Welcome 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.
20 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.
26 days ago
by Katharine Koeppen, RA
By now, it's all over one of those Facebook aromatherapy groups. I apparently harbor a deep-seated hatred of Jeanne Rose, which was news to me.
I am an active participant in a number of these social media groups, most of which are full of newbies asking all sorts of questions about essential oils. Earlier this week, one of them expressed a desire to approach an aromatherapy icon about help in setting up an essential oil study. She wanted to know whom she should contact.
Another newbie immediately chimed in and suggested Jeanne Rose. I suggested that perhaps Jane Buckle or one of her grads might be good people to contact, since they were very familiar with study design and implementation, which is not Jeanne's area of expertise. Both Jeanne and her fan took umbrage, and I was basically accused of being a Confirmed Jeanne Rose Hater, as well as Jane Buckle's #1 Fan Girl.
I am neither, and I stand by my statements in that thread, which were made in a respectful manner.
Jeanne Rose probably couldn't pick me out of a police lineup; however, we were formally introduced at a San Francisco NAHA conference back in 1996. I attended her lecture at that conference, and many of her lectures at subsequent industry conferences. I've read all her books. Jeanne was probably the first person in the US to be granted the moniker "aromatherapy icon," because her contributions to the industry are considerable. She'd be the first person I'd contact if I was looking for one-on-one expert advice on distillation, cultivation of aromatic crops in California, aromatic plant history and lore, connections between herbalism and aromatherapy... and any number of other things. I've no interest in dissing Jeanne; in fact, I have a deep admiration for her accomplishments.
On the other hand, Jane Buckle has spent years of her career in academia, in hospitals setting up evidence-based aromatherapy programs, and teaching people how to design and implement aromatherapy studies. She excels at it. However, if someone wanted to connect with a heavy hitter in aromatics for Chinese medicine, I certainly wouldn't refer them to Jane. I'd suggest they look to Gabriel Mojay, Jeffrey Yuen or Peter Holmes.
My point: aromatherapy is a wide field, and all the experts possess their different areas of expertise. No one can possibly know everything there is to know on the subject.
If you're new to essential oils and looking for an instructor or mentor in a particular aspect of the industry, spend some time learning who's who. Attend presentations and classes with as many different instructors as you can so you have a well-rounded understanding of your preferred specialty. Better yet, find a qualified teacher and master the basics before specializing. No matter what facet of aromatherapy interests you, you'll be a better aromatherapist for it.
Although I haven't asked her, I suspect even Jeanne Rose might agree with that.
56 days ago
by Katharine Koeppen, RA
By now, there has been enough publicity that casual users of essential oil should know that ingestion of essential oils is not a wise choice. I've posted on the side effects of regular, uninformed ingestion before and they are many: ulceration and burns of the mouth and esophagus, duodenal ulcers, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, seizures, interference with common medications, elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver disease and kidney disease, among others.
However, there is one very serious potential side effect of essential oil ingestion that no one talks about: intestinal dysbiosis. This involves an imbalance of microflora in the gut, and dysbiosis is a hot topic among gastroenterologists. Science of the last decade has found that long term gut flora imbalance is associated with a host of diseases. These include illnesses associated with the digestive system such as colorectal cancer, Crohn's disease, IBS and celiac disease. Intestinal dysbiosis is also being linked to a wide range of other diseases and conditions including Alzheimers/dementia, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing sponylitis, autism and atopic eczema. An increasing number of physicians are now realizing that our overall body health is a direct reflection of our gut health.
When you regularly ingest essential oils, you are killing off bacteria in the digestive tract. What you are killing is dependent upon which oils you are ingesting, and some of these oils, particularly those in so-called weight loss and immunity blends, are fairly broad spectrum antibacterials or bacteriostatics. Contrary to popular belief, essential oils don't "kill all the bad bacteria and leave the good bacteria alone." Daily ingestion can lead to significant alteration of microflora balance over weeks, months or years. The effects of microbiota imbalance may not be obvious for a very long time, and take an equally long time to reverse. If disease has taken hold, it may be irreversible.
Five years ago, it would have been inconceivable for me to post on this subject. Essential oil ingestion was extremely rare and done only by highly trained aromatherapists and a tiny number of medical professionals. There was little understanding in the medical field of the importance of the personal gut microbiome. However, the two are inextricably linked, so think before you drink.
56 days ago
by Katharine Koeppen, RA
While it seems crazy, the answer is an emphatic yes. Diffusers are a great way to disperse essential oils into your environment, but they weren't ever meant to run for hours on end. If you don't limit your aromatherapy diffusion to sensible intervals, it's possible to get a little too much exposure, resulting in oversedation or overstimulation. This can result in a variety of side effects, depending on the essential oils used:
- Mental confusion or brain fog
- Impaired concentration
- Dizziness or fainting
- Hypervigilance or jittery behavior
- Sudden, uncontrollable fits of coughing or sneezing
- Seizures (most likely to occur in babies and small children)
How much diffusion is enough? Generally 15-30 minutes is plenty for most applications. After 40 minutes of diffusion, odor blindness has set in, and essential oils have already accomplished their maximum effect on the body.
Overexposure can actually reverse the desired effect of essential oil diffusion. For example, when properly diffused, sweet myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a lovely, stimulating oil for mental focus and effectively addresses pollen allergies and respiratory issues. Inhaled in excess, myrtle will become stupefying.
When diffusing around special populations such as pets, children, frail elderly or the seriously ill, be sure to monitor them for signs of overexposure. With these groups, a little aromatherapy goes a long way and shorter diffusion times are often required.
Don't sit right next to the diffuser unless you're doing a very short, therapeutic "shock" treatment (5-10 minutes) such as an inhalation for blocked nasal passages. On the rare occasions when I've seen an adverse reaction in one of my classes or presentations, it's inevitably occurred to the person who insists on sitting only a foot or two away from a device that is blowing essential oil mist directly into their face.
I prefer to use diffusers that automatically run on timed on/off cycles to avoid overexposure. If your diffuser doesn't have this feature, you can easily purchase a lamp or appliance timer to set the diffuser to desired run times.
Just remember, everything in moderation. Follow the above guidelines and you'll experience years of enjoyment from your aromatherapy diffuser.
64 days ago
by Katharine Koeppen, RA
Last month I posted about some of the groups I've been following on social media and the unrealistic expectations that many casual users have regarding appropriate utilization of aromatherapy. One topic that keeps coming up is the belief that one can use essential oils to control high blood pressure (HBP), either via inhalation or topical application.
HBP is a condition that affects numerous people, and some have disconcertingly uncontrollable blood pressure readings even with medication. When people hear that most essential oils have the effect of lowering BP, they automatically assume that using aromatherapy would be great for keeping this health problem in check. Not so.
Any given essential oil has a very short term effect on lowering blood pressure, and sometimes the effect is so slight as to be negligible. HBP is a chronic issue which requires regular, long term treatment. Therefore, any reasonably effective utilization of aromatherapy would necessitate daily, round-the-clock applications. This is neither feasible nor sensible. Multiple daily applications of an essential oil blend are appropriate only for the short term in dealing with an acute health condition, not for a chronic cardiovascular problem that has taken years to develop and requires constant monitoring.
One enthusiastic gentleman argued the point with me on Facebook. "I have a great recipe for HBP but am looking for a better one," he stated in a popular aromatherapy group oriented toward beginners. When questioned, he admitted that 4 daily topical applications (in addition to his medication) weren't adequate to control his HBP, and any change took "a very long time, like 3 or 4 hours" to register in a BP reading. His experience underlines my point. Who is realistically going to apply an aromatherapy blend more than 4 times per day, at regular intervals, 24/7, permanently, to achieve the desired effect?
When essential oil use becomes excessive and long term, a number of other things can start to happen, and none of them are good. One is that the body becomes acclimated to the aromatherapy blend and it no longer works. Another is that the immune system can become sensitized to the blend, resulting in an inflammatory skin reaction, respiratory problems, or in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Remember, sensitization is permanent and can lead to cross-sensitization with chemically similar essential oils, limiting the possibility of aromatherapy solutions for future health concerns.
Lastly, prolonged usage may have the opposite of the original desired effect. It is well known that after a certain length of exposure, a stimulating essential oil can become stupefying (sweet myrtle is a great example), or a calming essential oil which results in lowered BP may suddenly become excitatory (as in a recent study of sandalwood administered by inhalation). The "prolonged" state in these examples doesn't involve weeks or months of exposure, but minutes.
In many cases, we simply don't know the long term effect(s) of excessive essential oil usage. Widespread aromatherapy abuse is a relatively new problem, and we are finding out that it may have serious consequences such as cancer or fatty liver disease.
When it comes to aromatherapy, let common sense be your guide. Aromatherapy may be pleasant to use, but it doesn't offer a permanent or sensible solution for controlling HBP.