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.

Adding Fuel to the Fire of the Bath Brouhaha

27 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

As aromatherapy evolves, for better or worse, aromatherapists find improved ways of doing things. If you've been following the social media groups, both professional and general interest, you know that there have been a few controversies surrounding the protocol for one of the simplest and most pleasant of essential oil therapies, the aromatic bath. 

One would think this was an easy essential oil application to master, but for many untrained or eager but poorly educated consumers, it's not. Too many reports of skin irritation and burns have caused the professional community to rethink the way we instruct others in the art of fragrant bathing. And to perhaps take a more critical look at what is being taught in classes geared to casual users and foundational aromatherapy training, where science has abandoned art, and occasionally plain common sense.

I'm old school, so I was taught to add 5-6 drops of essential oil right under the tap of a warm, running bath, or to mix the oils in a miniscule amount of carrier oil if I needed to address dry skin. The current thought is that it's safer to mix the selection of essential oils in a solubizer or excipient to avoid any chance of large essential oil droplets having direct contact with the skin. A few other things I was taught back in the Dark Ages regarding bath therapy:

- To generally avoid most citrus oils in the bath due to the fact that they are nearly 100% monoterpene hydrocarbon in composition. And to never use an all-citrus selection for a bath blend due to the high likelihood of skin irritation.

- Ditto for any other essential oils that are excessively high in monoterpene hydrocarbons. If my aromachemistry was still shaky, I was advised to pick my selection of bath oils from the alcohol, ester and sesquiterpene/ol functional groups to avoid likelihood of skin irritation.

- To never use peppermint oil in a bath, unless well blended in synergy with other essential oils, because of the likelihood of a) skin irritation, b) bringing down the body temperature too rapidly, and c) overstimulation leading to insomnia (nightime bathing).

- That bathing for therapeutic effect requires a tub time of only 15-30 minutes, leaving some time before most essential oils agitated by running water rise to the surface.

- That bath therapy is the least effective aromatherapy application for common cold and rhinovirus.

These are points I learned not in foundational training, but long before... in my very first basic, 5 hour introductory aromatherapy class at a local herb store back in 1991. I bring this up because most of the anedoctal reports I'm seeing involve people experiencing irritation after bathing in citrus and/or mint oils, or after soaking in the tub for extended periods of time. And because people who've invested in supposedly comprehensive online "certification" courses don't seem to have been taught any of this.

The same goes for aromatherapy supply companies who allegedly have qualified professionals on staff. Consider this recipe for a single "full-size, adult bath" of "Cold Season Bath Salts," which appeared in one such company's e-newsletter earlier this week:

4 oz    pink Himalayan salt
4 oz    epsom salts
1 tsp  menthol crystals
10 dr  lemon EO
10 dr  eucalyptus radiata EO
6 dr    peppermint EO
2 dr    rosemary EO 

That's a whopping 28 drops of relatively irritating essential oils in combination (plus menthol!) for an application that is inappropriate on so many levels. I expect hobbyists and a few badly trained aromatherapists will be burning their (ahem) privates in the bath, having relied on a trusted supplier to give sound professional tips and advice. 

You can teach an old dog new tricks, so I've changed the way I teach aromatic bath therapy, going with the new safety guidelines on using excipients. I'll also still be teaching most of the old tips I received during my initial forays into aromatherapy, because they're still valid and common sense, and much of our common sense regarding essential oil usage seems to have gone out the window. I do believe that in order to move aromatherapy foward, we all need to be on the same page and be responsible regarding information which is publicly dispersed, whether intended to educate or to sell product.

Signing off to enjoy a fragrant, relaxing aromatherapy bath...

Honesty is Always the Best Policy... Your Therapist Deserves It

45 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I've had a few days of the same incidents happening over and over again, so I'm just going to let loose with a rant: DO NOT withhold personal health information from your massage therapist or aromatherapist!

Your therapist uses the health information you provide, along with their professional expertise, to design safe, effective treatment protocols for you. Presumably, that is what you are paying them for. When your therapist asks a question regarding something on your health profile that is unclear, omitted or partially explained, don't insult them by snapping, "Well, I don't think it's any of your damn business!"

That was the response I got this weekend when I asked a new client for details on why she had checked "cancer" on her intake form with no further explanation. It turned out "cancer" meant 3 previous bouts with breast cancer, cervical cancer and thyroid cancer, and included a double radical mastectomy. She had arrived expecting a deep tissue aromatherapy massage with a focus on her upper body.

Several red alarm bells went off for me. As someone who is trained in both clinical aromatherapy and oncology massage, I knew a whole list of essential oils was contraindicated for a history of hormone-positive cancers due to their potential to stimulate estrogen production. Deep tissue massage was out of the question due to the possibilty of causing lymphedema of the upper extremities (a permanent, debilitating condition) because of her mastectomies. In fact, once I got my hands on the client, it became obvious that she could not handle anything more than very light massage without reddening the tissue and overstimulating her lymphatics. Although the need to modify her session was explained in detail, she was still very leery and remained so until the close of her session, when she finally admitted, "You seem to really know what you're doing." Double duh.

I had a similar experience the day after. A young woman came in who had checked "surgery" on her intake and was extremely reticent to give any further explanation, stating, "I don't see what the problem is, I've had plenty of massages since my last surgery." After asking her a few questions, it turned out she'd had a double radical mastectomy with reconstructive surgeries, a history of multiple blood clots including pulmonary embolism, and complete fusions of both the cervical and lumbar spine. She also had uncontrollable high blood pressure with medication. None of this was disclosed in her health profile. The same contraindications existed for her as for my previous client, plus a few more: I could not perform deep massage anywhere on her body, could not perform spinal traction, and needed to be vigilant for any areas of redness or swelling accompanied by heat. When I explained why I needed to modify my approach, she was nice about it and understood the necessity of full disclosure to any future bodyworkers.

Not so with my next client, an older man who had mutiple bandaids on his back. "I had a few little growths removed at the dermatologist 5 days ago, no big deal, just be careful around the bandages. It's healed up nicely by now." OK, easily done. However, I was horrified when he turned over to reveal a heavily bruised, 6" incision on his anterior thigh and a huge crater the size of my hand on his chest. Both incisions were still oozing and had bled all over the sheets. He did not want to hear that he should have disclosed the presence of these incisions and rescheduled his massage for a later date, and did not care that he'd exposed me to body fluids. "It's not a big deal, I just had a couple melanomas removed." He remained unfazed as I told him he was far too close to removal of a rapidly spreading, burrowing form of cancer to safely receive any massage therapy. He is no longer welcome in my practice; I don't want that kind of liability and will not put up with that kind of overt disrespect.

Never worry about trusting your therapist with personal health information, as they are ethically bound to protect your privacy. Additionally, they are bound by the same HIPAA law as any other medical professional, and they cannot disclose your information to others without your explicit permission. If you want them to treat you with honesty, be honest with them. (In case you're wondering, some of my clients' details have been changed in this blog post to protect their privacy.)

No bodyworker or aromatherapist ever wants to cause injury to a client, but it can happen if the client withholds crucial health information. Worse yet, injuries can occur when an inexperienced or poorly trained therapist doesn't understand or ignores absolute or local contraindications. If you have serious health issues, past or present, make sure to seek out a therapist who is knowledgable, experienced, well-trained, and willing to explain any modifications in treatment protocols. Accept those modifications without arguments or insults. A good therapist always has your continued health in mind, but cannot adequately and safely help you if you will not work in mutually respectful partnership with her.


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

71 days ago

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

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

85 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

87 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.

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