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.

Lemongrass Oil is Not a "Safe, Non-toxic" Nail Polish Remover

11 days ago

I was relieved when last year's weird meme about putting lavender EO in mascara wands finally died down. However, it's been replaced by a new one: the idea that lemongrass EO is a safe, effective and non-toxic alternative to nail polish remover. Google this and you'll find at least a dozen videos of women demonstrating the technique while extolling the virtues of lemongrass oil, many of them stating that it's perfectly safe for kids (one video even features a mom removing polish from the fingernails of her squirming 5-year-old).

I can see why lemongrass EO appeals to a lot of people. It smells fresh, zingy and a bit exotic. And it's cheap, due to the high yield of the source plant. However, I seldom use it in my practice, and don't introduce it to my students until they've mastered basic aromachemistry and blending skills. Why? Because I feel it's one of the most aggressive essential oils commonly available, and I've seen firsthand the damage lemongrass can do in the hands of an inexperienced user.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon martinii or Cymbopogon flexuosus) is composed almost entirely of aldehydes, which are known potential dermal irritants. This oil needs to be skillfully blended in order to quench its irritant effect, even when used in an amount that would be considered an appropriate dilution for the average essential oil. Used solo in a carrier oil, it can easily cause reddening and/or burning of the skin. In fact, this adverse effect helped me build my business as both an aromatherapist and a fledgling massage therapist! My office was located a few floors beneath a massage school, and I received a large number of clients who were upset by the negative experiences they'd had at the school's student intern clinic. Their stories were always the same: the intern had used 4 or 5 drops of relaxing lemongrass EO in their massage oil, and the client had an unpleasant skin reaction. It got me a lot of business, and it gave me a strong respect for the aggressive nature of this essential oil.

Aldehyde content aside, lemongrass oil has a peculiar quality: approximately 30% of the population is allergic to it. Essential oils seldom cause allergic responses, and I am not aware of any other popular essential oil that is this common of an allergen.

Many essential oils are excellent solvents, which is why they can remove nail polish, but using them undiluted exposes one to the possibilty of sensitization (a reaction that looks identical to an allergic response, but is caused by overexposure to the offending agent). I won't belabor the point, because I've repeatedly written about sensitization, except to remind readers that once it occurs, this condition is permanent. If a person becomes sensitized to lemongrass, they may also become sensitized to chemically similar EOs such as may chang (Litsea cubeba).

Given these facts, you can see that while lemongrass oil may be effective at removing nail polish, it is neither safe nor non-toxic. For less than $2, you can buy a bottle of non-acetone nail polish remover at any drugstore. If you are that concerned about exposure to toxic elements, then forego nail polish altogether or reserve it for special occasions... polish contains just as many evil chemicals as remover (ask any good nail tech). There's nothing wrong with the alternative: displaying a set of healthy, freshly buffed nails.

I suspect there will be a lot of injury reports before this new meme dies down. Don't be the subject of one of them.

Aromatherapists Helping Out in Aftermath of Harvey – Please Donate

25 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

The aromatherapy community has quickly mobilized to help out Houston area residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

My friend and fellow aromatherapist Amy Kreydin is using her Austin-based business as a staging ground for assembly of trauma kits, stress-relief personal inhalers, aromatic hand sanitizer, respiratory blends, bug repellants, and any number of small products that might help Houstonians in need. Amy's efforts are being coordinated by a group of dedicated professionals at the United Aromatherapy Effort (UAE) page on Facebook.

The response so far has been encouraging, and you can help out by donating essential oils, aromatherapy products or funds. Here's how to do so:

- VISIT the UAE page on Facebook and JOIN the group.

- READ the pinned posts at the top of the page. These will tell you what items are needed and where to send them.

- REGISTER your donation on the registry post, listing items, quantities, date sent and method of shipment. This helps the coordinating team with inventory, planning and distribution efforts. If you are making a monetary donation and don't wish to publicly state the amount on social media, messenger UAE and notify them privately.

- If you are sending one of your own blends, be sure to label exactly what's in the product, directions for use and whether or not the blend is diluted or undiluted. Think of what you might need if you were stranded away from home with minimal possessions in a hot, flooded area. 

- Don't just think essential oils and blends. Supplies like pipettes, small bottles, labels, ziploc bags and bulk carrier oils are welcome.

- If you are in Texas and can assist, Amy needs volunteers to help with product assembly and packing in Austin. Couriers are also needed to deliver donations from Austin to Houston. Several Houston aromatherapists are working locally on distribution to area shelters, and they can use more hands in these efforts. Rather than contact Amy or the other regional aromatherapists directly (they already have more than enough to do!), please go through the UAE Facebook page if you wish to offer on-the-ground help. They will put you in touch with the right people.

- If you have any questions not answered above, please post on the UAE Facebook page

- If you are interested in donating but are unable to do so now, keep in mind that recovery efforts will be long term. This aromatic relief project will continue in the weeks and months to come.

Thank you!


It's an Effing Blog, for Chrissakes

27 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Wow, there's been a lot of drama, fingerpointing and general nastiness going on in the online aromatherapy community as of late.

One of the things that is being discussed is the "necessity" to heavily and formally reference one's blog posts. 

People write blogs on all sorts of subjects for all sorts of reasons. I do it mostly for the sheer delight of writing, and sometimes I do it just to get my yayas out, so to speak. I like disseminating information that I find interesting, and like suggesting points of view which encourage others to think and explore on their own. Sometimes my motivation is nothing more than wanting to share a recipe for chocolate cake (with obligatory essential oils, of course). Moreover, this blog content is provided free of charge, no subscription required.

Which is why it completely floors me when aromatherapists who should know better e-mail or call and make statements such as, "How can you say this? Show me the proof! I want proof!" or "I want a complete list of all the references you used to write that blog post!" These requests are demanding, and their tone is not polite.

This is an effing blog, for chrissakes. A blog. Not an article in a peer-reviewed journal or a formal paper. When I write the latter two, those are heavily and appropriately referenced, as well they should be.

There are other people writing aromatherapy-specific blogs who make a point of impeccably referencing even their briefest posts. They are people who work primarily as professional researchers, or people who want to promote themselves as professional researchers, and/or people who work in academia. It doesn't surprise me when they reference their posts because they are writing from a particular mindset and background. I enjoy reading their blogs, and accept these writings for what they are: scholarly pieces of work. That does not mean their style of blogging is the norm, nor should it be promoted as the standard for an audience which is quite diverse in its craving for information on all things aromatic.

I've never laid claim to being a professional researcher or an academic, so I don't write from that perspective. Like many bloggers, I write what I like, write from the heart, and hope others enjoy reading my content. I'll continue to write the more in-depth, peer-reviewed stuff, but you won't see it on AromaBlog. In closing, hope you keep visiting, and hope you keep reading.

Have Your Essential Oils Gone Bad?

59 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

71 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.

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