The Science Behind Essential Oils – Man Versus Oils Investigates

Hey dudes, welcome back. Now, in the spirit of having an oily bro’s back, I have to warn you that this one is gonna be a bit wordy and long so if this is an area that tickles your man-fancy, keep reading. If not, I have put the highlights in the Conclusion at the bottom of the page.

This topic was triggered last week when I was in the departure lounge for a return long haul flight. The guy sitting beside me (let’s call him Steve) noticed me applying some essential oils to my wrists and neck. He turned up his nose and asked me what it was that I was rubbing onto my skin. I told him it that I suffer heavily from jet lag and that my little essential oils mix was aimed at alleviating that.

“Piffle” – He said (well words along those lines) before heading into a looooooonnnnngggg tirade into the science behind essential oils and how it has been proven that they are all a crock and that there is absolutely no empirical evidence that they actually work (I see the lopsided logic here but was not going to argue). He asked me how I knew my remedy was working. I honestly told him that I didn’t. I knew that whenever I felt the dreaded jet lag haze on my trip that I applied this and it seemed to alleviate it a little. “Could all be in your head”, he responded. I agreed, he could be right! I started telling him about this blog and he told me he would read it if I was honest about the research I did into the science and posted it onto my site. He insinuated that I probably wouldn’t as it might be detrimental to my attempts to sell the stuff…

Ah Steve… How little you know me…

Why do we use them?

In one of my first blogs on this site in regards to the creation and uses of essential oils, I outlined that oils are extracted from various plant and/or fruit/vegetable matter to form a volatile compound based on the elements of the source. People who choose to use Essential Oils use them for a number of reasons including:

  • Chemical free living options
  • Alternative medicines such as aromatherapy and mood adjusters – and for some, to treat far more serious ailments
  • Food enhancers and flavours

Now, in the spirit of full mans-closure, I choose to sell Young Living Essential Oils with sales links located in most of my manly oil blogs. I have and do use them from a chemical free living and mood adjustment point of view. In my personal use, I have never hidden the fact that the jury is still out as some of their uses work, and some don’t… Much of which I have, or will be posting on this site – mainly via my mansperiments. I say this not to sway my findings rather I just wanted to be clear on my side of the fence to start with. My findings below are however written without bias.

What research is out there?

Thanks Steve! What a minefield. I have spent the better part of two days researching everything I can find aboutNatural Medicine

essential oils. There are thousands of pages dedicated to whether they work or not! These are not pages talking about diffuser recipes, benefits of this oil or that oil, the best oils to get into the Christmas spirit (oh, will have to do that one) or even how they kept fleas off a cat – yearp. There are pages specifically outlining whether they actually work. Now, rather than subject you all to my pain, I have decided to take the manly approach to reporting information – bullet points. This is a summary of my findings:
  • There really is not a lot of real, hard evidence as to whether they really do work or not.
  • Most pages are militantly for or against the benefits of oils depending on the opinion of the author.
  • Sites such as PubMed do contain a lot of real scientific research. However, this research is generally undertaken utilising specific compounds with very long scientific names mixed in a petri-dish to determine whether they will kill another specific germ.
  • Further to this point, there is not a lot of evidence of research on humans – this is due in part to this type of research is often tainted by whether the subject likes the odour of the particular oil being tested.

As I continued to wade through all of this however, I did manage to find some matter-of-fact information.

Medical Uses

The manufacture and trade in Essential Oils are governed in the United States by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). If you live in a different country, try this search – governing body essential oils [country]. Again, there is a lot to read but here are the highlights:

  • There are no essential oils products approved by the FDA as drugs because they haven’t met the agency’s standard for safety or effectiveness
  • Under TGA legislation, Essential oils are not considered drugs and it is illegal to promote their use to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent an actual designated disease.

Tea Jug

Proponents of Essential oils argue in a number of pages that I have read that Essential Oils have been used for centuries to do just that, treat and cure disease. However, both the FDA and TGA have outlined that until there is real hard evidence that this stuff works, then to the doctor we go!

The only real evidence I could find (which, I am told is currently being lobbied by the manufacturers to the FDA) is that Peppermint Essential Oils has been proven in some preliminary studies as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

However, both the FDA and TGA have determined that the use of essential oils is generally safe for adult humans both in application topically (on the skin), via inhalation (diffusers) and ingestion (via the mouth). This is due to the fact that via these methods, the concentration levels are low and therefore not a real threat.

This is not to say that there are not risks. And as I have outlined previously, if you are allergic to citrus, I would probably avoid lemon essential oils. Same goes for those with sensitive skin. Both entities however state that essential oils should only be used with great care on children and that they should never be allowed to swallow them. They also state that essential oils should never be used on babies (of course I did find a number of sites with a very different opinion on this topic).

Warning letters to manufacturers

One of Steve’s issues with essential oils was actually not so much about the oils themselves, rather the language used by distributors in their marketing materials. In 2014, both Young Living and doTerra received letters from the FDA outlining evidence of improper suggestions, promotion and claims by their distributors in regards to the abilities of essential oils to prevent and cure disease.

It should be noted that both doTerra and Young Living (I picked on these two as they are the two major manufacturers of Essential Oils worldwide) have addressed these issues on their websites and continue to police such matters. Sadly, and in Steve’s defense, I still found a LOT of sites making outrageous claims about the abilities of essential oils to cure disease.

Again, I have found no scientific evidence to back these claims up so again, if you are sick, go the doctor!

Vague wording

As part of these compliance regulations, you will find many sites (mine included) will use vague and, at times wishy-washy wording such as soothing, cooling, relieving, calming, cleansing, beautifying, cleansing etc. This is designed to do two things:

  1. Outline more of what essential oils do actually supposedly do which is to provide some relief without actually curing anything
  2. Reduce the risk of illegal or unethical statements of actual medical interventions

Whether this is a valid means of describing the benefits of essential oils or not is totally up to you and your opinions and something that was debated at length in my research findings.

Aromatherapy/Mood Adjusters

Essential Oils Mood

This is where it gets murky. Let me start by saying that I found absolutely no real evidence to suggest that the use of essential oils will adjust mood, calm you down, help you sleep, invigorate or even help you concentrate. On the other hand, I also found absolutely no evidence to say that they don’t. And therein lies the problem. My jet lag cure works for me – well I think it does anyway. Steve doesn’t. Has he tried it? No. Will he? I would say not as there is no proof that he should spend his hard-earned on something that may not work (this goes against the mantra of being a man I think but that is an argument for another day).

A dissection of the documentation I found on this subject seems to make this definitely a case of believers believing and non-believers not. If you want them to work, they will, if not then not. A friend of mine swears that if her kids are playing up that a drop of lavender oil applied directly to the crown of their heads will calm them down almost immediately. I could not find a single page outlining this as even a use. Does this mean it works? Science says no. She says yes.

Clear as mud? Thought so… Sorry….

Ingestion

And now we come to the next contentious and most violently debated issue I found – the consumption of essential oils. In their defense, most who do it do so simply as a flavour enhancer. The web is choc full of recipes where a couple of drops of basil and thyme essential oils will add new flavour dimensions to your favourite Italian dish. Sounds fair… and if I was being skeptical I would ask why you don’t just add real basil and thyme to the dish, but that’s just me (and Steve).

The other side of the fence – the eating oils is bad side – lists a whole lot of risks inherent with consuming essential oils. Interestingly, it was almost like reading the opposite to what the FDA etc. are fighting in the invalid promotion of the benefits of oils. Some sites stated with ferocity that the consumption of essential oils will cause all sorts of diseases – the same ones that others claim to cure.

Both the FDA and TGA have stated in their documentation that the ingestion of essential oils, as with other applications is generally safe due to the small amounts administered. Again, if you are allergic to the plant, it is probably not a good idea to swallow the oil.

Essential oils as a flavour enhancer

One interesting fact I did find is the increased use of essential oils in the food industry as a natural flavour enhancer. This appears to be on the rise due to the banning of other chemical based enhancers (which are totally banned in Australia and New Zealand). Other reasoning was due to the anti-fungal and preservative qualities of the oils – something that does have limited evidential proof.

Due to the cost of good essential oils, my own personal concern here centres on the quality of the oils being used however again, I have no evidence of this.

Conclusion

Hmmmm… just reread that… I will leave it up to you I guess as to whether I really provided any real information here. In the interests of providing the quick summary promised in the intro however, the following is what I found:

  • There is no evidence to suggest that essential oils can diagnose, treat, prevent or cure disease and many countries have instilled legislation prohibiting their promotion as such.
  • The FDA and TGA have found no evidence to suggest that essential oils are generally unsafe for use in any manner including ingestion – in small doses
  • There is no evidence to suggest essential oils can or cannot assist with mood and/or emotional adjustment – there is very strong opinion on the validity of these types of claims however.
  • Essential oils as a food flavour enhancer is a growing industry.

Basically, the jury is definitely still out but I will keep looking and post more as I find it. Sorry Steve.

Oh, and my jet lag mixture:

YL Cedarwood Essential Oil
Click here to purchase
YL Lavender Essential Oil
Click here to purchase

10 drops Cedarwood essential oil

10 drops Lavender essential oil

Add to a roller bottle and top up with grape seed oil.

 

 

 

Until next time

Have fun

Paul


Related posts

What are Essential Oils and do they Work?
What are Essential Oils and do they work? – A skeptical perspective
paper scissors rocks
Man Versus Oils Research – Risks of Essential Oils
Shots
A Man Versus Oils Mansperiment – Essential Oils and a Hangover

 

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17 thoughts on “The Science Behind Essential Oils – Man Versus Oils Investigates”

  1. Hi Paul,

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I don’t think anyone can be sure if essential oils work or not but if they work for you then keep using them – whether it works for some real reason or it’s just a placebo, it still works! I use essential oils to help me sleep and I find they work a dream (excuse the pun), I have never used them for jet lag or other reasons but I find that they really help me to relax and that helps me to sleep. I will keep using essential oils and maybe Steve won’t but I found this very interesting so thank you 🙂

    Reply
  2. You know what is funny is my sister tried to tell me the same thing.  I told her that tea tree could kill germs that are airborne.  She told me that is all made up.  However, my response was science backs it up so I guess if science is made up than I am sure there is some truth to it.

    I do use essential oils everyday.  For instance, I use peppermint and rosemary when writing each day.  It helps me focus.  Also, I use Lavender and vetiver to help me sleep.  

    Have you ever heard of Plant Therapy though?  They are an awesome company that I have been purchasing essential oils from for years. 

    Reply
    • HI Garen

      I agree, Lavender defintinely helps the sleep in this house too.  I have not tried Plant Therapy but have seen them start to come up in my feeds recently.   I will check them out for sure.

      Thanks for your comments

      Paul

      Reply
  3. Hi, thanks a lot for debunking the truth about Essential oil, it is quite worrying to see these kind of pseudo-science products gain their popularity over the time. I believe because on the surface, it seems like something that beneficial to us.

    However, if we see at the side effects and the potential harms it may caused, then, it is better to stay away from this kind of product. Again, that you for your perspective. It is a great wake up cal..Cheers

    Reply
    • Hey there… If I am being honest I think you may have missed the point of my post. I do agree that is worrying to see these products promoted as cures to all sorts of disease but as I have stated, there is also no evidence that these products do harm to people in general – something which is backed up by the FDA and TGA.  That is not to say that there are not risks of course as we are all differrent.

      I am a believer as I have seen benefits of them on my home and with me.  All I was saying that sicence at this point in time does not back that up either way.  Watch this space as I will continue to research this subject and post more when I do.

      Paul

      Reply
  4. From your post it does seem that there are a lot of contrasting opinions on essentials oils if they actually work or not. This is pretty hard to really understand the benefits of essential oils because a lot of people do promote essential oils. Now if a lot of people promote it, there is suppose to be a good reason why they do because I don’t know if anyone would be willing to promote a product that does not work.

    I might kind of agree with your flight sit partner as one of the reasons that makes it work might just be in our heads. Just like believing that a drug works better if the person taking it believes it is going to work. I think it might just be in the head. I really don’t understand why there are so many contrasting views on essential oils with some even claiming that it is dangerous to our health if ingested and others saying it is beneficial if ingested. Now who are we to believe.

    Reply
    • Hi Jay, that is the condundrum I guess.  Since I started using them and talking about them a little I am truly amazed at the polarising opinions that essential oils seems to arouse.  This is partly due unfortunately to some of the techniques that are used to sell them and the MLM philosophy as a whole.  I mean, we all cringe at used car salesmen, some are great and some not so much.  We don’t seem to blame the car manufacturer for this though…

      The human mind is an interesting thing which is why we have placebos in research.  And yes, those shouting about how much damage they can do  are in my opinion just as dangerous as those who are overly positive about thier benefits.

      Thanks for your comments

      Paul

      Reply
  5. Dear Paul,

    Thanks a lot for sharing the honest and straight forward facts on essential oils. The information you shared is very helpful and I got new insights from your post.

    Since I am from India I searched as per your instruction and found Essential oil association of India (EOAI) plays a major role here.

    To be honest from your posts only I got some knowledge about Essential oil and its uses.

    Wishing you great success!

    Paul

    Reply
    • Thanks Paul – yes, most countries are starting to police the industry a bit better – which I beleive can only be a good thing.

      Paul

      Reply
  6. “Paul, Paul, Paul….What are you doing to me?” This is how I felt at the start of the article. You see, I love, really love essential oils. I mostly use them for aroma. I must however add my bit here. Research or no research findings, I use peppermint oil at the onset of flu and that bugger just run and let me be in peace. I also use eucalyptus oil that way and it is very effective. I find most of the oils to be soothing and so I go off to bed breathing some lavender.

    I however enjoyed reading this article and lift my hat off to Paul for being honest. I thought to myself, “does this guy want to sell this stuff?” Well, for that reason I will return to this site. Your honesty, at all cost is admirable. You seem to be writing for men, so I will share with some male friends and family members.

    Paul, I’ve always heard that some oils are food grade and others are not. What can you say on this food grade oil issue? To be honest, I am afraid to ingest them, and I agree with Paul and Steve, use the fresh basil and the thyme. Thanks for sharing Paul.

    Reply
    • Hi Josephine – yes, it was a hard one to write from a sales perspective I guess but I started this journey to have an honest look at oils and I just wanted to get this info out there.  I use oils and honestly believe in some of the benefits I have seen  – such as my son suddenly sleeping a lot better – no matter how intangible the evidence may be.

      The food grade of oils is certainly an interesting one and something that I have on my books to look more into.  I live in Australia and even here friends of mine in the food industry tell me I would never eat this again and that again if i saw how it was made which doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in food grade oils as such.  I personally don’t ingest them orally but again, I have heard of others who swear by it.  I think that is the point..  They are proven non harmful so if they work for you great, it not, then no problems hey..

      thanks for your comments

      Paul

      Reply
  7. Thanks for this informative and educative post. It’s really interesting. No definite fact has been made whether essential oil work or not but I think will work for me because lately I have been making researches on essential oils but none has listed some oils like you do and i think I’m getting one of this.

    Reply
    • Hey Lok, I agree that is makes it hard but they do seem to have benefits even they cannot always be scientifically proven.  We just need to stay away from making them into medical advice.  Keep me posted on how you go with your own journey.

      Paul

      Reply
  8. Hello,

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on all issues concerning essential oil. I always thought essential oils were just for aromatherapy and air freshening, I didn’t quite know I could add them to my meals for a little speck of spice. Thanks for this information, what flavor of essential oil can be used in the kitchen?

    Reply
    • HI Louis, I am not a real fan of consumption of essential oils I have to admit but many are.  In general, any that are derived from things you would already use such as any of the citrus based (Lemon, Lime etc.) or Herb based oils (rosemary, thyme etc.) are generally saf to use in small doses.

      Hope this helps

      Paul 

      Reply
  9. It’s interesting that there is no actual evidence behind the benefit of using essential oils. I primarily use lavender oil for relaxing aromatherapy, although my sibling doesn’t like it. It works for me but not for her. I think there is some ‘hidden’ connection or affinity between each essential oil and human’s body. It may need very advanced technology to prove it, but I think as long as I am able to feel and enjoy the merit of essential oil, I should be find with it.

    Reply

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