Many people that use essential oils are not well informed on the following:
I will try in this article, to introduce some information about the activities of certain perfume compound suppliers, and how selling these products as 'essential oils' can have major safety implications.
Some essential oil salespeople give the impression that they are very knowledgeable about essential oils. In fact very few have had any training in the botanical or medical sciences. Some have a background as salespeople for major fragrance supply houses and we all know that a good salesperson can sell some people anything. As someone who used to manage a printing sales office, I know first hand, that the people producing highest sales were often not the honest ones, but were those that were the best liars.
A few essential oils salespeople in the UK and elsewhere, have trained on short complementary medicine courses. This enables them to appear very knowledgeable, when in fact their depth of knowledge about essential oils is superficial. I know people, who after taking part time courses of doubtful quality for a few months, then call themselves "qualified herbalists". This title is then used as 'evidence of their knowledge' when promoting their essential oils. The course I qualified from to become a Herbalist lasted 3½ years full time, (similar training now gives a Degree). Even after that training, my knowledge on essential oils was still very weak. My knowledge has accumulated after years of study and involvement in the trade. Therefore never assume a complementary medicine qualification equips someone with a sound knowledge about essential oils.
This problem of perfume salespeople selling so called 'essential oils' is a significant problem for health food store proprietors. They can not possibly have an adequate knowledge of all the products that they sell, and so they rely mainly on what the salespeople tell them. Such information in turn gets related to their own customers. Some aromatherapists have an idea of what real oils should cost, but independent shopkeepers rarely have a clue about trade prices for genuine oils.
The large companies that supply synthetic fragrance blends know perfectly well what they are selling. However these perfume compounds are intended to be greatly diluted in various commercial products such as perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, & detergents. When these same products enter the aromatherapy supply chain, it raises all sorts of safety and ethical issues which I will now discuss.
a) If a perfume compound is marketed as an 'essential oil' from plants then this is a complete lie.
b) If an essential oil is marketed as 'extracted from the named plants' and yet it contains some synthetic chemicals, then the product is no longer 'natural'.
c) If an essential oil has been 'compounded' by assembling fractions of cheaper essential oils, it may still be 'natural' but it is not from the plant named on the bottle.
d) If a pure essential oil has been 'extended' by using various solvents, then it is no longer a product from 'the named plant'.
e) If an essential oil is marketed as shall we say Ylang No. 1, and yet it is in fact third grade, then this is clearly dishonest. It is extremely common to find low grades of essential oils sold as so called 'premier grades'.
f) Dishonest traders can damage the businesses of ethical traders by substantially undercutting the honest traders prices. This is because massive profits can be made by buying fragrance compounds or low grade essential oils, and reselling them as top quality products. All the above plus more, are rife in the aromatherapy oils supply trade.
The majority of REAL essential oils have been extensively tested for toxicological and dermal adverse effects. We know what safe levels of use are, we know which oils are hazardous and we know which need care with use.
Fragrance compounds containing synthetic chemicals are produced for many different products. The most important feature of these fragrance blends is that they tend to have a very potent fragrance. They are intended to be used in products at EXTREMELY LOW LEVELS OF USE. The effects of these blends on our skin at the much higher levels of use common in aromatherapy are unknown. Those compounds which are diluted using chemical solvents such as diethyl phthalate, may be hazardous. Such solvents may be perfectly safe when they are used greatly diluted in cosmetic products. However in aromatherapy, strong solutions of these chemicals are rubbed all over the body and at this level of use health problems are feasible.
Chemicals in common with essential oils, can be purchased in a number of different grades. It is not uncommon to find that the chemicals used to compound fragrances contain relatively high levels of impurities. While the action of the individual chemical may be known, the potential side effects of the impurities it contains are poorly documented. Essential oils sold with the prime objective of deceiving the consumer are most likely to be of the lowest possible quality.
The external application of these impure chemicals may not result in significant problems, however if someone were tempted into taking this material as a medicine, then we are in an entirely different ball-game. It is this aspect of the activities of the con-artists in our trade that is so serious. If a salesperson convinces a customer that the essential oils they are offering are "pure", "organic", etc. when in fact they contain chemical impurities, they are playing with peoples health. Many pure essential oils have been used internally as medicinal agents for around 200 years. If someone is convinced that what they have got is REAL, then it is perfectly reasonable that some people will ignore what the label says, and take the oil internally. Such internal use of compounds containing chemical impurities, adds a heavier burden to the bodies existing stock of toxic substances such as dioxin's and organophosphate's, with potentially catastrophic long term effects. So, what can be done to inhibit the activities of the unscrupulous:
In the UK. at long last, a few of our Trading Standards departments are having samples of essential oils analysed. We hope that they will then institute prosecutions of the worst offenders (although I have my doubts). I tell students, that if they are unhappy about the genuiness of their oils, to take them to their local trading standards department Of course the trading standards people then need to be supplied with information on who they can get to analyse the oils correctly. The aspect of correct analysis is critically important. Many essential oils are manufactured so expertly, that only a trade analyst with great experience and who knows the cost of substitute chemicals, can determine the phoney essential oil from the genuine.
Unfortunately in the UK, the definition in law of what constitutes the term 'natural' is somewhat woolly. Other countries however have successfully tackled that problem and defined in law what the term 'natural' should mean.
Most countries have governmental systems in place designed to prevent fraud. If a salesperson has implied that their product is the genuine article and it is not, then this is FRAUD. Therefore if you own a shop, or retail essential oils, ask for written confirmation that the oils supplied are genuine. Never ever accept a salesperson's word.
If you are in a shop and you hear an assistant advise a customer on the internal use of essential oils, then don't be afraid to interrupt. Ask for confirmation of the assistant's qualifications and on their ability to prove that their oils are suitable for internal consumption.
Ask your trade publications why it is, that when dishonest essential oil traders are sent to prison for fraud. That no mention appears in any of the aromatherapy journals.
Ask your trade publications why it is, that they will not publish articles by people with the ability to prove how widespread misinformation is on essential oils. Are these journals there to protect trade business interests, rather than you and your clients??
Ask your trade associations what precautions they have taken, to prevent therapists from being educated by ill informed salespeople. These people will and do lie or embroider the truth in order to sell their products.
Ask your trade associations what public advice they have issued, to warn people about the dangers of using aromatherapy grade essential oils as internal medication.
Only with increased knowledge on how to go about challenging the con-merchants in aromatherapy, can we hope to inhibit governments around the world from stopping the free availability of our wonderful GENUINE essential oils.
An organisation called EOTA 95 in the UK is currently working with several trading standards departments to bring the activities of dishonest companies to the Courts. For further information contact: Michael Van Moppes, EOTA 95, Stonebridge, Breadsell Lane, St. Leonards, Sussex, U.K. Fax. 01424 830485.
M. Watt cert. phyt.© 1998 Martin Watt.
Martin can be reached at: http://www.aromamedical.org
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