Our Ultimate Guide to Essential Oils - natural wonders or pure nasties?

Our Ultimate Guide to Essential Oils - natural wonders or pure nasties?

We look more closely at the debate around the use of Essential oils.

What do you think? Essential Oils in some form or another have been used for thousands of years and offer incredible, natural healing benefits. The organic essentials oil market popularity continues to grow and I am one of many now training to become an Aromatherapist. However for every supporter there is a doubter and I have been reading an increasing number of articles talking negativity of using oils, sometimes even categorising them as a “nastie”. The cult beauty brand Drunk Elephant has chosen to focus on allergy issues that can be caused by blended oils, citrus peel extracts and limonene. 

What is everyone worried about? To categorise a natural ingredient as a nastie alongside other obviously harsh chemical (paraben, sulfate ) seems rather odd to us, so what is everyone so worried about? We are all looking more to nature to help balance and support our lives and the use of essential oils is becoming more mainstream (did you know that in the past year, U.S. retail sales of essential oils soared to $133 million, up from $55 million in 2015 (Source SPINS)). This is great news but we need to remember that:

  •  These are volatile botanicals: these are actually highly concentrated plant substances and need to be treated with care and respect to achieve the best possible results from using them. You will want to understand all the safety elements, the possible effects and impacts of use, especially if using on children, near pets or when pregnant. In fact if you want to use them regularly then it is best to consult with a trained professional. 
  • Supportive, not exclusive: Essential oils are amazing botanical resources but should be viewed as supportive and supplementary to our lives. Nutritious food, daily exercise, hydration and rest are the key pillars to our balance our health
  • Education and experience are key: the oils market is not regulated and so you must be careful as to what exactly to are turning to. Purity, quality, grading and effectives
  • Especially for you: oils are supposed to be individually crafted, holistic resources and not everyone will fit into a cookie-cutter approach that many blended essential oil products offer. If you know you have super sensitive skin and react easily, then you will need to do more homework on each specific oil than others

So is this holistic healing or a mystical myth? There is so much to confuse out there and as with so many topics, the more educated you can be, the better placed you are to decide what to accept and what to refute. Here are some common myths that we often come across:

1) Oils have been healing since Biblical times and so are proven. We read so many articles telling us that essential oils were used by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese but most historians agree that these would have been in very different forms to those available to us today, given the technological advances in oil extraction and distillation. At least nineteen aromatic botanicals are referenced in the Bible but these were likely used as infused, not essential oils, in their role as anointing oils resins, perfumes incense, hair oils  and medicines. Nowhere does it actually mention essential oils as we know them today. Factually, the use of distilled oils dates back only to the 10th century, when distillation as we know it today was developed.

2) There is only one brand to use: you can spend a lot of money buying essential oils but this still does not guarantee the best quality or purity. An oil can be pure without actually being good quality. Confused? I was! So I now source the oils from suppliers that Andrea Butje recommends in her Aromahead qualification course, She also encourages us to check out the batch-specific GC/MS (Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectrometry) reports, which detail the basic chemical profiles of each oil. However, only the experienced would be able to decipher and scrutinise the testing results here, so ultimately you have to do your own research within your own price range to find the oils for you – worth checking out the Aromaweb site for more info

3) You must use therapeutic grade oils: ‘therapeutic’ or ‘aromatherapy’ grade are marketing terms invented by companies to sell their products and the standard adhered to can vary hugely. In fact, there is no global independent body that ensures quality and there are no FDA approved oils. That’s not to say the companies are out to deceive us, but as discussed in the myth above, we just need to be aware that quality can vary hugely.

4) If you use a pure oil, it can be used internally. The internet is stacked with the debate over whether to use essential oils internally. I personally would not ingest oils and believe if you are keen to, then you need to seek professional advice to avoid long-lasting internal damage.

5) Another thing..It is worth mentioning here that the FDA has developed “GRAS” (Generally Recognised as Safe), as a designation for substances and a number of essential oils and hydrasols have made in onto this list. But these are used as flavourings within the food industry in recipes usually created by highly knowledgeable formulators so it doesn’t mean we can just go ahead and add them to our daily menu. And did you know that in the US, companies that manufacture dietary supplements are not required to submit any clinical studies to the FDA proving they are safe or effective. This is a great article that explores this topic further.

6) Essential oils do the same job as prescription medicines: many are turning to essential oils and aromatherapy as a miracle cure to illnesses and ailments. It would be great to be able clear out our medicine shelves of chemicals and replace with something pure and natural, but it is down to the individual and the specific issue as to what exactly a natural remedy can help with and to what extent it can treat the cause. However, if you are generally fit and healthy, the medicinal properties of essential oils can be used to support and compliment a healthy lifestyle. 

7) There is no scientific data to prove that essentials oils are effective. To the contrary - there is already a wealth of data available. Check out Pubmed and Google Scholar studies on specific essential oils, blends of essential oils, and aromatherapy in general to reveal a huge amount of statistics and surveys on the usage and success of natural remedies.

Intrigued? Why don't you join me and start studying to be an Aromatherapist? Ultimately, essentials oils offer you a vast array of emotional and physical benefits, but they are not without issues. Feeling educated about the subject is pretty empowering, given the sheer volume and complexity of the oils available. I am currently training to be an Aromatherapist with the Aromahead Institute. Run by Andrea Butje, it is an approved body by the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and offers training and also support once qualified. 

If you don’t have the time or interest to learn yourself, then consulting an experienced professional is not as expensive as you might think and can offer you a variety of choices, from full consultations with custom blends handmade for you, to recommendations for master blends based on the oils you already like and use and safety checks on your blends and formulations.

Where can you learn more about Essential Oils?: My go-to is Andrea Butje’s book “The Heart of Aromatherapy” for easily accessible info, the Tisserand and Young “Guide to Essential Oils” which is packed with analysed scientific data . Others I have dipped into include:

  • “Essential Oils, Separating Truth from Myth” by Kirsten Smith.
  • The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy” by Salvatore Battaglia
  • Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville
  • There are also countless online articles  and blogs also to learn from, and Pubmed and Google Scholar for realms of data studies





Alexandra Turner, better known as Alix, is the co-founder of Malavara. Having spent 15 years working with European Luxury Goods brands, Alix's passion for wellness, aromatherapy and travel led her to India and Ayurveda. Alix lives in London and keeps busy with a day job, a toddler and our exciting Malavara journey.

Read more

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published