Get ready for a whole lot of disclaimers before I tell you Why I’m not using oils from “The Big Two” essential oil companies.
1. This isn’t the time to defend your oil.
It’s not that I don’t value discussion and debate. But the internet is already very cluttered with this type of blog post that usually ends with a boat load of comments that inevitably become more confusing for the reader and don’t further the discussion past “but it’s a pure oil” or “my oil is purer than yours” and it just gets nasty. So, please save your arguments for why you believe your oil is better for another post. If you want to discuss it further I would love to via email. But I feel like this post is better served without that rhetoric.
Yeesh. I’m only one paragraph in and it already sounds so aggressive, doesn’t it?! That’s the thing about this oil debate. It gets super personal. It IS super personal. And people are passionate about their beloved brand. But let’s agree to keep an open mind for a few thousand words, ok? Just a few thousand.
2. I’m a fan of multi-level marketing
I’m not against multi-level marketing (MLM) at all. It has been my experience that the MLM companies I’ve bought from over the years have provided me with products that have performed as promised. I have Tupperware in my cabinet and Mary Kay in my cosmetics bag. I’m in no way against MLM. And I’m not against representing “The Big Two.” I have very dear friends who are reps for both sides and we are able to discuss how wonderful oils are, share recipes, and swap stories without issue.
3. Research is my favorite past time. I’m a total research junkie.
I’m no slouch in the research department and I’m not new to the essential oils scene either. I’m not writing this post after trying them out for a week or reading something Sally Sue said on instagram that one time about how great they are. I’ve delayed writing this post for a long time specifically because I wanted to make sure I had done my research before joining the conversation. I geek out on evidence-based research and studies in medical journals. I’ll try to keep it light for those of you who are bored to death with that sort of information (ahem, those of you who have actual lives) but I feel a responsibility to bring a bit more “science” into it past what a corporation’s website tells us or what we heard at a company’s expo or conference or webinar. So, feel free to follow the links at the end if you’d like to read some studies from a few medical journals. I think they’re fascinating. I’ve been quietly conducting my own (albeit informal) research and talking with “The Big Two” directly to draw my conclusions.
4. No, I can’t tell you which companies I spoke with.
While I feel like I now have definitive answers to my questions from big name companies in this game, I cannot post my email correspondence with them for you to read on this blog. There are copyright and defamation issues that might arise if I did. That muddies the waters for the reader a bit because you have to draw your own conclusions about who said what and to what degree. But, in a sense, I think it also speaks volumes about the level of transparency of these companies and the degree to which they are willing to further the conversation.
4. I don’t think my oils are better than yours.
In no way do I claim that “The Big Two” are not providing good oils. I am of the camp that believes any kale is better than no kale at all. While I recognize the importance of organic, therapeutic grade, sustainably grown, etc., let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water when choosing which oil is healthier for us. This post is meant to further the discussion on transparency not debate who is more “pure.” More on that in a bit.
5. I’m not a doctor. Duh.
Material on this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice in any way. The inclusion of any link does not imply my endorsement of the linked site or its affiliates, or any information, content, products, services, advertising or other materials presented on or through such web sites. I am not responsible for the availability, accuracy, or any information, content, products or services accessible from such sites. DO NOT DISREGARD MEDICAL ADVICE OR DELAY SEEKING MEDICAL CARE BECAUSE OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ ON OR ACCESSED THROUGH THIS WEBSITE.
Oof. That was a bit cumbersome to get through I’m sure. Let’s dive in.
Where I stand…..
I love oils. But I’m not brand loyal. And especially not to “The Big Two” as we shall refer to them from here on out. I have a couple of companies that I love but it’s taken me years of research to finally lock down a few favorites.
Here’s the thing that I think is the most important point in this whole post to remember and I will hang all my arguments from it:
Essential oils are a drug and should be treated with the same respect and care as other pharmaceuticals.
I think the common misconception is that if it is easy to acquire then it must be safe. I think this same mistake is made with caffeine, herbs, even vitamins. Vitamins are over-the-counter and good for you, right? Perhaps. But used inappropriately they can cause or contribute to a host of other issues. You can literally overdose on Vitamin D. You probably won’t. But you could. And if you did you might experience a whole slew of symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and even kidney failure in severe cases. Of course, we’re used to seeing warnings like this for things like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But because things like vitamins and herbal supplements aren’t regulated by a governing body we are expected to do our own leg work and educate ourselves in the proper doses and usage for our particular needs. The same goes for essential oils, hydrosols, herbs, and other alternative therapies. Just because they’re plant-derived or a company trademarks theirs as the only “truly pure” oil on the market doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still be treated with respect and care. Because they can have a profound impact on our bodies. There are plenty of pure, plant-derived substances that can kill us if not used properly. The “pure” argument alone was not enough for me to commit to one of “The Big Two.”
I needed more than a “purity” claim to commit. There’s a lot of information floating around out there and often I have not found it to be backed up with science in conversation. While I admit that this might be kind of awkward for regular conversation and maybe even a buzzkill, it would still be nice to see it happening more online. I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of essential oils and have found the science I was looking for to back it up but it wasn’t through a MLM consultant and instead on my own time through certified aromatherapists and people outside of the MLM world. That’s not to say that there aren’t consultants out there who know their stuff. I’m sure most do. My point is that, for me, it’s a slippery slope primarily because we are dealing with a drug. On the one hand, I think it is great that anyone can sign up as a consultant and sell these oils. Because, without that I might not have been exposed to them. On the other hand, when we’re dealing with people’s health I think it could be dangerous to have someone “sell” them to their neighbor down the street without really looking past the research from the company they’re making money FOR. There are a lot of factors to consider when recommending an oil to someone (i.e. age, medical conditions, drug interactions, etc.). It’s not like selling a tupperware container or some eyeliner to your friend.
“The Big Two” both sell blended oil products that are very popular among moms with kids because of their anti-germ and anti-congestion properties. But some of the very popular blends often contain eucalyptus or rosemary oil, both of which contain the chemical compound 1,8-cineole which has been shown to slow respiration in some children. The argument I’ve heard over and over again is that “I’ve been using it with my kids for years and never had a problem” or “The research says that reactions only occurred in studies where an excessive dose was given.” When there are oils that provide the same anti-germ and anti-congestion properties that do not contain 1,8-cineole, why risk it?
Can you see how confusing it all becomes? There is a lot of responsibility on the consumer as well as the consultant to try to provide unbiased, research-based evidence when possible. How does the consumer know that the consultant is properly educated? I love hearing other people’s recipes and experiences with the product. But I want to know WHY it worked for them. Not just that it did. When the consultant points to claims from the company they work for without third-party results to back it up how can the consumer be sure they have the best information?
Ahhh. Therein lies the rub.
So, after many years of reading and researching I decided to cut out the middle man and go straight to the source. A month ago I contacted “The Big Two” and asked my most pressing question first by phone and then by email (as directed by the phone representatives who had no idea what GC/MS testing was….one representative said she wasn’t sure what I meant by “third party testing”):
“Do you provide third party lab results and MSDS sheets to consumers?”
Since both companies make a point to promote their extensive testing on their website I thought this would be an easy request. I mean, what’s the point of conducting extensive testing on your product if no one ever sees the results? How does that benefit the consumer?
One company still has not responded beyond an automated “we received your message” email. And the other initially responded with another chorus of “we partner with expert growers and chemists and use the highest quality oils” that I’ve already heard played out in every comment, forum, and MLM blog. The company went on to say that they do not provide third party lab results for their oils because of the “proprietary nature” of the product. I can see how a blend or a value-added product like toothpaste or lotion could be proprietary. But I cannot understand what could be so proprietary about a single oil like, for example, peppermint oil. Shouldn’t it just contain one ingredient….peppermint oil? If it contained anything else wouldn’t that no longer make it a “pure” oil as they claim? What could be in the oil that made it so unique to their company that they couldn’t share it with the consumers who so enthusiastically promote their product, for fear that a rival company might try to duplicate it?
I suspected I already knew some possible answers to this. Let’s keep using single ingredient peppermint oil as our example. Either the oil contains something else besides peppermint oil and, as such, should be considered an “adulterated oil” or a “blend” of some sort. Or, the oil was derived from a country that might not be so great for marketing (i.e. China). Or, the oil isn’t as potent as consumers believe it to be.
You see, I already knew that the gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer tests that “The Big Two” conduct in-house and through their chosen third party labs would reveal a lot. That’s why I initially asked to have access to them. GC/MS testing is an “additive-revealing” technique. In simpler terms, the GC portion provides a fingerprint of sorts for the oil being tested and the MS portion can show potency and possible adulterants. If a company touts itself as “the purest” wouldn’t it make sense to prove it? Why hide the results of that purity from consumers?
I emailed again and asked for clarification on the proprietary issue. And I was told again that the results were not made available because the tests revealed proprietary information that might be used by other companies to duplicate products. And, that the Safety Data Sheets I also asked for were only made available to healthcare facilities and required a long list of documents that must be presented first, including a business license.
Heh? Come again? A business license?!
Meanwhile, there are other essential oil companies who will provide batch specific GC/MS third party lab results upon request and even one that I’ve found where you can view the actual GC/MS test for your oil online by simply entering the unique batch number found on the bottom of your bottle.
That might not matter to many people. But it speaks volumes to me. With that knowledge I can then make an informed decision about the purity and the efficacy of the oils I’m purchasing. I might have to take the results to my own lab to have them deciphered or I might have to brush up on some science. But, by making that information available to me they have given me more power over choosing the best product for me and my family than “The Big Two” are willing to do. And, unlike “The Big Two”, making those lab results available shows me they have nothing to hide.
Withholding GC/MC test results is a deal breaker for me. Until “The Big Two” can provide that kind of information and transparency, none of their claims of purity made through their website or their promotional materials or their consultants/brand reps makes a hill of beans to me. It can be the purest oil in the world but I need to see the proof.
My hope is that this post won’t be alienating or offensive to anyone who loves and believes in their oil. What I’d like to see is a discussion happening that encourages those big companies to release that information and become a little more transparent. They’ve helped spur on a movement that is empowering people to take their health into their own hands and they’ve made oils a little more “mainstream” which I think is great. They’ve encouraged this amazing community of essential oil advocates that I love being a part of. But I’d love to see them offer an outstanding level of transparency alongside the encouraging community and pretty packaging. And I’d love to see more discussion surrounding essential oil toxicity and safe use of essential oils.
And because I know some of you probably read through this whole thing waiting on me to recommend a company, let me address that:
I won’t recommend any companies in this post because I don’t want to look like I’m promoting one over the other. I do not work for an essential oil company or sell them. If you’d like to find out who I like feel free to poke around on instagram and maybe we’ll bump into each other and discuss. 😉
Links for further research
Composition and potential anticancer activities of essential oils obtained from myrrh and frankincense
Essential Oils and Their Constituents as Anticancer Agents: A Mechanistic View
How to Choose High Quality Essential Oils
Physician Data Query cancer information summary for health professionals (comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the use of aromatherapy and essential oils in the treatment of people with cancer). **Lots of links to further research and studies in this one**
University of Maryland Medical Center (aromatherapy)
Essential Oils Never to Buy
Children and Essential Oils
Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt sees rise in children ingesting essential oils
Essential Oils: Poisonous when Misused