You know that dance rehearsal scene from White Christmas in which Danny Kaye starts singing his 'lament' over the switch from dancing to choreography in the world of theater?
"What's happened to the thea-tah!?"
Sometimes I look at the aromatherapy industry and the same thought goes through my mind. Yes, we are experiencing an exciting, unparalleled boom in the aromatic world and it is incredible how widespread these precious plant products have become! The growing awareness of natural remedies and traditional folk medicine is a huge step in the right direction.
But with all of these positives, some things sure have gone wonky. I love our industry. I love working with the plants, including their essential oils, to support my loved ones and to do whatever I can to help all of you. But sometimes it feels like we all need to gather 'round for a collective huddle so we can work together on getting some things back on track.
Before you keep reading, please know that I am consciously writing from a place of love and respect - for you and the plants. I am not writing with the intention to attack anyone, so please...as you scroll through this list of mishaps, read with an open heart knowing that we are on the same team. =)
10 THINGS THAT HAVE GONE WRONG IN THE AROMATHERAPY INDUSTRY
NOT ENOUGH EDUCATION
The sale of essential oils has exponentially grown throughout the past few years. So have essential oil related poison control calls, injury reports and adverse reactions. This boom in sales wasn't accompanied by an equal amount of quality education in the areas of essential oil safety and the proper use and storage of essential oils.
The result? Years of well-meaning, sincere people sharing misinformation with their friends and loved ones whilst thinking that what they've been sharing is true and safe because a sales rep they trusted (and who was in their shoes just a short while ago) shared the information with them. In reality, what has been (and is still being) taught often includes outright dangerous advice. Straightening all of this misinformation back out again can feel a bit like trying to untangle silly string.
The sticky thing is that folks who start sharing their love for essential oils with others are usually doing so because they genuinely want to help people feel better and they don't realize that what they've been 'taught' is sometimes inaccurate.
Bottom line: The industry boomed and the larger companies didn't always provide the quality education necessary to support the growth.
The solution: Quality education for sales reps and consumers. There are some amazing people, schools, and other educational resources already available. Something we can easily do is help spread the word about them! I've made a list of some of the best educational resources for you. I'll write more about this at the very end of the blog post.
NOT ENOUGH EDUCATION
So the easy thing to do is dump most of the blame for the lack of proper education on the MLM brands. But let's be honest. They aren't the only ones who have dropped the ball.
Some people have done some of their research. They knew where the most popular essential oil brands fell short. They may have even taken a few aromatherapy classes or read some of the most recommended books. But somewhere along the way, they started to talk about or teach things that they didn't fully understand yet.
I know it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of learning about something you feel passionate about and want to share it (and there's a place for that), but the problem is that when we start speaking as an authority too early, the inaccuracies in our words can stick around and create confusion, especially when we've already built an audience of people who trust us.
We see a lot of this happening, especially on social media based platforms. Unfortunately, it's often being manifested in manipulation and fear-based, my-way-or-the-highway, "always" and "never" type 'teaching' styles, which are anything but true to the holistic spirit of aromatherapy.
Bottom line: It's better to be quiet and admit that you don't fully understand a certain subject than to pretend to know what you're talking about when you don't...yet.
The solution: Keep learning. Embrace the process of learning and recognize that we are all students. Share what you know. Be humble. Be honest. Ask for help when you need it. Don't be afraid to admit it when you don't fully understand something yet. We're all here to help each other and we're all growing. Admitting that you don't know something builds more trust with your audience than bluffing.
NOT ENOUGH EDUCATION
Essential oils are incredibly potent substances. We know this, yet it's easy to become a bit too cavalier with them, isn't it?
If we're going to choose to bring something so concentrated and so potentially toxic (when used improperly) into our homes, we need to also choose to learn how to use them safely and responsibly from reliable, reputable, non-sales related sources.
When we see recipes on social media that advise people to whip up a daytime under-eye cream that contains cold pressed Bergamot essential oil at a 35% dilution, it's a problem.
When we see mommas advising other new parents to use undiluted essential oils on their newborns, it's a problem.
When a friend calls me to see if it's okay that her mom has been using undiluted Cinnamon Bark on her skin several times a day, it's a problem.
If you choose to have essential oils in your home, you need to educate yourself. You need to know how to properly store them. You need to keep them away from your children and pets. You need to learn how to use them safely and properly and treat them with respect. It's your responsibility.
The solution: Invest in quality education. (I'll be sharing a list of great educational resources at the end of this post!)
misplaced value systems
People don't want to see a professional because it costs money and they can get advice for free on the internet.
People don't want to take a class or a full course or invest in a good quality library because those things all cost money and they can get advice for free on the internet.
People don't want to go to the doctor because that costs money and they can find advice for free on the internet.
One of my mentors often says, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
Would you ask your lawyer to diagnose your medical symptoms or a stranger on the street to pull your tooth? Probably not. You'd go to a trained professional, pay them for their service, say "Thank you," and receive something of value. So why do we keep asking for advice from unqualified strangers on the internet?
On the other side of the coin, if you're a professional who gives advice for free on the internet, you could be contributing to this wonky way of thinking if you are not valuing yourself, your time, and your own education.
[Edited to Add: There seems to have been some disconnect with this last statement. I just want to take a moment to clarify that I fully support professionals who are helping to educate, share safety information, and be available for people who are learning online. Generally speaking, I'm referring more here to situations in which professionals are giving specific advice to specific individuals without having information like that person's medical history, current medications, etc. on file (things that we do have when we have a consultation with a paying client; things that are necessary in order to ensure the client's safety).]
Bottom line: It's time to re-align our values and ground them in reality, not the internet.
The solution: Value quality information, services and products over things that are free and lack value. Honor the equal exchange of value that happens when you pay a professional for their time, product, or service.
Professionals who don't understand scope of practice
Aromatherapy is not a licensed profession. Aromatherapists are not licensed to diagnose or treat medical conditions.
When people come to you as an aromatherapy professional to ask you questions about which oils are good for their medical issues, you are not licensed to answer those questions. Your insurance does not cover your answers to these types of questions because they fall outside your scope of practice. Nor does your insurance cover offering advice to people who you have not seen in your practice (i.e. people on social media, etc.).
Your best bet? An answer like this one:
"I can point you to some interesting research on how essential oils can affect the symptoms often associated with ____ if you'd be interested in studying it out for yourself, but prescribing essential oils for that condition is outside my scope of practice. However, I'm sure I can offer you a blend that will be emotionally supportive as you work with your doctors."
Bottom line: Do not give medical advice, online or otherwise, unless you are licensed to do so. Period.
The solution: Stick to your scope of practice. Aromatherapy is currently classified as an unlicensed healing art that supports the health and well-being of our clients. Embrace that and work within it.
Non-professionals who don't understand scope of practice
This one is really simple.
If you are not a doctor, you are not a doctor.
Therefore, you should not be giving medical advice.
If you have been, knock it off.
Recent example: A few weeks ago, I saw people (who were not doctors or qualified health professionals) readily responding to a woman's request for advice regarding a medical condition that can quickly escalate into a life-threatening situation when it isn't dealt with by a medical professional. Not okay.
Bottom line: If you are not a doctor and you are over the age of 10, you are too old to play doctor, especially with real people who are experiencing real medical symptoms or conditions.
The solution: Know when to speak and when be quiet. If you feel like you can add value to a conversation because of your own life experiences, do so by referring someone to a professional or a reputable book that really helped you, but do not give medical advice. Value the professionals - their licenses exist to protect you! Also, don't ask for medical advice on social media.
Too much noise
Unfortunately, that lack of education we talked about earlier combined with the boom of essential oil enthusiasts shows up way too much on blogs, Pinterest, and social media. Because of all this noise, it can be hard to find safe and reputable educational resources online.
Your best bet? Be wary of Pinterest when searching for safe recipes. Stick to trusted resources and reputable blogs and books instead.
Bottom line: Much of what you'll find on Pinterest or social media should be read with a tablespoon of salt.
The solution: Always compare what you read to trusted resources that are known for safe practice. (I've made a list for you - read more at the bottom of this post.)
Hype and Inaccurate Assumptions
- Hype vs. Fact -
The best example of hype that resulted in misconceived notions about what essential oils do and don't do is the "Frankincense oil cures cancer!" claim. Robert Tisserand explains the whole situation perfectly, so I'll let you read his post about it rather than rehash it here.
Is it possible that future research may find Frankincense essential oil to have anti-cancer properties? Sure - anything is possible! But since that hasn't been concluded yet, we need to be careful about believing things we read on the internet and sharing them as truth. I'm not saying we should turn into skeptics, but we do need to be fact checkers and researchers and think critically rather than emotionally.
- Herb vs. Essential Oil -
It's easy to automatically assume that an essential oil has the same therapeutic properties or actions as the herb from which it was derived. This isn't always the case, so be wary of sources (even books) that lump the two together and suggest that the two act the same way. While this may be the case sometimes, it isn't the rule.
- What Essential Oils Do and Don't Do -
If someone tells you that an essential oil does ____ for ____ condition, do some fact-checking before believing and spreading the information. Turn to established research and documented studies and clinical trials. Discuss it with professionals who are experienced in that area. Essential oils are amazing plant products, but they're sometimes credited for things with some exaggeration. Can we find that they work for things that aren't yet documented in research? Of course - we are still learning! But do be careful about spreading information that you don't yet know is true. Perhaps what was really working for the person who said that ___ essential oil cured their ___ was not the essential oil, but a combination of lifestyle changes or a different oil (or combination of them) in a blend they were using.
Bottom line: Sometimes what you hear/read about essential oils isn't quite the truth, even if the information is widespread. Sometimes statements are exaggerated to grab a reader's attention. Sometimes people make assumptions that turn out not to be true. These things lead to common misconceptions about what essential oils do and don't do.
The solution: Just the facts, Ma'am. Vet everything, especially before sharing it. Don't assume that an essential oil acts the same way the herb does. Keep careful notes of your own case studies (if you are a practicing aromatherapist) so you can find oils/recipes that work consistently in a variety of cases for a common purpose. Think critically, not emotionally.
Blowing things out of proportion
Imbalance is the opposite of homeostasis.
This is true in our bodies and in our approach to aromatherapy. The farther we lean toward one extreme or the other, the farther we veer away from a healthy state of balance.
Some things real people are saying that lean too far toward an extreme:
- "Never use essential oils or hydrosols on babies."
- "Never give sugar scrubs to your friends or family members unless you include a preservative."
- "Essential oils can be used for everything..." or "How to incorporate essential oils into your daily routines."
All of the statements above lean too far away from balance.
- "Never use essential oils or hydrosols on babies."
Hydrosols are perfectly fine for use with babies when used safely and with common sense. I have not been able to find any research that suggests otherwise. (If you have, please leave sources in the comments below so we can all benefit from them.)
- "Never give sugar scrubs to your friends or family members unless you include a preservative."
This one is a fairly recent development in the discussion of using preservatives in homemade products. Most courses in aromatherapy don't cover much in the way of using preservatives, so when people start talking about them before they understand them, they tend to be overly cautious. As the discussion around preservatives grows, so does this sense of caution.
In the US, when you want to sell a homemade product (like a lotion or cream) that contains water-based ingredients (distilled water, hydrosols, aloe vera, etc.), you need to add a preservative to the product. This is because a product with a water-based ingredient in it usually needs to be stored in the fridge and has a short shelf life, so if it's being sold in a store, where it might sit on a shelf at room temperature for several weeks (or months) before being purchased, it can cause problems.
When you're making products at home in small batches for yourself or to give away as gifts, you probably don't need to add a preservative as a general rule. But use common sense! If you've been making your own lotions or water-based products for any length of time, you probably already recognize the signs that let you know when they've spoiled - they begin to look different, smell different, and/or change consistency. You can tell when you should toss them and make a fresh batch.
Obviously, you shouldn't be using a sugar scrub that has been sitting in your shower for a month because it has been repeatedly exposed to water, which increases the chances of bacterial growth in the product, but using a face cream (that doesn't have things like fresh fruit in it) that you made fresh 5 days ago and have been storing in the fridge? Totally fine. Giving away a small jar of homemade sugar scrub with instructions to use it up within a week? Totally fine.
Logic trumps preservatives, y'all.
- Using essential oils daily / for everything
As a general rule, essential oils do not need to be added to every part of your daily routine or even used on a daily basis. They should be used when needed, for a specific purpose. I love essential oils and I enjoy working with them, but I don't use them every day and I definitely don't recommend them for everyone.
That said, if you want to diffuse Sweet Orange oil today just because you love the smell, it's okay. Using an essential oil because you enjoy the smell of it is valid reason to use it. But again, use common sense. Running your diffuser for several hours every day starts to lean too far away from balance and introduces risks that are easily avoided by a more balanced approach.
Bottom Line: Remember that people can tend to blow things way out of proportion and lean too far away from balance.
The solution: Don't get caught up in extremes. Use common sense. Respect the oils. Foster a balanced approach.
Not minding your own business
I get it. People take essential oils personally. We have strong emotional attachments to these allies. When we see people using essential oils in ways that we think they ought not, we can sometimes have an emotional reaction and feel like we need to convert, er, educate them.
So, here's our reality check for those moments when we want to jump in, but know we probably shouldn't:
Mind your manners. They are not your patients. They are not your children. It is none of your business. It is not your job to try to convert them to your way of thinking. Doctors don't treat people who are not their patients. Teachers do not educate people who are not their students (generally speaking). Parents should not tell other parents how to raise their children.
So...step away from the emotional reaction and mind your manners. You can make a difference, but jumping in where you aren't welcome or haven't been invited is usually not the way to do it.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
Approach aromatherapy from a state of balance and love. When you're coming from a place of love and enthusiasm, it's contagious. When you speak from that place, you are better equipped to inspire and encourage and empower people. You make a difference! By respecting the oils and loving others and sharing what you know (when/where appropriate) from that place, you can influence the industry for good. What are some things we can do on a practical level?
I've also made a list of quality educational sources for you.
Since this article is already so long, I've chosen to make it available as a PDF download for you
instead of typing it all out below. Don't worry - it's free. =)
Thanks for sticking around with me. <3