Creating good boundaries when working with Essential Oils

Aug 07, 2020

Aromatherapy is a fantastic tool in the hands of a knowledgeable person, and they are mostly safe enough to avoid getting into too much trouble. 

The fact that you can buy them in many health food stores and specialty shops is a clear enough signal from the FDA or whatever regulatory body exists in your country that they are not considered to be excessively dangerous.

It is, however, essential to know where the boundaries are with
Aromatherapy legally and ethically.


The legal perspective is the easiest to see. In the United States, the FDA spells it out very clearly, but it depends on what you are trying to do.

Here is what the FDA says about cosmetics:

Excerpt: "The law does not require cosmetic labeling to have FDA approval before cosmetic products go on the market, and the FDA does not have a list of approved or accepted claims for cosmetics. However, there are limits that apply to cosmetic labeling claims."

For cosmetics, you may also want to be aware of the IFRA:

IFRA is not a government agency, but it does behave like a regulatory body that is internationally recognized. This is their mission statement: "To represent the collective interests of the industry and promote the safe use and enjoyment of fragrances around the world."  So if it is not actually a government agency, then why should you care about the  IFRA? Here is what one producer has to say about that:

The reason I, as a small niche producer, ensure that my retail products comply with IFRA (an organisation I’m not a member of) is, that if I were be sued by anyone I’d be in a weak position if I could not show compliance with the internationally accepted industry standards and then I’d find it virtually impossible to obtain product liability insurance, without trade becomes impossible.

So the FDA is essentially saying that after thousands of years of history and tradition, herbs and essential oils are "drugs."

This basically means it's a legal issue for you to make any claims, and you will need a medical disclaimer (useful info here: at a minimum.

You surely want to look at two things before bringing a product out onto the market or working with clients while making claims:

The FDA regulates labeling for cosmetics and drugs:

The FTC regulates advertisement claims:


If you make a claim, for example, that Frankincense will cure cancer, how do you know? Regardless of the legal perils of saying something like that, how comfortable would you be if the person you told that to died believing every word you said.

Did you really research it? Is there any science to back it up? Have you talked with other professionals to verify that that is true?

A doctor would probably be clueless simply because he would not have studied that.

Cancer is a big hot issue, but there are other subtler things, such as claiming that a specific formula will cure nail fungus, a problematic condition involving diet and cleanliness with a vast array of cofactors. If you tried a blend on your brother and it worked, it may not work for Joe, Betsy, Frank, or Lisa.

To drive this point home a little further, there was a local health food store where I lived, and in that store was a brilliant guy, whom I will call "Bob," who was always giving out free advice for everything in the store. That was his job.

He had a Ph.D. in nutrition, and he was continually reading up on every vitamin and supplement and sharing a lot of it with clients. Unfortunately, Bob was about as useless as wet toilet paper. He was persuasive, and he sold a lot of product, but almost everything he suggested did not work. I have no idea why.

Imagine the damage that does for all of the people who trusted him? They may like him, but they won't trust him anymore. More than likely, they would have assumed that there is no value in nutritional pills at all.
That is what happens with essential oils if you do not do your homework, and you do not try to deliver effective blends. It would be bad business for you, but it would also tarnish the trust in the entire modality of Aromatherapy.

Just for fun here is a little perspective about anecdotal experiences I
have seen from my private circle of clients and friends:

- A friend of mine was given a concentrate of Blood Root by an African
"witch doctor" that completely removed a diagnosed cancerous tumor that dug deep into his chest.
- A man's hair grew back entirely from an essential oil salve he put on
his head
- Nail fungus disappeared after about three months of applying Tea Tree oil on another man
- A massive fungal growth that covered half of one poor soul's face
completely disappeared

And here's a small sampling of horror stories:

- A good friend of mine killed her cat by putting some essential oil on
its fur in an attempt to deal with lice
- Another man blistered his toes using pure Oregano Oil trying to get
rid of nail fungus and athletes foot
- A woman chemically burned her face with a cream made by her
well-meaning friend to deal with Rosacea.

You probably have your own stories, and it would be interesting to have space somewhere to share all those.

There is actually a Facebook page for Australia and New Zealand who has a dedicated space primarily to report adverse reactions/injuries from essential oils. They have a dedicated and united team of professional Aromatherapists (Clinical Aromatherapists, Aromatic Medicine Practitioners).

Check them out here:

Anyway, the point is that anecdotes are misleading if they don't match up with the experiences of most people. They are also misleading if there are specific medical conditions that a doctor or alternative health practitioner should be getting involved in. As the Aromatherapist, you need to be able to determine when to forward people on to them in those cases.

You may have the experience, knowledge, and clarity to do miraculous things with essential oils and help people, but you already know that you cannot make medical claims. A lot of interactions between an
Aromatherapist and a client are very personal, and it does involve their trust. Honor that with integrity.

Until next time. Have a wonderful rest of your summer. 

Seth & Katrin

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