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.
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.