It’s time to get our facts straight about essential oils!
The essential oil world is a vast and there is a wealth of information about how essential oils can help our bodies perform optimally. With that being said, there’s also some misinformation that is being spread on the internet. Let’s get our facts straight.
To really get true information about essential oils, I’ve asked Dr. Robert Pappas to help me clear up some of these myths circulating the web. Today Dr. Pappas is going to go over the 10 most common myths and facts about essential oils! Let’s get to it!
Who is Dr. Robert Pappas?
Dr. Robert Pappas is the President/Technical Director at Essential Oil University. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Robert S. Pappas, EOU is an educational/informational institution dedicated to essential oil production, chemistry and uses and has the largest online database for essential oil chemistry in the world at www.essentialoils.org. Dr. Pappas is also an adjunct Professor at Indiana University. Dr. Pappas work has made him a much-sought-after consultant for companies and individuals all over the world because the information he provides helps with quality assurance and with learning how an essential oil might be useful. Dr. Pappas created the Facebook page Essential Oil University which is dedicated spreading accurate information concerning essential oils and dispelling the myths that have been hyped over the years.
The following is a series of posts that Dr. Pappas has published on his Essential Oil University Facebook Page. Dr. Pappas has given me permission to republish his myths about essential oils on my blog. A big thank you to Dr. Pappas for his work dispelling these myths!
Essential Oil Myth #1: There is no such thing as a “Therapeutic Grade” essential oil.
The truth is that there are MANY therapeutic grade standards. The problem is, which one do you trust? It’s important for people to realize that all of these standards are INTERNAL standards developed by companies selling oils and may or may not include quality control by a third party lab. Furthermore, if a third party lab is used, does this lab really know what they are doing? It’s also important to know what the company defines as being “therapeutic grade” does it simply mean that the oil is pure or does it mean something beyond purity and carry with it a quality standard as well? Let’s face it, an oil can be pure as the driven snow but still be low quality, I see this on a daily basis in the samples I analyze for my clients in order for them to make good buying decisions. Judgments about essential oil quality take more than just good chemists and good equipment, they require many years of experience in odor evaluation and knowing what specific minor components are desirable in an oil and not just focusing on the major components.
Yes we all agree that there is no independent standard forTherapeutic Grade that is universally recognized. And while you may not like the promotion ofTherapeutic Grade by various companies, it’s not really correct to say that “thereis no such thing as Therapeutic Grade.” Ithink a better response to those promoting such an idea would be to say”while many companies promote their own therapeutic grade standard, oneshould be aware that there is no universally accepted independent body thatcertifies essential oils as therapeutic grade.” That is a fairstatement that is factually correct that nobody can disagree with and will notcause dialog to shut down between those in the direct marketing companies andthose on the more traditional side of aromatherapy.
Essential Oil Myth #2: Pure, unadultured essential oils with no synthetics added should last forever.
Another ridiculous claim by people who understand basically nothing about chemistry. I am not sure I know of anything that will last even as long as the earth remains, with perhaps the exceptions of diamonds and human ignorance LOL. The truth is that while the oil may last in the sense that it “exists” for a long time, there is no question that most oils, pure or otherwise, will eventually go bad due to oxidation reactions that are unavoidable unless you could somehow store them in an oxygen free atmosphere (basically impossible for most people). Even if stored in an inert atmosphere there is still the possibility of some EO molecules reacting with themselves over long periods, changing the oil, many times for the worse.
Most oils do degrade with age due to oxidation but there are some oils, such as sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, etc. that actually get better with age, at least to a certain point (I am not sure anyone knows what sandalwood looks like after say 5000 years and I am pretty sure well before then the oil would “resinify” and become solid). Its typically the heavier oils that are high in sesquiterpene alcohols that get better with age. However, most oils, especially the citrus oils and the blue oils will degrade with age (at least within human lifetimes). Citrus oils are especially prone to degradation due to the high levels of limonene which oxidizes relatively easily. Even very small amounts of limonene oxide formation can totally destroy the odor of a once good citrus oil. In addition, wax formation in citrus due to monoterpene polymerization is also quite common over time. For this reason its best to go through citrus oils within a year, if possible.
In the case of the blue oils we see evidence of oxidation when the blue color becomes green over time. This is due to the degradation of chamazulene, the hydrocarbon responsible for the blue color in things like German chamomile, blue tansy, yarrow, etc. Its for these reasons that I always recommend that people refrigerate any of the blue oils and be sure to always keep a minimum amount of airspace in the bottle that you are storing these oils in so that the “greening” effect will be slowed down. Of course keeping airspace to a minimum is a good practice for all the essential oils but its absolutely crucial for the blue oils and for citrus oils.
One unfailing principal of science is that of naturally increasing entropy which relates to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. All things naturally head towards maximum entropy (disorder). Entropy is inescapable on this earth, and we all know it takes constant energy to fight against this natural degradation of all things. Left alone, things don’t naturally become more ordered over time, we all know this whether or not we are familiar with the term entropy. Entropy is why you cannot create a perpetual motion machine, why your houses naturally get messy over time, why your car engine eventually breaks down, why your body eventually can no longer sustain itself and you die and why the earth must eventually come to an end.
Essential Oil Myth #3: True therapeutic lavender (lavandula angustifolia) should have no detectable camphor. Any level of camphor in lavender essential oil would indicate a mix of lavender and lavandin.
The truth is that while indeed the camphor should be low (less than 1%) there is almost always a little bit of camphor in true lavender oil, its basically unavoidable. I have analyzed literally thousands of samples of true lavender oil, including many samples I that have distilled myself and I can tell you, as any other analyst who knows what he is doing will tell you, that if small amounts of camphor are not present then it would be an EXTREMELY unusual exception. Honestly, I cannot even say that I have ever seen a lavender without some small amount of camphor, at least not that I can remember.
If you do your research you will find that the ISO spec for lavender lists the acceptable camphor up to 1.5% , depending on origin, and the British Pharmacopoeia lists camphor at max 1.2%. My standard at EOU is that camphor, 1,8-cineole and borneol should all be about 1% or less in true lavender essential oil. My standard is based on samples taken from all over the world as well as from many distillations that I have personally done on many different varieties of Lavandula.
Just to give anyone interested a typical example analysis, the picture below is of a certified organic lavender that I recently analyzed for a customer. As you can see the peak at 26.435 shows camphor present at 0.25%. Also, if you want peer reviewed literature references showing that camphor should indeed be in lavender, just login to my EO Chemical Reference database and you will see plenty of detailed reports, with journal citations, confirming exactly what I am talking about.
Essential Oil Myth #4: Essential oil vibrational frequencies range from 52 MHz to 320 MHz. Essential oils have the highest frequency of any natural substance known to man and will increase the frequency of our bodies.
Please don’t fall into the old frequency trap that has been circulating around the internet since the 1990s. The problem with all this is that 99% of people don’t understand quantum mechanics well enough to be able clearly see through the scam, or if they do suspect its a scam they don’t have the background to articulate why Its a scam so they just don’t comment at all. It is well known in science that molecules are constantly absorbing and emitting electromagnetic radiation of various types and many different frequencies. But the way that the typical eo frequency scam is described makes no scientific sense at all. I think part of it started as a way to sell high priced and useless frequency measuring equipment.
A frequency is simply a cycle per second. From quantum mechanics we know that electromagnetic energy is typically measured by looking at the wavelengths of electromagnetic waves used to cause various energy transitions between quantum states. These wavelengths can be translated to frequencies through a simple equation (frequency of the electromagnetic energy is the speed of light divided by the measured wavelength). Molecules emit and absorb energy in various forms resulting from electronic, vibrational and rotational energy level transitions. If your going to talk about vibrational frequencies then its necessary to understand some basic chemistry and quantum mechanics which I will attempt to explain below without getting too technical.
Vibrational energy in molecules refers to the the vibration of bound atoms within a particular molecule. For example, if we look at a very simple molecule like carbon dioxide, we can measure the vibration or frequency of what is referred to the carbonyl stretch (the stretching motion of the double bond between the carbon and the oxygen atoms). The larger the molecule is the more vibrational motions it will have. Molecules in essential oils would have many different bond vibrations going on because even the smaller molecules (monoterpenes) consist of 10 carbon atoms and 16 hydrogen atoms. Thus all essential oil molecules would have many different vibrations going on simultaneously and each different type of vibrational motion in each different bond would have its own characteristic frequency. These vibrational frequencies in molecules are measured using infrared (IR) spectroscopy because energy in the IR range of the electromagnetic spectrum is what is required to cause these vibrations. The magnitude of Infrared radiation is in the 10,000,000,000,000 to 400,000,000,000,000 Hertz range!
So, as you can see, it would be impossible to characterize an essential oil or even a single essential oil molecule as having a single vibrational energy frequency. Furthermore, the energy of vibration in molecules is way higher than the 52 Mhz – 320 MHz (52,000,000 – 320,000,000 Hertz) range claimed by the people selling the eo frequency measuring devices. In fact, that low energy range would be in the radio waves region and below.
In short, if you are promoting EOs as being effective because of their frequency, my recommendation to you would be to seriously consider rethinking this strategy because as people become more and more educated in this field you will only end up looking foolish by such language.
Essential Oil Myth #5: Essential oils were used in Biblical times and even found in King Tut’s tomb.
Of course aromatic materials were used in Biblical times for various medicinal, religious and ceremonial purposes but these materials would not have been essential oils, at least not by todays definition of being steam distilled products. This would have been impossible given that steam distillation had not yet even been discovered! Most people attribute the discovery of true steam distillation to a Persian scientist named Avicenna (Ibn Sina) in the 11th century. There was certainly no steam distillation over 2300 years earlier in King Tut’s time. Aromatic products used during these ancient times would have been of a crude solvent extracted nature using fats and pressed oils and the like and would not have been very concentrated (not to mention that extracted products yield very different chemistry than distilled products) and therefore their use cannot really be related to how we should use the steam distilled essential oils of today.
Essential Oil Myth #6: If you use a pure essential oil on your skin and it causes a rash or burn then it’s just your body detoxing.
They tell me this is a myth that quite a number of people are spreading but its hard for me to believe that there are people out there who are actually accepting this as a viable explanation. But I guess there must be a significant amount of people believing it because a number of you have asked me to address this. I suppose it comes from the desperate attempt for people to come up with some kind of positive explanation for any adverse reactions that natural products might cause us. I mean we all know that if something is natural that it must be good for us, right?
Let’s just think about this logically for a second. Let’s imagine you rub poison ivy on your skin and you get a really bad rash. Is that just your body detoxing? Of course not. Come on people, if you get a rash or burn from putting something on your skin its because its IRRITATING YOUR SKIN. Furthermore, this “detox” explanation seems to ignore the very definition of what it means to detox. Generally, a detox reaction is a response that the body undergoes when it has something TAKEN AWAY from it. Think of the body of a drug addict “detoxifying” during the withdrawal process as he tries to get off the drugs. But in the case of using an essential oil on your skin we are ADDING something new to our bodies that your body has no prior experience with, any bad reaction could not logically be classified as a detox reaction.
And if you are using the term detox reactions to refer to the sweating out of toxins, well think again. The old ‘sweating out’ toxins myth cannot apply since it’s physiologically impossible. This is because toxins (skin cell debris, bacteria etc.) lodge in the pores of plosebaceous units and not in those of sweat glands
A rash or burn from an essential oil is basically your skin screaming at you “hey, stop that and stop it now!” This is why you should always do a patch test on a small area of skin and wait a while to see what happens before you go all crazy and start bathing yourself in an essential oil that you have not used before. I know many aromatherapist recommend that you dilute the essential oils in a carrier oil for skin use. But no matter what concentration you use them at you should still do a patch test first for any new oils before moving on with the oil. Remember these are very concentrated solutions of organic molecules, let’s be safe rather than sorry.
Essential Oil Myth #7: Essential oils are the most powerful living substances on earth. They are the heartbeat of the plant kingdom, the most life-giving substances we have in the world today. EOs are the “Life’s Blood” of the plant and they represent in plants what blood represents in humankind.
Sorry to disappoint but essential oils are not alive. I would like to see anyone go through a 212+ degree distillation process for a few hours and come out alive on the other end! The plant material is certainly not alive after the distillation so I am not sure how anyone could believe that the oil is alive. Essential oils are a collection of volatile organic molecules, not living entities. Furthermore, since they themselves are not alive, the oils do not give life to anything (but this is not to say they don’t help the plant survive). Lets just look at this logically and break it down. In order for A to give life to B, it follows that A must predate B in its timeline of existence. This is not the case for essential oils. Plants don’t start producing essential oils until a certain point in their development. The oil does not give life to the plant, the plant, at some point, starts producing the oil.
As for being the “heartbeat of the plant kingdom,” Most plants don’t even produce essential oils so where is their heartbeat? I am not really sure what that statement is supposed to mean, I guess somebody just thought it sounded marketable and ran with it. Concerning the “life blood” claim, as I have said here before, essential oils do not have the same function in the plant that blood does in the human body. Our blood primarily performs the function of circulation and transport of oxygen and nutrients to the all the cells and organs of the body. Essential oils do not play this role in the plant.
The truth is that essential oils are an end product of the plants metabolism and emitted by the plant not circulating within the plant like blood in the body (see magnified picture of oil glands on Roman chamomile leaf). Think about what some of the end products are from human metabolism and, if you want a more accurate analogy, well you get the idea. I realize it wouldn’t be as marketable to use a tag line like “the excrement of the plant” but that would be more accurate than the “life’s blood.” But this does not mean that these end products, these secondary metabolites known as essential oils, are not extremely useful for the survival of the plant as well as being extremely beneficial to humans.
Its unfortunate to me that the people who created these nonsensical and inaccurate slogans regarding essential oils feel that they are necessary in order to sell product. When people just use the oils they get hooked, the oils sell themselves, people don’t need to be fed a bunch of airy fairy nonsense to fall in love with them. This idea of essential oils being the life blood of the plant has been around quite a while, in fact I think the alchemists might have believed the same thing (remember their belief in the “quintessential” which is where the term essential oil comes from), but hopefully we have progressed beyond 16th century knowledge and I would love to see a more responsible marketing approach in this day and age. However, I fear it may be a while before we can get everyone to let go of this one, it just sounds so darn good to the ears!
Essential Oil Myth #8: The best quality essential oils come from the “first pressing” or first distillation of the plant material.
First let me say if you are using terms like “first pressing” then you’ve really got some catching up to do on your essential oil education. Most all essential oils are steam distilled, in fact this is inherent to the very definition of an essential oil. The only oils that are considered to fall under the definition of the term “essential oil” and are not produced by steam distillation are the citrus oils, which are cold pressed from the citrus peel (and if its done properly there would not be any oil left in the peel for a second pressing LOL). So when one refers to the so called “first pressed” essential oils they do not even portray an accurate method of production of almost every essential oil out there, since almost every oil is produced by distillation, not by pressing. Please avoid this “pressing” terminology unless you want to just sound like a complete novice to the field. When the pressed method is applicable, in the industry we use the terms COLD PRESSED or EXPRESSED to describe the production of citrus oils (some citrus are also distilled but that’s another issue). So this brings us to the whole issue of the claimed “multiple distillations” of the same plant material. Consider this quote from a popular blog:
“Peppermint is an interesting plant in that it yields more oil than most others. As such, large farms and distilleries extract a bunch of oil from the peppermint plant. Smaller farms do a first distillation of peppermint that they sell to oils companies for the highest price. The peppermint is then re-distilled at a higher pressure and higher temperature for a 2nd distill, and the resulting oil is sold for less money to soap companies, and the like, that want a lower cost oil, but still desire a slightly “herby” smell. The plant is then re-distilled one more time at a yet higher temperature and pressure for a 3rd distill, which is sold to companies wanting the candy-cane smelling oil.”
I hate to be harsh here but what an utter load of pure NONSENSE!!! First let me say that I live in Indiana, one of the largest mint producing states in the country. I have visited mint distilleries and farms on several occasions (you can see some photos of one of my visits in the album entitled “Mint Farm in Northern Indiana”). NOBODY STEAM DISTILLS THE SAME MINT LEAVES MORE THAN ONE TIME!! The plant is distilled for basically 2 hours and its done, no more oil is coming out so they shut the still down. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that the distiller, after watching his oil come over, seeing that his oil level is not growing, shuts the still down and then later thinks to himself “gee, I bet if I fire this still back up (wasting thousands in fuel and labor) we can get some more oil out of that spent mint leaf we distilled yesterday.” Where do people come up with this stuff!!?? Now the MINT OIL can, and often is (thank God), taken for some further redistilling and/or fractional vacuum redistilling that can take place to further improve the quality of the oil by removing nauseating components of the whole oil (just tiny amounts of very bad smelling components get removed in this process). But NOBODY distills the mint biomass a second or third time. This is generally true, not just for mint, but for essential oil distillations in general. When I tried to explain it to the person posting this rubbish she basically did not believe me because her “research” of talking to retailers of essential oils apparently was of higher credibility. If people would just use some common sense they could look at this kind of misinformation and come to the conclusion that none of it makes sense. From an energy standpoint, why would anyone plan to shut down their distilling process just to start it up again later? The amount of energy required to get massive amounts of water boiling and enough steam generating to liberate the oil from large vats of biomass is quite astonishing and costly. Why not just keep distilling and just start collecting the oil produced at the tail end of the distillation in a separate container, if you want to collect what you think might be a different quality at the end of the run than at the beginning (by the way this is done with Ylang Ylang oil which is why there are the different grades of extra, I, II, III and complete). But aside from ylang ylang most all essential oil distillations are collected in one combined lot. And the only time I have ever seen a distiller shut down his process and restart it later was because of mechanical problems, running out of fuel, or just getting too physically tired to continue (in the case of sandalwood for example the distillation can go on for more than 24 hours and oil is still in the wood). I hope that this post will finally do some damage to this myth that has been circulated for decades now and we can finally put it to bed. Please share this post with as many people as you can and firmly admonish anyone who continues to state that “my oils only come from the FIRST distillation.” Yeah right buddy, just like everybody else’s oil. LOL
Essential Oil Myth #9: Essential oils are complex mixtures containing hormones, vitamins, minerals and other natural elements are the most oxygenating substances on earth.
This kind of statement has always left me scratching my head. Sometimes it is also stated as “….EOs are the most OXYGENATED substances on earth.” Whether its meant to be OXYGENATING or OXYGENATED the statement is just plain wrong. Yes essential oils contain oxygen but that doesn’t equate to be “oxygenating” or the “most oxygenated.” Those of you taking my Chemistry of Essential Oils course already know that, 99+% of the time, when we are talking about essential oil molecules, we are concerned only with 3 elements of the periodic table: Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. The molecules in essential oils are mainly mono and sesquiterpenes and their oxygenated derivatives. Essential oils are volatile organic liquids. There are absolutely NO HORMONES (at least not human hormones) OR VITAMINS in essential oils. In addition, of these 3 most common EO elements, Oxygen is the LEAST frequently occurring. If you are just counting types of atoms in the essential oil molecules, Hydrogen is the most prevalent atom followed by Carbon, then Oxygen (again just counting numbers of atoms, not a weight comparison). A large percentage of all essential oil molecules are hydrocarbons (monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) and don’t even contain Oxygen at all. When the molecules do contain Oxygen, the ratio typically ranges from 1 or 2 atoms of Oxygen to say 10 to 17 atoms of Carbon and 18 to 26 atoms of Hydrogen (for the most common cases of oxygenated mono and sesquiterpenes). Furthermore, the Oxygen in essential oil molecules is BOUND OXYGEN not really available to be delivered in the form of free oxygen radical or oxygen molecules (of course there an infinitesimal amount of dissolved oxygen molecules in just about any liquid but this is insignificant) and thus not very “oxygenating.” It is still unclear to me what the basis for these claims concerning essential oils are coming from and would love to know the literature sources that the claimants are citing as their support. I could go on more about this topic but Robert Tisserand has already written an excellent response to the “Oxygenating” myth on his website, so rather than re-invent the wheel I will refer all of you to read his comments there.
Essential Oil Myth #10: Company X is the only company in the world who sells pure or therapeutic grade essential oils.
There are many companies in the world producing pure essential oils. But finding those companies may not be the easiest of tasks, and even if you find them, they may not be selling their product in small retail bottles. As a general rule, the farther down the supply chain you go the less likely you are to be getting pure product. There are a lot of companies out there selling essential oils and most of them have no ability (or in many cases no desire) to do the necessary quality control to verify what they are getting from their supplier before they pass it on to their customers. Additionally, pure does not necessary equate with good quality. A pure oil can be distilled incorrectly or could have been obtain from a particular variety of plant species that was not ideal. Furthermore, with regards to therapeutic grade, we need to be diligent at discerning what the claim really means. There seems to be a misconception that there is some kind of independent body that certifies oils as therapeutic grade, but to this date there is no such body, at least not one that is widely recognized. Does this mean there is no such thing as therapeutic grade? No, but just realize that any therapeutic grade standard out there right now is an internally derived company standard. Now this standard may be an overall great standard and perfectly acceptable to me or any other analyst or aromatherapist out there but it just needs to be noted that its not an independent standard. Some of the company standards that I have been privileged to access have in fact even been quite exceptional in some cases, surpassing the conventional standards of ISO, etc. In the end, for most people who don’t have access to their own GC/MS, it all boils down to who do you trust to give you the pure oil. If the leader of a company has a history of misinformation, arrest records for practicing medicine without a license, getting sued for injuring people by improper use of essential oils, using the names of credible people inappropriately for personal gain, and questionable ethics in general then its probably not a company whose “therapeutic grade” standard would really carry much weight with the aromatherapy community at large and should also not be taken seriously by an educated EO consumer.
For Myths #11-16, visit Dr. Pappas website HERE.
NOTE: Dr. Pappas does not recommend a specific brand of essential oils. If you’d like to get yours tested or ask him questions, you can visit his website or his Facebook page.