I’ve been asked a couple of times why, as a limited-ingredient allergy-friendly manufacturer, I don’t prefer to use essential oils, and instead use fragrance oils. After all, essential oils are natural, they are quite popular right now, and as they are extracted from plants, it stands to reason that they’re better for your skin than fragrance oils, right?
Well, here’s why I try to avoid essential oils:
Essential oils may interfere with medications.
If you Google “essential oil interaction WebMD” the list of possible combinations of essential oils and interactions are somewhat daunting. Just the ever-popular lavender essential oil alone has a label of “moderate interaction” with a slew of drugs.
As someone who is on lifelong maintenance medications and whose family members also have a lot of maintenance medications that absolutely need to be continued, staying on top of what essential oils interact with what medications is extremely difficult. It’s hard enough to avoid soy. I’m a bath and body product maker, not a doctor (whether mainstream or not). Keeping on top of the multitude of essential oil interactions is a bit too much work for me. I’d like to leave out that extra layer of complication.
(If you are using essential oils at the moment and concerned about possible interactions, WebMD has an online drug interaction checker that might be helpful.)
Essential oils are medications (of a sort).
The whole reason why people use essential oils is because they want a natural way to increase their concentration, or boost their immune system, or cure their allergies, or whatever other benefit the essential oil they’re considering gives. To improve my concentration, for example, I might take Ritalin, or ginko biloba, or I could instead put on a diffuser with some lemon essential oil. Medicine, drugs, essential oils–these all cause changes in your body chemistry.
I’m not in the business of forcing medications on people who don’t need them. Maybe essential oils are an essential part of your daily life. (Please pardon the pun.) If you feel you need some essential oil, that’s entirely up to you, but I assume that you are using your essential oils in ways that are very carefully diluted and administered. I shouldn’t be prescribing them to you by putting them in the products that you use, especially when everyone uses them differently.
There isn’t enough research on safe levels of essential oils.
Even WebMD uses labels such as “probably safe”, “likely safe”, “maybe safe”, and has vague mentions of how much is safe and how much isn’t. There just isn’t enough data out there. Essential oil research done using the scientific method isn’t easy to find.
It’s not hard to find stories of people who thought they were helping themselves with essential oils but instead caused harm of various kinds. People are told to dilute their oils, to use them safely, but it’s not clear where the line between use and overuse is. Children and babies are the most susceptible. I don’t want children to grow up thinking soap is a drug or something dangerous they have to avoid.
Do I know whether you shower with my soap or only wash your hands with them? No.
Do I know how often you wash your hands, whether it’s three times a day or ten times a day? No.
Do I know how much essential oil might be absorbed each time you wash your hands? No.
Should I make “soap for the shower” and “soap for the sink” and tell you to use them as directed? I don’t think so (that sounds like something a doctor would say!)
Should I issue “standard portion” measures with my body butters, or tell you to get out of the tub after X minutes of soaking? I’d rather not.
The dangers of essential oils are not easy to understand.
Even well-trained and qualified aromatherapists sometimes get it wrong with disastrous results. News articles abound telling people to treat essential oils with care. I am not trained in essential oils, aromatherapy, or medications and herbs. If even the experts can get it wrong, I would prefer not to endanger others.
Essential oils can cause sensitization over time.
Once you are sensitized to an essential oil, you will need to stop using that essential oil and/or its components for a couple of decades. Bath Geek is made for people who are already allergic to various things and need to avoid various allergens. As an allergy sufferer myself, I understand all too well the hassle of living with allergies, even non-life-threatening ones. (I can’t even begin to imagine what life is like with life-threatening allergies.) Why on earth would I want to cause even more allergies in myself and others?
Essential oils limit my market.
My products are not meant for adults alone–they are meant for children and babies as well. Rather than tell people, “please don’t use my products if you are pregnant” or “here are six types of people who should not use these five soaps”, I’d rather remove one layer of complexity from the equation. Life is hard enough with allergies. Why introduce another possible source of problems?
Why use fragrance or flavor oils, though?
Some people hate artificial fragrance for a myriad of reasons, and I don’t blame you if you are one of them. I have a large number of fragrance-free soaps, and I am working to make more fragrance-free products. In the future, every product I sell will have a fragrance-free version.
But like a lot of people, I like nice smells. I have my favorite scents. There’s something about inhaling deeply of green tea and white pear (my favorite scent that I sell) and just enjoying it. Safely. If I were asked to choose between an unscented soap and a scented one, I have to admit that I’d choose the scented soap. I like spritzing myself with some perfume occasionally, and I am lucky not to have allergies to almost all of the chemicals used in fragrances.
Unless I discover an allergy to a scent, I don’t see a reason why I should deprive myself of the enjoyment. The only thing my fragrance oils and flavor oils do is smell good. They have no other purpose except to expel volatile scent molecules for our enjoyment. If someone with a stuffed nose used my product, the only thing they would miss is the scent.
I purchase from reputable suppliers (some of whom supply that big four-letter-bath-product-company as well.) I take care to choose oils that are certified as phtalate-free. I make sure that every fragrance oil I use is skin safe and I read the quality and manufacturing certifications they come with before I make purchase decisions. I follow IFRA guidelines and safety measures, and I scent with a light hand so that the fragrance is not overwhelming, as “too much of a good thing” is a real problem. Now I am also moving towards edible flavor oils for some of my upcoming body products, so that in the case of accidental ingestion like in lip balms (yes, I am working on adding lip balms!) it’s perfectly safe.
I am not anti-essential oil. I sold a soap with lavender essential oil in it (Lovely Lavender, which is now out of stock). I have some catnip essential oil soap curing in my curing room; it was a special request from a friend who wanted catnip soap she could use before going outside. (I had no idea catnip was a bug repellent.) I have seven bottles of essential oil in my fragrance stash that I will be using in special edition soaps soon (hopefully they will be ready by this summer). I look forward to the soaps these oils will make, and I know there are others who will enjoy the soaps, knowing full well what they are getting into. But I won’t be moving away from fragrance oils or flavor oils any time soon.
[Edited to add, 11:45pm: Hydrosols are an entirely different matter from essential oils, and I will be adding those in lotions–yes, there are lotions in the pipeline!]