Scenting: Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils & Our New Alternative July 17 2015, 1 Comment

It's no lie that essential oils have earned their place in the spotlight as of late. Rapidly growing in popularity, they have been touted to be a cure-all for everything from headaches to foot fungus. Here at The Rex Apothecary I have dedicated myself to using only essential oils to scent my body care products, since they are pure, high quality, therapeutic grade plant extracts rather than man-made synthetics that are refined using hazardous chemicals. My theory was that the closer to raw my ingredients can get, the better. 

I still stand firmly by this message. But after careful consideration and after researching the risks and benefits of essential oils vs fragrance oils I've come to a decision on which I will use from now on and it may surprise you: 

Neither.

Why, you ask? Pure plant extracted essential oils must certainly be healthy and beneficial for everyone, right? 

After heavy contemplation I have come up with a number of qualms with the current scenting industry:

Fragrances

             First off, fragrances. Too many products on the market contain fragrances which have been shown to cause asthma, skin sensitivity, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Even products labeled as "green", "natural", or "organic" have shown to produce as many hazardous chemical compounds standard ones. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and laundry products, currently does not require manufacturers to disclose any ingredients on the label, including fragrances in these products. The same is true for fragrances in personal care items, which are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. The Household Product Labeling Act, currently under review in the U.S. Senate, would require manufacturers to label consumer products with all ingredients, including fragrance mixtures. 

           This is an excellent reason to know and trust your source of household and personal care products. If you're up for it: make them yourself. If not, my advice is this: do not trust that large corporations have your health or best interest in mind. They will tell you (and avoid telling you) whatever is necessary for them to make money. They prey on your desire for convenience and affordability. If convenience is no longer our priority and we instead look for quality and transparency in manufacture, we can take back our power of choice. There are plenty of small businesses who have wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to ethical, safe, transparent business practices, and by supporting them you are putting food on their table, rather than in the offshore bank account of a corporate CEO. Vote with your dollar! 

Essential Oils

                As for essential oils. I do believe that educated and safe use of essential oils can be highly beneficial, and these oils hold a valuable place in holistic wellness. Unfortunately, multilevel marketing companies like DoTerra and Young Living are touting the cure-all benefits of their oils (and only their oils). I strongly disagree with the practice of widespread misinformation being released by undereducated sales representatives (if you're not a licensed aromatherapist, you are undereducated in the realm of essential oils).

               For example, internal use and the external use of undiluted, or "neat", oils appears to be common recommendation through these companies and their representatives. Essential oils are a plant's defense mechanism, and therefore are highly antimicrobial. Taking them internally can potentially wreak havoc on the gut flora, resulting in imbalance, poor digestion, poor nutrient assimilation, and food allergy. It is a basic understanding in the holistic community that internal use of essential oils should only be done under supervision of a naturopath or aromatherapist, since they can take your individual needs and sensitivities into account.

            One drop of lemon essential oil in your morning water may seem like a simple, tasty, refreshing drink to kickstart the day. However it takes massive amounts of a raw plant to extract a very small amount of essential oil. For example, 150 pounds of lavender flowers are required to make 1 pound of essential oil. On a smaller scale, one drop of essential oil is about the equivalent of 30 cups of tea made from the whole plant. A simple squeeze of 1/4 lemon juice in your morning water has just as many health benefits, so 30 times that doesn't really seem to be a safe or necessary recommendation for general use. We should not be using therapeutic doses of essential oils so nonchalantly, or without the supervision of an aromatherapist.   

            As far as external use goes, no matter how high quality the oil there may always be someone who is sensitive to one component of it. That is why all essential oils, with few exceptions, should be diluted. We typically dilute to .5%-1% in our formulations and recommend a skin patch test before using the product on larger areas. But it's not known if this is enough for everybody, and I want our products to be safe and gentle enough for anyone to use without a disclaimer. Regardless, with growing popularity of a natural product there will inevitably be growing demonization and alarm. There are approximately three million people living in the U.S with peanut allergies, yet we do not outlaw peanuts. Despite the fact that Tylenol (acetaminophen) remains the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States and 1,500 people have died in the last decade from acetaminophen overdose (accidental or intentional), it remains on the shelves and recommended for everyone, including infants and pregnant women. We can be certain that if an herb was responsible for as many deaths, hospitalizations, and ER visits per year it would certainly be outlawed (but that's a conversation for another day). 

Our solution

            We began looking for organic flavor oils (not as highly concentrated in potent constituents as essential oils are) made from raw plant material, rather than synthetic chemicals. We will continue this search, but in the mean time it appears that there is not enough transparency in the fragrance industry for me to feel confident in stating our product is ethical and as raw as possible. Even for "natural" flavors and fragrances that have been deemed safe for internal and external use, many of them are produced in large factories whose employees are exposed to dangerous and even deadly amounts of chemicals and fumes in their processing. I do not want my company to support such practices, and it's possible you don't want the money you spend on our products going to support it either. 

            So I've decided that if I want to truly ensure that an ingredient is up to my standards, I'll have to make it myself. In the future you will see similar scents in the shop as now, only they will be made with bases infused in-house using the entire plant. This will have the added benefit of harnessing the plant's whole energy, obtained in a gentle and personal fashion rather than harsh industrial standards that exploit both the plant and the person working with it. 
Thank you for your patience during this transition as we try to maintain consistency and adjust formulas, labels, and listings.