AromaBlogWelcome to the AromaBlog. Registered aromatherapist and Aromaceuticals founder Katharine Koeppen is deeply committed to aromatherapy education, and this is her forum for getting the word out on essential oils and all things aromatic. She welcomes your comments, but please do not ask Katharine to answer specific questions related to your personal health issues as it is both unethical and unprofessional for her to give advice to anyone she has not seen in consultation.

Have Your Essential Oils Gone Bad?

20 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Judging from the unusual number of social media posts on this subject in recent weeks, everyone believes (or is being advised) they should throw out their essential oils after a certain date, whether or not the oils have deteriorated. In many cases, the near hysteria regarding "spoiled oils" is unnecessary, because their essential oils are just fine, and will be for quite a few years.

I've seen posts advising people to throw out lavender oil after 1 year, and on one list serve, a member nearly wept over throwing away a half ounce of 10 year old rose otto which she had kept carefully stored in the refrigerator because "it's so old it can't possibly be any good." These people are either fabulously wealthy or seriously out of their minds.

Essential oils can and do oxidize, but it's not nearly as rapid a process as everyone would have you think. You need to be careful with expressed oils (citruses) and those which are composed almost exclusively of monoterpene hydrocarbons (i.e., pine), because those have a shelf life of approximately 2 years. However, if kept refrigerated, that shelf life will be easily doubled. If properly stored, the majority of essential oils will be good for 7 or 8 years before fading in efficacy and/or possibly oxidizing. Some, such as patchouli and sandalwood, actually improve with age and can last for decades.

Many new users are concerned that they will not know when an essential oil has peroxidized. Believe me, it's very clear: the oil will create a burning, stinging or pins-and-needles sensation when properly diluted and applied to the skin. Time to throw that oil out.

Don't buy into the expiration dates and batch numbers on your essential oil bottles, because those are mostly a marketing ploy designed to get you to buy more product, or to believe that your favorite essential oil company has 100% inventory turnover annually in the warehouse and sells only essential oils that were distilled less than a year ago. Anyone who works in the industry knows that isn't even remotely true... price fluctuations, growing practices, global politics, natural disasters, hedging by the distilleries, and the long arms of the fragrance and flavoring industries prevent it.

Do ask how your supplier stores their stock. Aromaceuticals stores all of our oils under both refrigeration and nitrogen to insure that product stays fresh. Many companies reserve that treatment only for their most expensive or most perishable oils.

Help prolong the life of your essential oil collection by keeping bottle caps tightly closed, and don't leave bottles open longer than necessary. Don't leave essential oils standing for days or weeks in your diffuser. If you don't make daily use of a particular oil, store it in the refrigerator. Buy citrus or conifer oils in quantities you'll use up within 2 years. If you don't think you'll be using a new essential oil very frequently, don't buy it in a 15ml bottle when a 5ml bottle will do. Follow these guidelines and you'll have used up your oils long before they deteriorate. Don't toss out perfectly good essential oils... enjoy them!

Tips & Gyps

32 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

In an effort to learn more about the spa industry and doing business in a resort town, I've been doing some parttime massage therapy work at a spa. I'm unhappy to say that the compensation is dismal, mostly because clients don't understand proper tipping procedures.

The average salary for massage therapists nationwide is $24K/year. Yes, you read that correctly... subsistence wages. Most massage therapists rely on their tips to make ends meet. Tips are not frittered away on dining out or splurging at the mall; they're often needed to pay for basic living expenses like the the grocery or electric bill. And massage therapy is back-breaking physical labor; the majority of practitioners wear out their bodies and careers within 5 years.

The base pay at massage chains, clinics, salons and spas has steadily declined over the last 15 years and is now a quarter of what it used to be, with most therapists making between $10-17/hour. At many establishments, employees only make base pay for the hours they actually work, so in a mandatory 8 hour shift, that may be only 3 or 4 paid working hours. The rare exceptions to these low wages: most luxury facilities, because of their need to attract stellar, highly trained therapists.

If your therapist does a good job, please tip and tip generously. In most parts of the country, this means 15-20% of the service at full price. If you're receiving spa services at a destination resort or in a resort town, customary gratuity is closer to 18-25% of the service at full value. Remember, your massage therapist does not have a say in whether spa management is offering customers a Groupon or special discounted membership rates, so they do not deserve to be penalized with a discounted gratuity.

What about those therapists who provide chair massage at grocery stores, airports, malls and the like? The same tipping rules apply. In fact, the only places were tipping is usually forbidden are medical facilities. If your hospice or hospital therapist has been providing excellent long term relief for a loved one and you'd like to show your appreciation, it is usually permissable to give a gift of food (i.e., a tray of cookies or a fruit basket) that can be shared with the entire care team.

Please don't insult your massage therapist by praising their work to the skies, then handing them a $5 tip on a service for which you have paid their employer $150. If you've wondered why so many spa or salon therapists appear to be simply "going through the motions" while providing massage and bodywork, this is why. Tip, don't gyp, and you'll get their best effort to deliver a positive healing experience every time.

Interested in experiencing an aromatherapy massage or bodywork treatment by a seasoned practitioner? Contact me for an appointment in the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area.

Coo Coo for Carriers

45 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

For the past few years, everybody's been crazy over aromatherapy. Now that people are learning how to properly dilute essential oils, everybody's crazy for carrier oils. The more exotic, the better. As with essential oils, many neophytes are going to excess, buying dozens of carriers before understanding their properties, shelf lives and best uses.

The problem is, these budding aromatherapy enthusiasts don't understand that unlike essential oils, carrier oils go rancid. The majority of them go rancid pretty quickly, in 3 to 9 months' time.

Don't get me wrong, I celebrate those who are into exploring and experimenting with carrier oils, but just a few carriers go a long way. You need to make quite a few blends to use up, say, a 4 ounce bottle of babassu oil. I'm afraid that many neophytes are going to find a cabinet full of oxidized vegetable oils a year down the road, with nothing to show for it but an empty wallet.

My advice? Stick to perhaps 3 primary carrier oils for regular use, preferably the traditional old standbys like sweet almond, apricot kernel and jojoba oils. As you decide to experiment, add new carrier oils to your collection just one at a time, buying in the smallest quantity possible... perhaps 2 ounces at most. This way, you'll have enough of your new carrier to make 2-4 blends before it goes bad, and you'll get a feel for whether you like the oil or not. If so, make this carrier part of your regular stock and invest in a larger quantity the next time around. If not, you haven't lost anything and you've learned about a new vegetable oil base. The same guidelines apply for herbal infused oils.

Personally, I'd stay away from most of the new exotic carriers hitting the aromatherapy market. They're fairly expensive and you probably already have a vegetable oil on hand that will work just as nicely in your aromatherapy blend. Don't purchase anything unless you understand its properties and uses first... it's silly to run out and get something that everyone's crowing about on social media, only to find that your new carrier oil doesn't suit your skin type or application.

If you're as obsessed with aromatherapy as I am, you know it can become an expensive hobby. Use your pennies wisely!

Aromatherapy Presentations & Classes Available in Southern California

65 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Back again with the blog after a 6-week sojourn moving cross-country, which presented many interesting challenges! Aromaceuticals is back open for business and the final phase of our move should be completed by early next week.

We are now located in Rancho Mirage, California, which I know will be much more receptive to aromatherapy than Dallas. If you are interested in holding a class or workshop in Palm Springs, Inland Empire, Los Angeles or San Diego, please contact me with your proposal. Classes can be customized to your social group, professional organization, club, spa, store or healthcare facility.

These are some available special-interest presentations (45-120 minutes):

- Everyday Aromatherapy
- A Fragrant Life: Aromatherapy for Home & Garden
- Aromatherapy in the Workplace
- Aromatherapy & Your Child
- Essential Oils for the Adolescent
- Aromatherapy for Elder Care
- Essential Oils for Holiday Stress
- Essential Oils for Women's Issues
- Embracing Menopause: Aromatherapy for the Empowered Woman
- Aromatherapy for Grief Support
- Moving Through the Cancer Journey with Essential Oils: A Complementary Approach
- Clinical Aromatherapy for Pain Management: A Brief Introduction
- Clinical Aromatherapy in Hospice Care: A Brief Introduction 
- Clinical Aromatherapy in Palliative Care: A Brief Introduction
- Aromatherapy for Post-stroke Support: A Complementary Approach
- Aromatherapy for Caregiver Support
- Aromatherapy & Energy Work
- Aromatherapy for Spiritual Transformation
- Essential Oils for Quiet Times: Prayer & Meditation
- Aromatic Sensory Prayer 

For a list of one and two-day intensive courses offered, visit Aromaceuticals class listings. You may also design your own class, based on the needs, experience level and number of participants.


Supersize Me

132 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I was reflecting the other day about the typical American need to supersize everything. 

In just a few years, the accepted standard size of an essential oil bottle has jumped from 5 ml to 15 ml. Europeans are still using the 5 ml bottles, but Americans have supersized. Many American suppliers have also increased the diameter of their bottles' orifice reducers, resulting in larger drop sizes. Because more and bigger are always better, right?

This greedy attitude about essential oil use has caused radical shifts in the aromatherapy industry. It is now difficult for suppliers to source material of good provenance and adequate supply. Some American companies have even turned to factory farming on their own land to insure a steady supply of increasing scarce raw material. More aromatic plants have been classified as endangered or near-endangered species due to overharvesting.

I regularly see new users brag about their ever-growing personal collections of essential oils on social media, sometime posting photos of boxes and trays (even mini-fridges!) full of little bottles. The boast is often followed by, "I just bought some [name any] essential oil, but don't know what to use it for." 

So many of these valuable essential oils are being wasted on dryer sheets, in daily household cleaning products or in homecrafted candles. When one considers the amount of labor and raw material it takes to produce a bottle of essential oil, how important is it, really, to have pretty-smelling laundry? 

The next time you open a bottle of essential oil, think before you pour. Is the planned use necessary and appropriate? Do you really need to use 12 drops when 4 will yield the desired effect? Why use essential oils in the kitchen when some fresh herbs or citrus peel will do the trick? 

When you purchase an essential oil, buy only in a size you will use. I have many 5 ml bottles that it's taken me several years to empty, and I'm using these oils on a regular, professional basis. Don't mix blends in bottles that are larger than you can reasonably use within a short period of time. A 30-60 day supply of an aromatherapy blend is plenty, and you won't have to throw out a product that's gone rancid. Don't purchase an essential oil unless you understand its common usage and have a need for it.

Think of your essential oils as being the equivalent of a Big Mac combo meal: bigger isn't better for your health or for the health of the planet. Downsize, don't supersize.

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