Why We Don't Use Essential Oils

Why We Don't Use Essential Oils

Why don’t we use essential oils? Before immediately clicking away, here me out. I am not an essential oil “hater.” They certainly have their time and place! Increasingly, there are people who are needing essential-oil free products because of skin sensitivity. This is incredibly hard to find in a “natural” product! To get to it, there are 3 main reason that we, at Soma & Aretz have chosen to not include essential oils in our products: 1) They are very complex chemically and their safety is not determined, 2) They are far from what we find in nature, 3) There are links with some essential oils being endocrine disruptors, others linked to increasing heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing lung function rate, and still others presenting possible carcinogenic properties. 


1) Chemical Complexity and Safety Concerns

It takes around 188 pounds of lemon balm to make a single 15 ml bottle of essential oil (5). Considering a bottle of essential oil contains around 90 drops of oil, a single drop of lemon balm essential oil is the equivalent of 2.08 lbs of leaves. I don’t have this much lemon balm in stock but see below for what .67 lbs looks like (The gallon of milk is for size reference of the bowl)! Now triple that and that is what it takes to make a single drop of essential oil. This provides an incredibly highly concentrated chemical complex that has not been studied for safety. While we know that many essential oils, including lavender and tea tree contain powerful antibacterial and antiviral activity, their safety is unknown. If we slather over 400+ individual chemicals in such a highly concentrated form (3) , it is highly likely that we are killing not only bad bacteria on the skin but all of our skin’s healthy microbiome. Similar to our gut, our skin needs its healthy bacteria to thrive! Further, there is no regulation on essential oils so you really don’t know the kind of contaminants may be in it or whether it has been “greenwashed.”

2.) EO’s are far from what we find in nature 

Thinking back to how much plant matter it takes to make a single drop of oil, it is pretty obvious that this is not what we are going to find in nature's composition of the plant. This kind of extraction- taking a plant and extracting one component of it- is also similar to what is done to produce many pharmaceutical drugs. Either way, this is not the plant as we find it naturally. The extensive use of EO’s today raises questions on sustainability of these plants and whether the earth can keep up with the kind of demand placed on the EO industry (considering soil health, water usage, and carbon emissions in production). Furthermore, there are many beneficial compounds within a plant besides its essential oil (volatile oil). Being a brand that is “consciously made from the earth for your body,” we desire sticking as close to nature as possible which means that we utilize the entire plant in a sustainable fashion that produces much less plant waste and has a much lower carbon footprint. For more on sustainability, read this article (4). We also believe that for products consistently slathered on our skin, this is the healthiest method to utilize a plant and retain the balance of the plant compounds exactly as it is found in nature. This supports our skin's microbiome instead of breaking it down! Some of our formulas even include ethically wildcrafted plants which means that I go out and harvest the plant from nature, allow them to dry (to prevent molding), and then infuse it into tallow. It is a simple (albeit time consuming!) process that produces a product as close to nature as you can get. 

3) There are links with some essential oils being endocrine disruptors, others linked to increasing heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing lung function rate, and still others presenting possible carcinogenic properties. 

One of the main concerns with EO use is the consistent use of lavender and tea tree oil. Studies have shown significant effects especially on children. Specifically, these two have been linked to endocrine disrupting activity when used frequently. For this section, I will simply quote articles that evidence the growing concern with EO safety.

 “A new study lends further evidence to a suspected link between abnormal breast growth in young boys—called prepubertal gynecomastia—and regular exposure to lavender or tea tree oil, by finding that key chemicals in these common plant-derived oils act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals…Male gynecomastia occurring before puberty is relatively rare, but a growing amount of cases have been reported to coincide with topical exposure to lavender and tea tree oil, and the condition went away after the boys stopped using the oil-containing products, Ramsey said. Researchers at the NIEHS, including Kenneth Korach, Ph.D., a co-investigator for the new study, previously found laboratory evidence that lavender and tea tree oil have estrogenic (estrogen-like) properties and anti-androgenic (testosterone inhibiting-like) activities, meaning they compete or hinder the hormones that control male characteristics, which could affect puberty and growth.” (1)

“Be cautious about broad health claims about essential oils. Scientific research on the efficacy and safety of essential oils for specific health conditions is limited and more evidence is needed. Some research even shows adverse health outcomes from essential oil use. For example, a 2022 study of 200 individuals demonstrated the negative association between the use of essential oils and cardiopulmonary health. Study participants who inhaled essential oils one hour or more each day had increased heart rate and blood pressure and a decreased lung function rate.” (2)

“The main concern regarding safety and toxicity of plant EOs is skin irritation. Other negative side effects noted have been asthma, contact dermatitis, headache, increased bleeding, eye-irritation, neurotoxicity, genotoxicity, and immunotoxicity [11]. Citronella use has been banned in Europe and Canada since 2006 due to lack of safety information and the presence of methyl eugenol [11]. Methyl eugenol has shown carcinogenic traits in animal studies with no data available in human studies [11,71]. The US National Toxicology Program did state that methyl eugenol is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” [11]. Clove oil also contains methyl eugenol and has yet to be evaluated for carcinogenic properties. It is used not only in insect repellents, but in food, cosmetics, and medicines as well” (3)

In conclusion, I want to caution the use of essential oils and research for their safety and how to properly dilute them if you want them to be a part of your life and routine. There are many resources out there! Dig in and decide if it's right for you- don’t let me or anyone else make that decision for you. This blog is simply to bring awareness to the fact that they may not be as “safe” or “natural” as commonly thought. We even made a “bare” tallow balm so that if you love your essential oils, you can purchase the bare tallow and mix in your favorites. While we choose not to use essential oils, you can make that choice for yourself and your family and still enjoy all the benefits of Soma & Aretz products!

  1. https://www.endocrine.org/news-and-advocacy/news-room/2018/chemicals-in-lavender-and-tea-tree-oil-appear-to-be-hormone-disruptors
  2. https://www.lung.org/blog/essential-oils-harmful-or-helpful
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7309671/
  4. https://www.sustainably-chic.com/blog/are-essential-oils-sustainable
  5. https://www.enchantedaromatics.com/how-many-pounds-does-it-take-to-make-essential-oils/
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