Holy Essential Oilgate, Bitches!

Holy Essential Oilgate, Bitches!

Like ‘em, don’t like ‘em, I don’t care - but this is an area where I feel like getting involved. 

I’ve been an aromatherapist for as long as I’ve been an esthetician, which is longer than most people on Tiktok have been alive.

Over the days since Uncle Birch made his video joking about “essential oilgate” the response videos have popped up. I had more to say about those responses than three minutes would cover. 

My education is science-based and I’m not a huge fan of MLMs and their cult members. So that is your disclaimer. 

All the way back to ancient Lascaux

The first thing I want to mention is something that made me laugh and laugh. The Cro-Magnon people (or cave men, as a TikTok creator referenced) did not paint cave walls with essential oils. They painted cave walls with pastes/paints/stains made from various natural substances; ochre was a popular choice. Now the subject matter of the paintings did sometimes relate to healing plants, just like it also demonstrated hunting and different animals. They didn’t paint with essential oils, though. The ability to distill things was well beyond Stone Age technology. 

The mental image this presents, of one of my ancient French ancestors opening up a bottle of lavender oil to commemorate the best! hunt! ever! made me silent scream-laugh. I understand that this creator’s heart was in the right place but…nope….lol. Maybe it’s my autism and I missed something in there but I watched that video three times to make sure I was hearing her correctly and it was too funny. 

A very brief look at the beginnings of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils which are derived from plants mostly via steam distillation, but sometimes via solvent extraction or cold-press expression. What we know and understand as “aromatherapy” is as old as about 1927/8 when chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé began experimenting with lavender essential oil in his lab. The first three decades of the 1900s were a great time for plant studies - chemistry was growing by leaps and bounds and chemists were decoding nature. Those chemists working in the medical field were beginning to understand that the premise of just treating symptoms with isolated active ingredients wasn’t exactly it. Unfortunately their views were not adopted by mainstream medicine and so here we are. 

Aromatherapy began as an off-shoot of the perfuming industry that was spearheaded by modern chemistry, not as a branch of herbalism. That doesn’t mean that aromatherapy doesn’t work; things don’t need an ancient pedigree to be useful. The name itself was introduced in 1937 when Gattefossé published “Aromatherapie: Les Huiles essentielles, hormones végétales”. Dr Jean Valnet published “The Practice of Aromatherapy” in 1964. That same year, an esthetician he knew introduced her salon clients to beauty treatments created with essential oils and a whole new spa movement was started. 

As scientists discovered the psychological and neurological effects of essential oils and their medical application became more “holistic” interest on this side of the ocean waned. After all, you can’t patent a plant. However, essential oils and resins are still used medically in France and other countries. 

Aromatic Vs Aromatherapeutic

Language matters and when these woohoo crunchy health and wellness sites that people use for information say things like, “The ancient Egyptians used aromatic oils for their medicinal properties” that doesn’t mean essential oils or aromatherapy. They weren’t using essential oils as we know them, 4000 years ago. These sites are careful not to be “wrong” but at the same time they want to align their products with something that gives them a historical legitimacy. Marketing, folks, marketing. It’s all about parting you from your money. 

The ability to extract healing compounds from plants in this way was developing but it wouldn’t be until the 11th century that physician Avicenna began distilling plants for essential oil. Even then, he and others like him, would discard the essential oil as “waste”. It was the hydrosol/floral waters they were after. It would be another two centuries before European nobility would decide to start wearing essential oils as perfumes - and thank the gods - because they bloody well STUNK. The cost was expensive then as it is now, given that some of the cheaper oils still require 50-100lbs of plant matter to produce a few ounces of product.  

You can’t always tell what’s what

Essential oil quality can vary greatly. It’s important to understand what you’re looking for. You can’t go by smell because let’s face it - essential oils can have a rather overpowering odor. Many do not smell like the plants they come from because the compounds are so concentrated. Most of us can’t really evaluate the scent of an oil until it’s been diluted in a carrier and it’s less overwhelming. 

Most of what’s selling on Amazon is either fragrance oil with no healing compounds in it at all or, if it’s genuine, it’s been greatly adulterated. A lot of companies have popped up online over the last couple of years and I don’t have to order any of their product to know that it’s pure and utter shite. There’s no such thing as a 4oz bottle of Frankincense oil for $7.99. 

The research is out there, but you have to look for it 

There is a lot of solid research to support the medical use of essential oils but a lot of that research isn’t in English so it doesn’t get looked at over here. Essential oils are used overseas in Europe, particularly France, where some oils require a doctor’s prescription to purchase. Why? Because they DO work medicinally. Most of the research nowadays is related to commercial/cosmetic purposes. 

Greedy, greedy, greedy

The Western zombie-like hunger for all the things is causing some plants to become endangered. It’s also causing valuable land that could be used for food or retained for traditional purposes to become appropriated for crops for the production of essential oils and some herbs. Its displacing some groups of people and in some cases also taking products away from populations that have benefitted by them for centuries in order to ship them off to us. It’s also encouraging producers and sellers to fiddle diddle with the oils and add things to stretch out supply and ultimately, make more money. Before anyone decides to go dogpile some unsuspecting person on social media - usually a woman because let’s face it, the purity people love to harass women - who is sharing their love of aromatherapy online, just stop. Check the smoothie in your mitt, oh virtuous one, because the exact same thing is happening with a lot of the superfoods that GenZ and Millenials have been clamoring for, like coconut oil or açaí, to name but two. 

FYI, before you step up to sing the  praises about the big companies - the MLMs that are churning out Crunchy Stepford Moms like shark teeth - over the years private individuals who have been customers or sellers of their products have taken samples for independent testing. They’ve come back adulterated with things. The oil isn’t morther betterer because it’s being sold by some big MLM with a great scrub team. I cringe when I see some of these “Oily Ladies” share Pinterest diffuser recipes about oils that I know to be extremely dangerous. It makes me wonder if they actually use this stuff the way their social media implies because if they do, some of them must be awfully sick. 

Natural doesn’t mean safe

For the record, there are a lot of oils that we think of as being fairly innocuous because we are used to them, that are quite dangerous when used improperly. If you search on TikTok you’ll find the video of the lady who poisoned herself by diffusing eucalyptus oil by her bed for hours at a time for days. A friend of mine jumped on the oregano oil craze years ago and landed herself in the emergency room after just one capsule because it sent her gallbladder into a tizzy. A quick read of some of the comments on TikTok videos discussing the misadventures of some creators shows that some folks have permanent liver and kidney damage from improper essential oil use.

There are documented reports of little boys being fed essential oils by their crunchy mothers and developing breasts. Tea tree and lavender were at the top of the list. Google it. Most of us in North America love those two oils and think of them as some of the safest going. They’re great - when used properly. Feeding them to little children isn’t proper use. There are also documented cases of children and adults having epileptic seizures caused by excessive oral dosing of hyssop essential oil for asthma. 

That’s why some of them are prescription items elsewhere, folks. They’re like any other medicine. You don’t take them forever.

Get yourself educated if you’re going to play with plants.  Also, even though I have studied the safe internal use of essential oils I don’t advocate it publicly because people do stupid human tricks. I’m going to suggest that you not put anything “holistic” in your mouth because I’ve seen how people are. 

Knowledge is power

Learn as much as you can about suppliers and producers. Buy ethically sourced product from reputable companies. Look past the website graphics, the BV/PV bonuses, product deals, sign-ups, and pretty Instagram accounts to look into who you’re buying from. If they say that they are XYZ certified, then research that. If they say that they deal with family farms, try to verify that. Look for Latin binomials and countries of origin. Ask if the oil you want to buy comes from a plant that is endangered or threatened. There are some oils that I just won’t use because they’re endangered or listed as a concern. Google around and see if there are any articles that indicate that this particular crop is harming the area where it grows. If you don’t see analysis certificates on the product page OR the ones that are there are several years old, ask why. Or move on and shop somewhere else. 

Don’t trust a seller just because they sell on Etsy and their stuff comes wrapped in eco-friendly brown paper. You can open up an account for a factory that abuses workers and shits on the land so long as your product is “handmade” or “artisanal” and you can sell on Etsy. If you have a smart phone then it’s within your skill set to research all the certifications and claims that companies make, to come to an informed conclusion.  

And now for the part that had everyone’s panties in a knot

As for their use in magical oils, I can agree that they work for certain things. Everyone seems to be getting upset because Uncle Birch said they can’t be used. Now, I took it to mean that he was talking about some very specific oil preparations. Even if he wasn’t, stop and understand that he doesn’t listen to people who tell him what he can and can’t do, so why are you getting wound up? It’s as if you were letting him tell you what to do but you also didn’t like it.

You absolutely can use essential oils in magical work but if you’re working traditionally then you probably wouldn’t consider that what you are making is traditional if you put essential oils in them. A lot of magical oils have things in them that are visible: roots, twigs, leaves, powders, rocks, bones. If you’re working traditionally then chances are you were trained traditionally so you’re probably not reaching for an essential oil. You’re reaching for a very specific set of ingredients that has been proven to work over time. 

The thing is, with some of these particular oil recipes, it’s not the intention. It is absolutely the ingredients and the energy they add to your work. These ingredients are like beacons that call out to certain occupants of the otherworld either alone or in combination. There are certain things I make as a witch and when I make them, I am not reaching for any essential oils. I’m going out at the right time of day, to specific areas, and engaging with the spirits so that I can come home with the right roots and leaves. Whether the formula calls for chili powder, dandelions, ginger root, or dust from the North corner of my attic, I’m not substituting that with any other physical item or my good intentions because then I have altered the spell. Sometimes it really does matter if you have the right ingredients. 

Also, something else to think about is adding essential oils to traditional magical recipes to make them “smell better” or because you think it’s adding “extra power”.

I have a biscuit recipe that I never share. It’s mine and it’s been tweaked over the years to get perfection. If I add something - regardless of my good intentions - it ain’t my biscuit recipe anymore. Some of my additions and subtractions have been downright terrible. Others have just been meh. So I don’t mess with what works. The same for my chocolate chip pecan cookies. I have learned not to fiddle diddle with something. When I’ve tried to “improve” my recipes by making them low carb, gluten free, dairy free or otherwise, they just taste like disappointment and sadness. 

The same goes for some of these magical recipes. They don’t have to smell nice. They don’t need to be made with more modern ingredients. One drop of lemon oil is equivalent to 2 whole lemons worth of expressed peel. Did your spell call for the peels of two whole lemons? What would happen to the balance of energy if you put that much lemon oil in it? Adding “boosters” to a magical recipe doesn’t always boost it in the way you think it will. 

BUT a lot of this might mean nothing to you if you were not formally taught by anyone in particular or you are not initiated into any specific tradition. Look, if you’ve been pouring essential oil into your candle dressing and things are working out for you, then I have to ask again: why do you care what someone else thinks?  All anyone can do when they start spouting off is tell you their story. I don’t know Uncle Birch personally but based on the content of his videos, I’m pretty sure he’s having a good laugh, sitting back watching the responses. 

I think I’m done being an old crank for now. If I think of anything else, I’ll add a part two. Everyone, let shit unfold and be excellent to each other. 

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