one searches for these, it is very difficult to find anything. One however is a study published in the Feb 2001 Paediatrics & Child Health Journal . This simply reviewed charts of calls to the Ontario Regional Poison Information Center, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto between Dec 1995 – March 1997. Reading through the article, it is evident that virtually all of these cases referred to very young children accidentally ingesting various cold remedy products such as cough syrup or vapor-rub, composed of synthetic or lab-created ingredients or isolated chemical components of essential oils. It really does not refer to even fragrance grade aromatherapy oils, much less pure unadulterated natural oils of therapeutic quality. Most of these involved “camphorated” products or cold remedies with menthol and eucalyptus – note that all of these are synthetic, laboratory engineered products which, even if they contain any real essential oil it is combined with many other synthetic chemicals. Even so, of 244 calls made by parents and caregivers, only 29 callers reported the child actually showing any symptoms while at home, nevertheless a total of 76 children were referred to an acute care facility. None of these 76 children died and all cases resolved spontaneously. Only two children briefly experienced seizures, one a 14 month old boy from ingesting an unknown quantity of 20% camphorated oil and a 19 month old girl from ingesting 50 ml of Vick’s VaporRub (an amount comparable to more than 3 large 15 ml bottles of essential oil), but these also fully recovered without any lasting effects.
Tisserand notes that virtually all cases of serious poisoning from essential oils result from ingesting undiluted oils in quantity much higher than therapeutic doses. Of the few cases he is able to cite, most refer to over the counter preparations such as cold remedy products, yet the essential oil is invariably blamed as the culprit even though it is invariably synthetic or lab created and combined with many other synthetic chemicals. For example, Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) which contains 98% Methyl salicylate and thus is often pointed to as one of the most toxic of oils, began to be widely adulterated and created synthetically more than a hundred years ago.
Dr David Stewart, PhD, author of more than 200 publications including the excellent book, The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, is also a Registered Aromatherapist (RA) with the nationally recognized Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC), which is endorsed by the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA), of which he is a member. He has also served on advisory committees to the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM). He has testified as an expert on health matters before state legislative committees, U.S. congressional committees, medical licensing boards and courts of law throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada. Dr. Stewart earned his PhD in Geophysics, which employs techniques and knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, and physics in studying nature of the earth and its environment and understanding the complexity of dynamic behaviors. He has won many awards and presented lectures around the world and has appeared on television in 44 countries. Dr. Stewart provides an excellent understanding of the chemical differences between natural and synthetically created oils, as well as explaining the important relationship of numerous minor trace components in the whole pure oil which laboratory chemists cannot duplicate. While it is true that all synthetic or laboratory manipulated forms of Wintergreen oil or Methyl Salicylate are highly toxic, the whole pure oil properly distilled for therapeutic effect, and used correctly is not. Also, as Dr. Stewart explains, the true pure oils are easily metabolized by the body and do not cause harmful cumulative effects in the way synthetic substances do.
That said, it is important to understand that blanket generalizations are almost always misleading. The British model generally states that ALL oils should ALWAYS be diluted and NO oils should EVER be ingested or applied neat. This belief is so firmly adhered to among those who follow this model that it is widely reported that MLM companies advocate blanket advice to ingest or apply neat any oil you want whenever you please just because they may have encountered a representative of an MLM has provided information on a particular instance where a particular oil might be used neat or ingested. This simply is not a fair nor accurate statement.
The Essential Oils Desk Reference (EODR) published by Life Science Publishing for instance is a massive work detailing specific information on the therapeutic oils offered by Young Living. This includes safety precautions, recommendations for dilution, and the FDA GRAS list and guidelines for when and how certain oils might be used as a dietary supplement. It is an excellent and valuable resource for anyone genuinely interested in learning about essential oils, however, followers of the British model will generally not even consider it, believing oral ingestion or neat applications should not be advocated under any circumstance. NAHA members and followers also state that Raindrop Therapy, developed by Gary Young in the 1980s and which calls for the neat application of specific oils dropped on the spine undiluted in keeping with the French model, is highly dangerous. The Raindrop practice does call for neat use of certain oils for which dilution is normally recommended in other applications, but it is necessary to view this in the context of its particular usage rather than automatically dismissing it as “wrong” or “dangerous” because it deviates from the British model.
In order to perform the Raindrop Technique on others, one must become a Certified Raindrop Technique Specialist which involves a minimum of 72 hours of intensive training including formal classes. Board Certified Raindrop Specialists must undergo 164 hours of training. Additionally, for those not already having some type of certification as a healthcare professional which would license them to legally practice massage, additional training and licensing to become a Licensed Spiritual Healer is required. Those who practice Raindrop must agree to use only Young Living essential oils for this purpose to ensure that oils adulterated with potentially harmful chemicals are not used. Young Living does more quality testing of their essential oils than any other company, conducted at both their own laboratories and confirmed by third-party labs, and they maintain a strict “Seed to Seal” quality commitment, monitoring the entire planting, growth, harvest, distillation, and bottling phases regardless whether the oils are grown at their own farms or by some of their worldwide partners.
It interesting that so much passion is stirred up by this topic among aromatherapists of the British model who insist such practices are completely unsafe, when toxicity of many commonly used cosmetics and skincare products is far more widespread. An article in The Huffington Post for example, reports over 10,000 toxic ingredients typically found in favorite beauty products, many of which are described in this Guide to Less Toxic Products. In a new study, Environmental Defense found several favorite makeup brands contain toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead which are not listed on the labeling.
It is also interesting that if consumer safety is the true and genuine concern, that such effort is being made to frighten and discourage people away from exploring therapeutic uses of essential oils. In the paper Death by Medicine by Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD, shows the number of in hospital patients having adverse reactions to prescribed drugs is 2.2 million per year, and further, the total number of deaths caused by conventional medicine is 783,936 per year – which makes the American medical system the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S.
Essential oils can be used very safely with a little care and common sense. Since different people have different levels of sensitivity, caution is always advised to learn how your body may respond to different oils. It is important to seek relevant safety and usage information specific to a particular oil and the company you are purchasing it. Even if an oil is pure, there may be different species and sometimes different chemotypes of the same species resulting in major differences of the chemical constituents. Adulterated, Extended, Synthetically derived, or “nature-identical” oils do NOT behave the same or have the same safety considerations as a genuine pure oil properly grown and distilled for maximum therapeutic benefit. And, just because an online store provides a link to download the GC/MS or other quality test for a particular oil is not necessarily any assurance that it is an actual test of the particular oil you are buying. Most quality oils are distilled in small batches and tests can differ widely according to batch, source, growing conditions, distillation parameters and a variety of other factors so these would have to be updated far more frequently than would be practical to be an authentic representation of the results for a particular oil you receive in most cases. For those who have a health condition, and/or questions about safely using an oil for a particular circumstance, consulting one’s healthcare professional is certainly recommended. Essential oils are not drugs although they are very powerful and can have many beneficial therapeutic applications when carefully produced for this purpose.
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report
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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.
Essential oils are volatile, fragrant substances, derived from roots, bark, stems, leaves, flowers, buds, seeds and other aerial plant parts. Food, according to Webster’s dictionary, is defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” A drug, according to Webster is, ” a substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication.” The Food and Drug administration (FDA) goes by the definition of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which is (1) : a substance recognized in an official pharmacopoeia or formulary (2) : a substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease (3) : a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body (4) : a substance intended for use as a component of a medicine but not a device or a component, part, or accessory of a device. The FDA proclaims its responsibility is to protect the public health by regulating the safety of foods, drugs, cosmetics, biological products and medical devices. This is admirable, but a huge task. The lines get blurred because the FDA decides things are drugs not by whether they are drugs but how they are marketed and what the “intended use” is.
For example, the FDA says in regard to essential oils, which are generally considered as cosmetics, “This principle also holds true for “essential oils.” For example, a fragrance marketed for promoting attractiveness is a cosmetic. But a fragrance marketed with certain claims, such as assertions that the scent will help the consumer sleep or quit smoking, meets the definition of a drug because of its intended use. Similarly, a massage oil that is simply intended to lubricate the skin and impart fragrance is a cosmetic, but if the product is intended to treat diseases or conditions, such as relieving arthritis pain, it’s considered a drug.”
The problem with all of this is that in order to protect the consumer , the FDA must make methodical, makes arbitrary decisions, the effect of which may also limit peoples’ ability to educate and inform themselves, and severely limit their access to natural health options in favor of promoting synthetic patented pharmaceuticals which are big business.
According to Jeffrey Dach, MD, there is plenty of scientific research supporting the health benefits of eating cherries, but the FDA considers cherries to be unapproved drugs, and accordingly sent threatening letters to a number of fruit companies warning them not to mention any health benefits of cherries or they would pursue legal action. In 2010, Diamond Foods received an FDA Warning letter concluding that walnuts are drugs because of links to scientific studies and proven research Diamond had listed on their web page about some of the benefits of walnuts. This letter states, “Based on claims made on your firm’s website, we have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.” At the same time the FDA advocates a Heart Healthy Diet and links to the American Heart Association’s recommendations for Healthy Diet Goals which includes four servings of nuts per week. There appears to be no documented evidence that a single person has ever died because they ate walnuts or cherries believing them to be good for their health. However, a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, July 26th 2000, authored by Dr Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health reported 106,000 deaths per year. This was actually a reprint, as the study was first published in 1996. In case one thinks this is old information, the FDA’s own records of reported Adverse Drug Events (ADEs) admits to 98,518 deaths and 573,111 serious outcomes (Serious outcomes include death, hospitalization, life-threatening, disability, congenital anomaly and/or other serious outcome) for 2011.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, 25% of Americans are now taking Statin Drugs to lower their cholesterol despite over 900 studies proving the adverse effects of statin drugs. Many statins such as Zocor and Lipitor cannot be taken at all with grapefruit juice – not even three days later – because the reaction, which inhibits a substance in your small intestine that helps break down medications, could cause too much of the drug’s active ingredient to enter your bloodstream with potentially lethal effects. Yet even though the drugs may be labeled with some warnings, many are not aware of the seriousness or the reason for them. In fact, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal mentions that grapefruit-drug interactions have been on the increase, as many as 6 new drugs per year and over 85 total drugs may cause interactions. A study on the popular drug Avandia, prescribed for Type II diabetes, showed a 30 to 40% increased risk of heart attack. Yet the FDA allows this and other drugs with similar well documented harmful effects to be continue to be marketed while instead endeavoring to suppress knowledge of potential health benefits of natural substances such as essential oils, or foods such as walnuts or cherries with claims they are drugs.
Many essential oils are on the FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, or as FDA approved food additives and flavoring agents. According to the FDA, this means “a substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excluded from the definition of a food additive.” The Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 170.30 (b) also allows a substance used in food before 1958, through experience based on common use in food to be defined as GRAS.
As Aromatherapy products, essential oils are generally regulated by the FDA as cosmetics unless specific health claims are made which would cause the FDA to view a particular oil as a drug. The cosmetic title of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act has not been significantly amended in more than 70 years, and consists of only one page as compared to 112 pages regulating foods and drugs. It is important to note that cosmetic products are not required to list all the ingredients, particularly those considered trade secrets and fragrance. “Fragrance” in the ingredients list on a label usually indicates some or all ingredients are synthetic.
An essential oil may be labeled as “pure”, “organic”, “wildcrafted, or “therapeutic”. These terms mean little unless you know the company, know the source, and have a clear understanding of what they mean by these descriptions. They do not tell you, for instance, whether expert botanists have been hired to correctly identify the correct species and seed selection. They say nothing of soil conditions, whether the seeds were planted at the optimal time, were free of disease, had the needed water and weather conditions during growth, and were harvested at the right time of day. There are many variables, and they are different for each oil. There is no standardization in the US for essential oils, and neither the FDA or any other official organization in the US which certifies whether an essential oil is pure or has therapeutic properties. Neither does AFNOR (Association Francaise de Normalization), a standardization system of the French government with a membership of some 3000 companies, or The ISO (International Organization for Standardization), a worldwide federation of standardization bodies from 130 countries of which AFNOR is one member, representing France. These misconceptions are easily perpetuated when information is copied on the internet from one site to another, even when the original company is not making such claims, or have defined the terms they are using, but copied information is taken out of context. Young Living, for example, the world’s leading and the world’s longest running producer of high quality therapeutic grade oils, was the originator of the term “therapeutic grade” in describing their own oils which were defined as “Young Living Therapeutic Grade” or “YLTG”. When they began producing essential oils for this purpose, there were very few essential oils available in America except fragrance grade, most of which were, and still are, extended or adulterated for lower cost production. Other companies, seeing a high demand for therapeutic grade essential oils have since sought to join the market.
Another myth that many of these companies are passing on to the customers is to create the impression that any average person can discern the purity of an oil by smelling it. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this theory. There are many tasteless and odorless chemicals that can be, and frequently are, used to extend and adulterate essential oils, and other artificial means of enhancing the fragrance which will not show up on any but the most sophisticated testing equipment. FDA labeling requirements again do not adequately represent this as the structure of an essential oil is such that even very tiny amounts of trace components, whether real or synthetic, will affect both the purity of an oil and any therapeutic action it may have.
For example, an oil could be labeled “100% pure Frankincense” and it may be all Frankincense but could be adulterated or extended with multiple species, or it could be improperly distilled.
If one is truly interested in therapeutic properties of essential oils, it is important to know the company, and find one which adheres to the highest standards and state of the art testing.
To learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well
For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.
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