Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just to stir up a bit of controversy. . .

I could talk about something like birth control, politics, or religion, but I thought that would be tame, so I'm going to shoot for controversial and discuss my meanderings on essential oils brands. Now, you probably have one of 4 reactions to that:

(1) "Mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa. That sounds about as exciting as discussing brands of facial tissue. . . off to another blog. . . "
(2) "Hehe. She's joking. What a mundane, non-controversial topic."
(3) "She's a tad nuts, but I'll sit back and watch the sparks fly and fangs come out of usually-nice people."
(4) "Oh my goodness. I hope she has the sense to agree with me that ________ is the only safe and pure essential oils company!"

But seriously, for those who have "been around" in the essential oil world, you know that people really do produce fangs when it comes to defending their favorite and "only quality" essential oil company. Oh goodness. Especially certain brand "camps." Let me start by saying:

Essential oils are wonderful. I hope you find some great essential oils that work for you, even if you don't end up agreeing with me about brands. I'm trying to write this light-hearted and conversational. I'm writing with a smile, not a grimace or a rotten tomato. Please just hear me out (or politely click "x" in your browser). I'm not attacking: I'm discussing and raising concerns.

I've personally used Young Living and been pleased with the quality of their oils. The point of this post is NOT to claim that YL oils are sub-quality. We have used them to treat an air-borne mold problem, as well as for general health for a few things. In addition to several bottles of Thieves (awesome stuff) and lemongrass and a diffuser, I have also used their Premium Starter kit. I've tried to get a feel for their basic oils and I have been pleased with the quality.

I have many many friends who love doTERRA, including those that sell doTERRA. As far as I know, they seem to sell quality oils. (The remaining ? in my mind is the whole additive-in-the-peppermint controversy, but I can not for the life of me find the legal finality of that court case online, and therefore I take no side on that.) But other than that parentheses, based on my readings, I do believe that doTERRA *probably* has some very good quality oils, maybe even extremely good quality. I say *probably* because I've never used them. So I'm hardly a good judge. I would be open to trying out dT oils, but not if I had to foot the bill :-D, just because I've found some other companies that I really like that are slightly cheaper - more on that later. (And finally on that note, yes, I know that there is bad blood between dT and YL, and I'm just not going to take sides on that, k?)

So now that we've cleared the air and established that I am in no way attacking the *quality* of YL and dT oils in general, let's move on, shall we?

So I've kind of puttered around in essential oils for several years. I think my first bottle of oil was something along the lines of lavender or peppermint. Either NOW or Aura Cacia brand, though not sure. Within a few years, I probably had a total of 5 oils - lavender, peppermint, orange, eucalyptus, tea tree oil - if I had to guess. (Those are excellent starter oils, for the record.) All came straight from a grocery store shelf - either NOW, Aura Cacia, or Desert something-or-other (whatever tea tree oil that Trader Joe's sells).

After a few years of using those, I started doing some more online reading about oils and stumbled across a number of YL-only sort of blogs, that were huge into essential oils, but only if they were YL oils. Disclaimers about the danger of using other brands that might be diluted, adulterated, sub-quality, etc. Now, me being skeptical and stingy, I gasped when I saw the prices for YL oils compared to my Aura Cacia and NOW bottles, and was like "eh, whatever." (I've since also read and subscribed to plenty of blogs that take the "dT is the only uber-certified wonderful-quality oils" stance, so I'm not trying to single out YL. I honestly just didn't think the whole adulteration thing was a huge real issue when I first heard of it.

But over the last few years, I've "run into" dT and YL both a lot more online. Essential oils in the health world have really taken off, probably thanks to the efforts of both dT and YL. They've done a ton of great stuff to show people the benefits of essential oils. They raised my awareness of the care that needs to go into choosing essential oil companies. There is a lot of fraud that happens in adulteration and dilution in the essential oil business. I'm very thankful for how they helped me realize that all essential oils (and their corresponding companies) are not created equal and I really do need to research different brands, methods of distillation, sourcing, etc. (All topics for another post. . . ) Young Living and doTERRA have really helped me with inspiration, ideas, and information.

But they've also helped me with a lot of misinformation. And that's actually exactly why I just can't recommend YL or dT, in general.To put it really basic: "YL oils: great. dT oils: probably great. YL and dT information: dangerous!

Now, the companies themselves give some cautions about oils, etc. Some of the oils mention not giving to young children, etc. But a TON of their oils give dosage suggestions for taking as a supplement (internally). And both communities at large really push the idea that *their* oils are safe because they're 100% pure, natural, "therapeutic grade,"et cetera. On the blogs and forums I've surfed, I've seen a distinct hesitancy to mention basic caution when it comes to these very very concentrated potent substances. If suggestion for dilution is given, it's always couched with "because, you know, it's kind of a 'hot' oil, even though it's technically safe to use undiluted." They are honestly afraid to admit that caution is necessary. I've even seen people attack others for "daring" to suggest that a reaction was because an oil was undiluted, because "everyone who is a distributor of _____ (insert company of choice) KNOWS that the oils are 100% pure and therapeutic grade and safe for all uses." I've even seen users of these oils sometimes claim that all oils are safe in pregnancy because "they're 100% pure." Um, hello. Hemlock is 100% pure, all natural, et cetera. Would NOT suggest it, folks ;-).

One of the big claims made is that "other" companies say "not for internal use" (wheras dT and YL give suggestions for internal use) so that just shows that the "other" companies don't have pure oils. Otherwise they'd be confident enough to not caution against that. "After all, if I can eat thyme in my garden, why can't I consume the essential oil?" Et cetera. Um, well. Let's explain why this is a smoke screen and based on misinformation:

First, other companies don't claim they can be used internally because IT'S THE LAW. Because YL and dT sell through independent distributors and not in stores, they are able to market their product that way, but products sold in stores have much more stringent requirements with regard to labeling something as a supplement. Also, let's face it, your liability insurance goes through the roof when you make an internal usage claim like that. Maybe part of the price difference for YL and dT oils is their higher insurance rates :-).

Second, the whole "if I can eat thyme in my garden. . . " argument shows a lack of basic chemistry. A qualified herbalist who has studied the basic chemical structure of herbs and essential oils (I am not a qualified herbalist) could tell you that the chemical structure and the therapeutic qualities of a fresh or dried herb are NOT always the same as the essential oil from the same plant. It is sometimes the case, but not always. So never ever assume that an essential oil is safe, either for topical use or ingestion, based on the properties of the fresh or dried herb.

So on to dilution. Both YL and dT folks are huge into suggesting ways of using oils undiluted. "Because they're 100% safe and pure and natural." But historically, essential oils were usually diluted. There is even some research to show that oils are MORE effective when diluted. Essential oils are so concentrated that the body processes them better when properly diluted and not overloading the body. Essential oils also evaporate more quickly than carrier oils, so diluting allows the skin to soak in the essential oils more effectively. Most people don't realize just how powerful essential oils are. They contain the therapeutic properties of a LOT of plant material. I find it frustrating that on the one hand, companies can make a claim that "our oils are so potent and set the standard for potency and therapeutic properties," and on the other hand, suggest undiluted usage so freely. If the oils are really as potent as they claim, they should be *encouraging* dilutions. But hey, that doesn't sell nearly as many bottles. . .

(A side note: just because you don't notice adverse side effects from overdosing on essential oils doesn't mean it isn't happening. Those sorts of effects can build up over time.)

Finally, my biggest frustration right now. I am really really really tired of "detox" being used as the standard excuse for why an essential oil gave someone a reaction. In my experience on forums and blogs by YL/dT, if someone is using an oil and gets a reaction (whether it's a skin rash, a headache, etc.) that seems to come from using the oils, everyone immediately says, "Read up on detox. Oh definitely detox, just push through it." Well, they say that if the person was using the "right" brand of oil for that forum/blog. But if the person was using a "less exalted" oil from an "inferior" brand, the post comes across more as a repentance and confession: "Oh, I learned my lesson. I used such-and-such-a-non-YL/dT brand of oil on myself and it gave me a reaction! I've learned my lesson and will never use anything but YL/dT ever again!" So my question is why was the reaction a sign of "poor quality or adulteration" if the oil was NOT YL or dT, but if it IS the "approved" brand, it is definitely detox (a good thing) and NOT a reason to stop using the oils or even to stop using them in a certain way. AGH.

So summary: use some wisdom in choosing your essential oil brand. Many really are low quality, in either potency (how strong and "useful" they are) or purity (additives, etc.). Many of the tests for purity for oils are easy to "trick" by oil companies, so even if their oils test pure, they may not be. So really ask your company some hard questions about how they distill, where they source their plants, how they are grown and harvested, how they are distilled, etc. (Basically, a whole other topic that I can't possibly do justice to here.) Choose wisely.

If you choose Young Living or doTERRA, you're probably using some really great top-quality oils. Good for you! Enjoy! Just remember two things: (1) the essential oil industry has been around for a lot longer than those two companies and there is room at the top and select other companies are really doing well in the business, even if they haven't spent as much time scaring people into buying their oils, and (2) please please please please please use caution when using suggestions that come from YL and dT sources. Not the companies so much as all the people that use them. Some oils can be used undiluted and some can be used internally. But it's not nearly as many as some say, and it should never be on a regular basis. Do your research, and make sure that research includes a variety of sources. I personally really like Valerie Worwood's book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. Very balanced.

Finally, check out Real Essential Oil Education for some really great quality information from a herbalist-in-training. She also has a Facebook page which is fabulous, and she periodically offers free online beginner courses in essential oils. So much great info!