Aromatherapy industry professionals are increasingly emphasizing the need for reliable, unbiased scientific research to back their recommendations for safe and effective essential oil (EO) use. The push towards evidence based science was initially rejected outright as “unnecessary” by the essential oil multi-level marketing (MLM) sphere. However, consumers are becoming more educated about essential oils, not only through reading books written by aromatherapy professionals but also by accessing safety and evidence based sites. People are often no longer willing to accept “testimonials” by MLMs that their essential oils are the best or the purest just because the companies say they are. As a result, under-educated MLM executives and representatives have begun to weave science into information handed to their downlines.
Much of the so-called science based approach taken by MLM companies is often nothing more than a “rogue” version of reliable research. Persons who have a sincere desire to learn safe methods of essential oil use are often impressed by citations from what appears to be evidenced-based research. In fact, these citations are quoting research paid for or conducted by MLM companies, a far cry from referencing peer-reviewed sources. Another method of falsely bolstering claims about a company’s products is by citing reliable resources, but “twisting” the intent of the original message.
A prime example of this occurred when a member of EOCSA’s Facebook group submitted information regarding ingestion of essential oils. She’d found the material in a blog post called “Using Essential Oils Internally” on an MLM representative’s page. The group member mentioned that she was inclined to believe the information since it contained referenced and cited sources.
Looking at the information, my curiosity was immediately piqued. One of the cited sources is a well-regarded text for students studying Pharmacology and one with which I am familiar (Pharmacology 4th edition, Brenner and Stevens, Elsevier Publishers, 2012). I was surprised to see a quotation in the blog post which implied the book’s authors thought it was acceptable to administer essential oils sublingually. I did not recall seeing anything like that in the textbook, so I located the passage about sublingual drug administration.
Here is the original passage from the Brenner and Stevens textbook:
“Both the sublingual and buccal routes of administration enable the rapid absorption of certain drugs and are not affected by first-pass drug metabolism in the liver. Drugs for sublingual and buccal administration are given in a relatively low dose and must have good solubility in water and lipid membranes. Larger doses might be irritating to the tissue and would likely be washed away by saliva before the drug could be absorbed.” (Pg 6, Section 1, Principles of Pharmacology, Brenner and Stevens).
By contrast, here is the quotation from the blog post, referencing Brenner and Stevens:
“The sublingual method enables rapid absorption and bypasses the first-pass drug metabolism in the liver, meaning that a higher dosage of chemical constituents is delivered to the body than by most other internal routes (Brenner et al., 2009). Low dosages should be given to avoid irritation to the tissue and to ensure that the essential oil is not washed away by saliva or swallowed before absorption (Brenner et al., 2009)”.
Note that the book’s authors make no mention of essential oils when discussing the sublingual route of administration. I imagine the authors would be displeased to see that their original intent was being skewed, since they were discussing medications and not essential oils. By referencing a reliable source, the blogger attempted to make her assertions seem more credible when in fact the original material clearly does not discuss essential oils. (Note: I referenced both the 2009 and 2012 editions of the book to be certain that the authors’ intent was not related to essential oils).
In the quotation from the blogger, she asserts that essential oils can be safely administered sublingually. The sublingual area in the mouth consists of mucus membrane-covered tissue and is highly vascular. While oil(s) would certainly be absorbed into the micro-vasculature of the area, applying undiluted essential oils can irritate or potentially burn tissue, seeing as the product is not properly emulsified in a carrier.
The blogger also discussed how one may add essential oils to capsules and swallow them or drop EOs into a beverage. While this information is partially correct, internal dosing of essential oils is a precise science and must be carefully calculated; it is dependent on several factors (weight and age of the client as well as careful review of health concerns, medications and supplements taken, and allergies to medications/environmental substances.) Further, one must choose the proper vehicle for administration and not just drop essential oils willy-nilly into almond milk, for instance.
As a Registered Aromatherapist, I advised the EOCSA group member who submitted the information that this blogger should not be advising her clients in this manner. While some MLM companies and representatives are at least nominally scaling back on unsafe advice, there is still a great deal of room for improvement. Using pseudo-science or intentionally altering a credible source to bolster claims is not only unethical but potentially dangerous.
Have you seen instances of “pseudo-scientific” claims in your reading? Let us know about it in the comments below!
Sue Pace is a Registered Nurse, Certified Aromatherapist through Aromahead Institute, Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner through RJ Buckle Associates, and a Registered Aromatherapist through the Aromatherapy Registration Council. She has studied under Robert Tisserand (Skin Series) and Mark Webb’s Diploma in Aromatic Medicine (pending, 2016).