When Essential Oils Become Snake Oil
I love essential oils as much as any other user, I mean, I have not been studying them for the last six years because I am still trying to make up my mind about them them. Over the last decade I have seen the popularity of essential oils grow significantly and with it many false claims, as an Aromatherapist this concerns me because it can increase the unsafe use of oils and the incidence of adverse events.
As a professional it also affects the way people perceive me, you see, unfortunately when I talk to people about the fact that I am an aromatherapist they immediately correlate that to "she is going to try and sell me oils now and give me unsolicited advice on how I can cure myself with them". And no, I am not exaggerating here, it has happened many times.
And can I see where some people are coming from, everyday on facebook I see people that get sold this magical idea about essential oils and their amazing "cure-it-all" properties, and thus people in my profession are not only seen with the same scepticism as any other natural health modality, but also like snake oil sales(wo)men.
What is snake oil? - The term "snake oil" is used to describe products or elixirs that are being sold to people as a cure for every ailment known to man.
So, how do we cross the line between essential oils and "snake oils"?
When claiming that there is always an oil for this or that
There are many essential oils that can be used for many different things, but they are not always a stand alone modality and there are times when they are simply not the best option. Also Aromatherapy and other holistic modalities do not work with a condition=remedy formula, we work with the individual and create remedies for the person not a condition. So no, there is not always an "oil for that".
Saying that an essential oil can cure cancer if you take 2 drops per day under your tongue
This is one of the most dangerous claims I have seen, it prays on the vulnerability of people who are already going through something very challenging in their lives. Yes, there are some studies with frankincense (oil & extract) and cancer cells in a petri-dish - but and here is the key - not human studies. Essential oils can absolutely be included in the treatment plan for someone with cancer by working collaboratively with your care provider and an Aromatherapist, but they should not be used as a cancer treatment.
The research is just not there yet, who knows in the future as the research
continues but we cannot jump to conclusions. This claim has also lead to the over
harvesting of the resin in an already threatened species.
When oils are claimed to help prevent ebola infections
I mean, really? this just laughable because there is zero evidence for this claim and you live in North America where ebola is not really a threat. I would really like to meet the person who is travelling to an ebola endemic place and feels completely safe by adding a couple of oil drops to the bottom of their feet.
Other claims I have seen include essential oils being able to reverse diabetes (they do not) and saying that essential oils have been used since biblical times when distillation was not even available... And the list goes on.
Can you see how easy it is to cross the line between essential oil into snake oil?
Essential oils can be great tool in your wellness kit, they can help you with migraines, arthritis pain, colds, coughs, some skin conditions, they can be a great compliment to many other illnesses - acute and chronic - they can be an incredible support for mental and emotional wellness, etc. etc. etc.
Essential oils can in fact help a lot but they are not a magic elixir for every ailment. As an Aromatherapist is my job to understand the oils, their chemistry and their actions, but also their limitations.