Much, if not all of what we include in our push for comfy consumerism and self-indulgence, comes with an ecological price tag. One such area is the production and sale of essential oils. It should be abundantly clear that if it takes 50 lemons to produce 15ml of Lemon essential oil, or 63 pounds of Melissa to produce 5ml of essential oil, or 30 to 50 roses to create a single drop of rose oil, the growth and production of essential oils is resource intensive and not at all sustainable.
In a 17 billion dollar industry and growing, with an insatiable demand responding to excessive marketing, inaccurate applications and claims, and the push of several MLM companies to use more and more of these oils, it is ridiculous to think this demand could rely solely on wild crafted sources: weather simply determines production in the wild. The impact on the environment of controlled growth farmed plants, even those that purport to be ‘natural’ and grown with conscience, is staggering based on the sheer numbers alone. Outside of these North American farms is the carbon footprint and the cost of importation of rare oils from far and distant locations on the planet.
Essential oils are concentrated and their application is powerful. A trained aromatherapy professional will dilute them instead of using them ‘neat’ and as many trained aromatherapists will say ”less is more” in fact, when it comes to therapeutic applications. Unfortunately, too many multilevel marketing outfits encourage the overuse of essential oils, regardless of the unsustainable environmental impact.
Between rubbing them neat on the skin without a carrier, dropping them under the tongue or into a capsule, using them in your food, in your water, on your pet, on your eye lashes and diffusing them all day long, the hype is creating an environmental footprint that needs to be considered by those that purport to be “green” in their lifestyles as well as their politics.
It is quality not quantity that we need to strive for in a balanced, healthy existence that is equitable with nature and that impacts wellness and sustainability, not the monetary gain by any company. It is simply not necessary, therapeutically, to overuse essential oils. Although there are some demonstrable benefits, they are not a singular “magic bullet” of treatment any more than any one supplement, one herb, one pharmaceutical or one treatment modality.
Aromatherapist Mindy Green explains: “Growing the substantial quantities of plant material needed to produce essential oils results in a mono-culture style of farming, with large swathes of land dedicated to a single species. These systems are most efficiently managed by intense mechanization, and irrigation is frequently used for optimal oil production of the plants.”
Continuous harvesting has a detrimental impact. As well, the distillation process produces masses of residual plant material that’s often not disposed of in an environmentally-friendly manner. Some companies manage their own farms, dispose of or recycle the residual material and work at creating sustainability in this market. It may be a helpful move forward but it is the critical volume of raw material that is required to produce minute amounts of oil that may be unsustainable, no matter what means are employed to reduce the impact of harvesting and processing.
Also, all essential oils are flammable to varying degrees, in particular citrus scents, so the disposal of the little glass bottles should be treated as hazardous waste. This information appears on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on each oil and should be available from the company that produces it, along with the Certificate of Analysis for each oil. This information is indispensable, as the MSDS explains the risks of use with the product as well as disposal directions and the Certificate of Analysis demonstrates the testing that was performed to insure a clean product. Testing for heavy metals in particular for oils that originate in Asian countries or obscure locations, is imperative. Many companies produce these legal documents on line, for all to see. However, a few MLM companies absolutely refuse to provide them when asked, begging the questions often asked by those who do have an eye on sustainability, on chemicals, on processing and quality: why the secrecy? These essential legal documents inform the user on the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and the origin and efficacy of the oil. With this intensive commodity and its increasing carbon footprint a company’s “word” is not enough.
Additionally many network marketing companies do not use organic sources, claiming instead that ‘organic’ essential oils are a scam. Organic certification is hardly a scam and acquiring those documents is not simple. The National Organic Program Certificate of Compliance is issued to many essential oil companies. ‘Certified Organic’ is attributed by Quality Assurance International like many national and international certification bodies. Being awarded organic certification means that QAI has reviewed the company’s records, inspected its fields and/or facilities and has determined that the certified entity identified is certified to the USDA organic regulations. Fake news is just that and misinformation can certainly convince a few people however in this era of being ‘woke’, it is a disappointment that several entities still rely on obfuscating facts to sell product. However, I am open to seeing proof that any company’s organic claims and certifications are false.
There is also a level of misinformation when essential oil sellers are not trained aromatherapists and instead, are not only encouraged to increase sales through multilevel marketing networks, but do so without restrained or cautious use. Just because something is considered ‘natural’ does not mean it should be used with great abandon.
Robert Tisserand, a leader in this industry since 1974, uses Frankincense as an example of unqualified claims and applications. Frankincense is an oil that has been touted as the answer for everything including a cure for cancer. But Frankincense oil does not contain Boswellic Acid despite assertions to the contrary, even though there are several species and several chemotypes within a species. In comparison, Frankincense Extract contains 40 to 60 % of Boswellic Acid, the active constituent. It is the active constituent that is attributed to a therapeutic application. However, no commercially prepared essential oil contains Boswellic Acid so claims to its efficacy for certain indications, are inaccurate and unfounded. It bears mentioning that no distributor of essential oils or aromatherapist is are qualified to make therapeutic recommendations of the use of oils where cancer is concerned, unless they are a doctor trained to do so.
When you realize the volume of raw material that is necessary to make a few milliliters of any oil, you will want to use them sparingly. The rampant use and sales of essential oils are a larger carbon footprint than we would like to believe. So, do we really need to apply oils several times a day? Do we really need a collection of 50 plus oils at home? Do we really need to run a diffuser all day long? Touting the benefits of oils for anything and everything without substance or training is neither beneficial or part of any Holistic therapy that purports to be about finding balance in our health and well-being with an overall lifestyle plan toward sustainability. Although there may be no need to stop using essential oils altogether, sensible use without hype and protruded marketing, will help to reduce their obvious and detrimental carbon footprint and un-sustainability.
In addition, if the politics of the day leans toward a green manifesto, should those who plant their feet to follow any green new deal, be engaged in promulgating as unsustainable a product as essential oils, let alone the “healthy” lifestyle they say comes with it? That was the question we asked ourselves. But self – actualization is a rare commodity in these days of trend over timeless knowledge. The research for this article began with our company’s concern over the sustainability of our own use of essential oils in some of our skin care products. In keeping with our effort toward producing small batches of authentically natural, ethically conscious and sustainable skin care, Sohma Naturals Organic Skincare incorporates less than 1% of essential oils in our therapeutic or anti-aging formulations.