Bonus Lesson # 9
15 Common Myths Associated With Essential Oils And Their Use
There are lots of myths floating around about essential oils, and many of them sound amazing and true, but sadly are quite false, and sometimes dangerous! I have put together a list of the most common “myths” I have heard over the last ten or fifteen years, and the truths that “de-bunk” them.
Essential Oil Myth #1: Essential oils, absolutes, and infused oils are all the same.
Truth: Essential oils are one component of the plant that is typically steam distilled, or in some cases cold pressed. Essential oils are highly concentrated.
Absolutes (sometimes lumped in with essential oils) are usually made from delicate flowers that cannot withstand the steam distillation process. These include, but are not limited to: tuber rose, jasmine, and mimosa. Absolutes are usually more concentrated than essential oils, and are processed with solvent extraction. This means that because of the delicate nature of the plant, a chemical must be used to extract the oil rather than steam and pressure. Because of the chemicals used in extraction, absolutes should never be used internally.
Infused Oils are made by placing plant material into a carrier oil, such as olive, almond, or others, and either letting the plant material sit for a period of time, or heating the plant material and oil together. This extracts some of the plant’s essence and medicinal components into the oil. The plant material is then strained out and the oil is used. Infused oils are FAR less concentrated than essential oils; these oils are the types used in Bible times, or by ancient cultures, and not the concentrated steam distilled oils we have today.
Essential Oil Myth #2: Essential oils should not be used during pregnancy or on babies.
Truth: Essential oils are very safe and highly effective when used both during pregnancy and for infants. Most of the scientific studies done on essential oils during pregnancy show that things such as spontaneous abortion occur in test animals. Many oils that are perfectly safe on humans are toxic to certain animals. Also the purity of the oils in these studies was not verified, and the negative effects observed on the animals could easily have been from a chemical additive in the oil, and not from the plant oil itself. Very few studies have been done during pregnancy period, partly because pregnant women aren’t exactly signing up to be experimented on, or have their babies experimented on, no matter whether the products are natural or pharmaceutical. And can you blame them?
Few unbiased studies have been done because the medical community isn’t always up for putting all the work into doing a study on the scale required to show any valid statistics. Herbs, herbal oils, and essential oils have been used safely and effectively during pregnancy, and on infants, for hundreds of years, and have far less negative side effects than many traditional drugs. Yes, there are a few oils that should be avoided, and on infants, oils should always be diluted. But there are many safe oils to use during pregnancy and for infants. The reason many essential oils say “ask a medical practitioner before use during pregnancy” is for liability reasons. We are a lawyer-based culture, and it would be predictable for someone to blame the death of an infant on a “safe” oil carrying no warning label. Immediately, the producer of the oil would be sued into bankruptcy, or the FDA would swoop in and ban production of essential oils. The possibilities are certainly there.
So, if you are not sure which oils are safe during pregnancy or for infants, consult a book written by an experienced aromatherapist specializing in pregnancy and infants. Ask someone who has years of knowledge and experience working with essential oils. Or research a particular plant and essential oil for warnings on that particular oil, and why it might not be recommended for pregnancy or infants. “Not recommended during pregnancy” is frequently the liability clause, not necessarily based on real knowledge or experience. More research needs to be done than just glancing at a bottle before concluding that an oil needs to be avoided. Knowing why an oil is recommended or not recommended, or what chemical components in it might be dangerous, is always recommended.
Essential Oil Myth #3: You can’t use essential oils on pets.
Truth: Actually, essential oils can be very useful for many different types of animals. However, some oils are quite toxic to some animals (also some oils are toxic to humans!), but many are quite safe and very effective. In the wild, animals self medicate with different herbs and plants all the time, and essential oils can be helpful for thing such as: wounds, cuts, ear mites, pain relief, vomiting, ticks, calming and relaxing animals for car rides, allergies, digestive problems, and aggressiveness. A couple of the animals I’ve used oils on with great success are: dog, goats, and cows. Essential oils can be a very helpful tool for several types of animals and help you avoid unnecessary trips to the vet. There are some cautions that go with using essential oils on animals, for example, cats are extremely sensitive to essential oils and their liver can easily be overloaded. Birds are an animal you should never use essential oils on, as their body cannot process them. But many animals can benefit greatly. So do your research, and have fun!
Essential oil myth #4: Essential oils are actually oil and can stain your clothing.
Truth: An essential oils is actually not an “oil” at all; most essential oils are clear, but a few are thicker or colored. Pure essential oils will not stain your clothes or leave permanent oil spots. In fact, some oils, such as eucalyptus, can actually remove oil and grease stains from clothes. Simply apply eucalyptus oil directly to the stain, and allow to soak for a few minutes before washing as usual. Tea tree, lemon, and lime are a few other oils that work wonders on stained clothing.
Essential oil myth #5: Essential oils (unlike drugs) have no side effects. OR: If you have side effects from an essential oil, it is because the oil is not pure.
Truth: While this sounds great, it is sadly quite false. Essential oils, just like herbs, do have side effects. Some are good, some are neutral, and some are unpleasant. Even the purest essential oils can cause skin irritation, gastrointestinal upset, photosensitivity, etc. Do essential oils have less side effects than drugs? ABSOLUTELY! And severe reactions to essential oils are VERY rare. However, saying there are no side effects is a dangerous statement. Some oils are quite toxic and should be used with great caution, and even some oils that are not toxic can cause some unwanted side effects in larger doses. Always use wisdom when using essential oils, and educate yourself on the downsides of each oil, not just the wonderful benefits. Being educated will almost eliminate any negative side effects you might otherwise encounter.
Essential oil myth #6: The more rare the plant, the more expensive the essential oil is. The more common the plant, the cheaper the essential oil is.
Truth: The price of essential oils has much more to do with how much essential oil a particular plant has in it, rather than how common or rare the plant is. For example chamomile and roses are both quite common plants and can be easily grown in many different climates. However, both of these oils are extremely expensive because of the amount of plant material required to make an extremely small amount of oil. While frankincense and myrrh are far more rare and climate specific, they produce much more oil per pound of plant material than a common herb such as chamomile does. And because of this, chamomile oil is much more expensive than either myrrh or frankincense. So when you see an essential oil that is outrageously expensive, even though it seems a common plant, the reason is that the plant-to-essential-oil ratio is very small. Just for a perspective, it takes 5,000 pounds of rose petals to make just one pound (about a pint) of essential oil.
Essential Oil Myth #7: Only buy essential oils from companies that make all their own oils.
Truth: Essential oils are usually distilled near where the plants are grown. This is the most cost-effective and ecologically sound way to distill essential oil. Transporting 100 pounds of an herb or spice to remove 3 pounds of oil is not very efficient. And putting the 97 pounds of plant residue back into the fields where it was grown is a sound farming practice. Distilling a high quality essential oil is both science and art, and oftentimes the expertise for distilling a particular plant is found in the region where that oil has been grown and distilled for hundreds of years – sometimes by the same family or village. Also, many essential oils are distilled from fresh or partially dried plant materials which can only be done near the fields where they were harvested. And finally, the diversity of soils and climate needed to grow the many plants used in aromatherapy means they can’t all be grown in the same place. While some dried plants are routinely shipped to another area or even another country for distillation, many excellent quality pure essential oils are produced on or near the farms where they were grown.
Essential Oil Myth #8: Company X or Y is the ONLY company that sells pure oils.
Truth: Aromatherapy has been effectively used for both beauty and medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, long before any of the companies claiming to produce the only safe and effective oils available were in business. The idea that one company holds the “golden egg” of ultimate purity is an idea promoted by individual companies themselves, not unbiased third party research. While there are many companies that sell adulterated, poor quality oils, there are also many companies dedicated to bringing top quality medicinal oils to the marketplace. Money is a powerful motivator, and claiming all other oils (with theirs as the only exception) are dangerous and harmful to your health goes a long way towards padding the pockets of the companies that choose to advertise in this way.
Essential Oil Myth #9: Essential oils are the “blood” of the plant. Essential oils are what run out of a plant when it is injured and they help the plant heal, as well as transporting nutrients and oxygen to the cells of the plant.
Truth: Essential oils are very concentrated and will actually harm the plant if exposed to the delicate tissues. Essential oils are sequestered away in tiny pockets to prevent damage. What runs out of an injured plant is sap, a mixture o f xylem and phloem. The sap, not essential oils, is what helps the plant heal, and transports nutrients. The purpose of essential oils is to deter insects, or in some cases, to attract them, and to ward off bacteria and viruses.
Essential Oil Myth #10: Essential oils are the most oxygenated substances on earth, and supply much needed oxygen to tissues when applied.
Truth: The predominant elements found in essential oil constituents are hydrogen and carbon. Oxygen, when it is found in essential oils at all, is found only in small quantities. As an example, citrus oil contains only 1 percent oxygen. There is also a HUGE difference between “free” or elemental oxygen, and “bound” or molecular oxygen. Bound oxygen, such as that found in essential oils, must be processed by the body to be released. Even then, it is most often converted into another form, not free oxygen which can be used by the body. While oxygen is wonderful for your body, and breathing deeply and inhaling more oxygen can improve your health, the oxygen found in essential oils has nothing to do with this process.
Essential Oil Myth #11: The reason some companies charge so much more for their essential oils is because they are much purer than the cheaper brands you can buy in the health food store.
Truth: Many companies promote their oils as the only pure oils available, but the truth is much less about actual fact and much more about advertising, with companies trying to elevate their products above those of the competition.
Below this post are two links for third party testing of essential oils from multiple companies. The first of these two group testings was done by Dr. Pappas of Essential Oil University, and some of the most expensive oils on the market today were almost identical to inexpensive brands found on the shelves of health food stores. The second set of tests were done by a prestigious essential oil lab in France.
Below you can see two links to these tests. The blind testings are revealing, and the oils are ranked from best to worst. However, Dr. Pappas said that the oils that passed his examinations were so close that they could have all been from the same company. So if one of your favorite oils ranked down on the list, don’t panic, they were so similar it was very difficult to rank them. Please read the test results, as I think you will find them interesting! (As a side note for those who are interested, Dr. Pappas has spoken on essential oils at DoTerra conventions.) It is important to remember, that basing ALL your decisions on testing like this is like trying to determine a person’s intelligence ONLY from a test score. There are so many factors that go into a high quality essential oil, that one battery of tests couldn’t possibly show all the factors. And some oils that have parameters outside of the “standard” they were tested against could still be fabulous oils, with just a slightly elevated level of a certain component due to the growing season, the area they were grown in, etc. But what testing like this does show, is that there is much less difference than we have been led to believe betweens some of the most expensive oils on the market, and those much more reasonably priced. Personally, in my experience over the years, I have done numerous side by side tests with very expensive oils from Young Living and DoTerra, alongside much less expensive oils, such as Plant Therapy, NOW, Aura Cacia, and others. I’ve used these oils on the same people for the same ailments, and have seen just as amazing of results, sometimes even more amazing with the less expensive oils. So do your research, and don’t believe all the flowery sales pitches from the companies themselves. Much of it is just brilliant marketing techniques, rather than oils you can scientifically prove are higher quality.
Essential Oil Myth #12: Essential oils were used in the Bible and by other ancient cultures.
Truth: Steam distillation, which produces what we know as “essential oils,” was not invented until the 1400s, so there were no essential oils prior to that. The herbal oils used in the Bible and in ancient cultures were other types of oils such as infused oils, which are made by a very different process, and result in a VERY different product. While studying the herbs and other oils used in the Bible or by ancient cultures is fascinating, it is historically inaccurate to say or imply that essential oils have been used for thousands of years, when they are actually a fairly modern product.
Essential Oil Myth # 13: If you are using a truly pure essential oil on your skin and it causes redness, a burning sensation, or irritation, that is your body detoxing.
Truth: This myth comes from the desperation of some people to put a positive spin on any “negative” effects a product might have on the body. Natural substances must be used wisely and trying to explain away any negative effects as “detox” is not scientifically sound at all. Contrary to this popular myth, redness caused by an essential oil is IRRITATION, not detox. Many people cite as “proof” of this myth that the body’s reaction to the oils changes from day to day, depending on how many toxins are present. It is true that on one day an oil might cause no irritation, and yet on another day, the same oil on the same person might irritate the skin and cause redness. This is not caused by different levels of “toxicity” in the body, but can be explained by many factors, including variations of temperature outside and inside the body, which controls how open or closed the pores are. When the pores are closed, less irritation is likely to occur than when your pores are open. Thus, if you are hot when you are applying an oil, more irritation is likely to occur than if you are cold. I must say I find it amusing that the people spreading this myth insist that any redness caused by their essential oils is detox, but any redness caused by other brands of oils is because the oil is not pure, causing the skin to be irritated by the chemicals. Sorry to rain on the parade, but both answers are false! Essential oils are strong substances that can cause irritation when not diluted properly. So use them wisely and dilute properly!
Myth # 14: Put a drop of essential oil on a piece of blotting paper and let it evaporate. If it leaves a stain or oily residue, you know the oil is adulterated and not pure.
Truth: Like many myths, there is a kernel of truth in this one. If an essential oil is cut (diluted) with another plant oil, you will be able to tell this because of an oily residue left behind on the paper. However, there are certain essential oils that are very slow evaporating oils such as patchouli, sandalwood, or vetiver, that can remain on the paper for days, and this does not mean they have been diluted. Citrus oils also may “fail” this test, as they are cold pressed and contain small amounts of non-volatile compounds that can leave a mark on blotter paper. Also, this “test” is only valid on essential oils that have been diluted with an oily compound. Many essential oil companies cut their oils with alcohol, or other solvents that will leave no oily residue behind. So as you can see, the blotter paper test only gives part of the story, and cannot be used as conclusive “proof” of an oil’s purity.
Essential Oil Myth #15: Essential oil X, Y, or Z will help any hormonal issue, all pain, or any allergies, etc. because they are “intelligent” and will help restore balance to the body wherever there is a problem.
Truth: One symptom does not equal one diagnosis. It is important to understand that essential oils work differently for different people with different underlying issues. Beware when someone is claiming that an oil will help you with your symptom no matter what the cause is. This shows a lack of basic scientific knowledge on how both the human body and essential oils function. Hormonal issues can be exaggerated, or alleviated by the same essential oil, depending on what the underlying cause is. Pain is not all the same. Is your pain from arthritis, muscle strain, tendonitis, or bone spurs? It MATTERS! What essential oil works wonders for one type of pain may do little or nothing for another type of pain. Essential oils are not magic potions that will morph into whatever you need, want, or “believe” them to be. So educate yourself on essential oils, and how different oils work, as this will help you use the oils in the most effective way possible, with the best results!
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