This is what your essential oil salesperson isn’t telling you.
I first started using essential oils in 1977, about the time my daughter was born. I had a natural childbirth and was advised by my midwife at the time, that using essential oils could help relax me. It did. This was also the year I became a full-time vegetarian, started practicing yoga and introduced exercise into my daily routine on a more profound level. All of these things changed my life for the better. I continued to use the oils and learned to love them. I also became better educated about their limitations.
Over the last 5-6 years, the essential oil industry has flourished like never before, although they have been around for centuries. Sadly, essential oils are being peddled primarily by a large demographic of individuals with little or no scientific background, and who do not understand the differences between anecdotal and empirical research. They believe they’re going to get rich by selling these oils. Some do. The majority don’t. That’s how pyramid marketing works.
It is not unusual to hear an essential oil salesperson say, “I just slip two drops of Frankincense under my tongue and I never suffer from (fill in the blank) again. Well, I DIDN’T slip those drops of oil under my tongue, and I don’t have that ailment either….and I didn’t ingest the oil because scientific research suggests that doing so is risky. I trust science.
A lot of things about using essential oils is risky.
I know of 8 different people among my friends that sell essential oils. Some are even-headed. Some are irrationally enthusiastic. Some are in between somewhere. Even after 42 years of experience, because I refuse to go along with the financially-motivated findings of some of the large oil distributors, some of my oil selling friends won’t acknowledge that I know a thing about them. I’m quiet, and I don’t push my opinions off on people, so they just assume that my silence is one of agreement. It isn’t.
I have a master of science degree in Psychology, and many years of education in the area of research and brain chemistry. I work for a major independent research firm and conduct research on a wide array of topics and issues. In other words, I am a paid professional researcher who knows a thing or two about conducting research. I understand what real research is, and I understand what real research isn’t. I also understand how to read scientific studies, and while I know that some do, I am willing to bet that the majority of people selling essential oils do not have this knowledge. It took years…decades, in fact, to acquire, and involved intense education and supervised study to get to the level of knowledge that I have about research and I feel that I can only scratch the surface.
I remember presenting to a salesperson, some empirical scientific evidence that talked about the dangers of ingesting essential oils. The research had been compiled scientifically and was derived from empirical, peer-reviewed studies. It was quoted in a new book that had just been published about essential oils. The article was posted on a discussion group, and, of course, a salesperson from one of the major oil selling outlets commented that the person who wrote the article was “just trying to sell books.” The article had been heavily substantiated and had a long list of verifiable evidence attached. There was no counter-evidence given, no real discussion about the validity of the research, nothing. It was simply dismissed. The argument was that because the article had appeared in a book that was for sale, that the author must have made it up because she wanted to sell books. I was astonished, especially given the impressive substantiation that was attached. The person that made the comment had zero scientific background. In fact, the only qualification she had was being a top-tier essential oil SALESPERSON.
According to SPINS, an upper level marketing research firm, in the past year alone, U.S. retail sales of essential oils rose from $55 million in 2015, by an astonishing 14% to $133 million! This does not include the tens of millions in sales from multilevel marketers who bypass retail shelves and sell directly to people via independent distributors. The indies are their own animal. There are two major ones, the second being an offshoot from the first.
Those distributors, (most of whom conduct their own research), and a higher demand for over-the-counter “natural” remedies free of the side effects that can come with prescription drugs, has fueled a surge of interest in essential oils among people, especially those who use either alternative or conventional medicine. The oils can easily be found at major department stores, such as Target or Walmart, despite the objections of the pyramid-scheme style distributors that warn against using any brands other than their own.
As the popular use of essential oils exploded, so did the concerns about the oils’ safety. The truth is that a rapidly increasing number of people are turning up in emergency rooms with chemical burns, gastrointestinal problems, allergic reactions, respiratory issues, and other side effects from using essential oils. This doesn’t mean they are dangerous to use across the board. They can be used safely by most people. However, certain precautions should be observed.
The two major distributors of essential oils are infamous for overstating the potential of the oils while downplaying their risks.
There is very little scientific research on essential oils that can be considered valid and reliable. One of the reasons for this is that salespeople who are inexperienced with scientific research do not realize that when a retail company conducts its own research, by definition, that research is not valid and reliable. The research must be conducted by an independent research firm with no monetary interest in the outcome!
Many of the marketing plans of the major oil sales organization come up with schemes for their unwitting sales staff. For instance, one of the major independent distributors falsely claims that the FDA gave them a renowned “CPTG” designation, when, in fact, the company in question INVENTED that label FDA has nothing to do with it. CPTG Quality Testing is what they call their research….which is not independent research at all. The FDA doesn’t even recognize CPTG testing. It’s just a marketing ploy that fools many of the oil salespeople into thinking that this one brand is the exclusive brand of the hour, when, in fact, there are other brands with lower prices and quality just as high.
Among the REAL studies pertaining to essential oils are some promising findings. One recent scientific study found that lavender oil can lower cortisol levels. Inhaling lemongrass aroma before a stressful event can, in some instances, prevent anxiety. Studies also show that tea tree and oregano oils can fight microbes, making them popular treatments for dandruff and toe fungus, but they should only be used for these purposes under the guidance of a trained medical professional.
Some of the claims by essential oil salespeople are false or misleading. For instance, feeling sick to one’s stomach and throwing up after surgery is a common problem. Science has explored the possibilities behind treating nausea with ginger, but if you’re too nauseous to eat, what do you do? Researchers decided to put aromatherapy to the test.
Various studies have explored the possibilities that just the smell of peppermint help with nausea. Scientists had women take deep whiffs of peppermint extract…the same kind you get at the grocery store, and it seemed to work. While none sniffing plain water with green food coloring—the placebo—or the control group who didn’t sniff anything, felt better, 80% of the mint sniffers felt better within just a few minutes.
The study, however, was very small, and it did not use pure peppermint essential oil. Peppermint extract actually consists of peppermint oil and alcohol, and one scientist thought, “Hmmm. Maybe it was the smell of the alcohol that made people feel less nauseated! In 1997, researchers reported a simple and inexpensive treatment for postop nausea…which was the smell of isopropyl alcohol! They discovered that they could just effectively tear one of those little alcohol swab packets open and wave it under a patient’s nose, and this would relieve nausea and vomiting in more than 80% post operative cases. It’s been since shown to work as well as a leading anti-nausea drug, and may even work faster, cutting nausea in half within 10 to 15 minutes, rather than 20 or 25.
So was it the alcohol, the peppermint, or both? Essential oil companies LOVE to boast about how peppermint oil helps with nausea…so another test was conducted. Patients were instructed to take three slow, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, smelling alcohol, peppermint, or nothing. The smell of peppermint cut nausea in half within 5 minutes, but then, so did the alcohol. However, so did smelling nothing. So maybe it had nothing to do with the scent; maybe it was just the instruction to take slow, deep breaths. That would make it a really cost-effective intervention. Maybe this discovery shouldn’t be so surprising, given the proximity of the vomiting and breathing centers within the brain, but the essential oil companies love to claim credit for it.
Controlled breathing was shown to be effective with or without any scent.
And this is the case with many, many essential oil claims. They are claims made by the manufacturers. They are claims made by the people that SELL essential oils….but they are not founded in science and, many times, the information is false. Thankfully, “double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials performed to evaluate the effect[s] of essential oils are gradually starting to appear in medical literature, but they are few and far between.
There are two bits of advice that I can leave with you, regarding this topic.
First, do NOT trust research conducted by the very company that is selling essential oils. They can make any claims they want to make. There are no laws yet governing these claims. They want you to drink their oils, because they sell oils. Period. And second…do not EVER ingest essential oils! Ingesting sage oil is associated with seizures in children. Ingesting oil of wintergreen can be deadly. Eucalyptus oil, when ingested, can cause seizures in adults or children. Camphor essential oil can be deadly when ingested. Essential oil of nutmeg can cause seizures, comas or death. The risks are simply too high.
I say use the oils. Use them sensibly. Use them for relaxation or for treating minor illnesses. Just don’t drink them, and don’t use the oils in place of advice from your doctor. There are safe ways to use them, and ways to use them in conjunction with any medical treatments your doctor prescribes. Be smart. Educate yourself with science and not with company-generated propaganda.
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Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils.