Newsflash: Essential Oils Are Not Going To Cure You

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

I knew the train had left the station after I mentioned my mental illnesses. I have a slew of them, including bipolar II, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD (which is a neurological difference and not an illness, but for this purpose, we’re splitting hairs). I could almost hear the woman clutch her cell phone harder. “Have you tried essential oils for that?” she asked. “I know so many people who were able to get off their medications when they started using oils.”

I immediately switched into distant-but-polite mode and ended the conversation. What I really wanted to say was, “Bitch, wafting bergamot at my face will not stop me from driving my car off a bridge.” I’ve developed a blank Stepford-like response that goes something like this: “Thanks, I’ll have to look into that sometime.” I use it whenever some proselytizing oil guru corners me about the miracles of lavender and tea tree. One hit of that shit, according to them, and I’ll be tossing my meds in the air and singing like Maria from The Sound of Music, flowing skirt and all.

Because here’s the medical consensus: aromatherapy is a great alternative, complementary therapy for the peer-reviewed shit that we know works, namely talk therapy and actual real medication you get from a board-certified physician and pick up at a real pharmacy, not from some patchouli-pushing mom with a side gig.

Basically every reputable source that isn’t schilling essential oils (which don’t count as reputable) says so. So take hits of ylang-ylang like a college kid sucking from a water bong, but don’t expect it to cure a damn thing. Improve maybe. Help, perhaps. But not cure, and not replace any actual medical interventions.

JuJu Aroma

Some of those oil pushers can get downright dangerous. A Facebook search on “essential oils” can lead you to “prescriptions” listing which oils to use to calm a panic attack. Perhaps the prescriber has never suffered from a panic attack, during which you feel like you are literally dying and you can’t fucking breathe. However, as someone who has, I can only assure you that an aromatherapy inhaler will not fix the problem, and anyone who says so should have the Food and Drug Administration breathing down their neck for doling out improper medical advice.

Mention my kids’ ADHD? Same thing. “Have you tried lemon/jasmine/basil/pachoutchi/coconut/peanut butter extract?” they ask. Then they push. Because most of them are also dealers, because you get cheaper oils when you sell them to your friends. “My husband’s best friend’s aunt’s cousin tried my lemon verbena and lavender mix on her kid, and he was hanging from the ceiling and sacrificing goats in the living room. Now he gets straights A’s and joined the lacrosse team.”

Thanks, but no thanks. We prefer to give our kids a Ritalin derivative prescribed by an actual doctor. It’s produced duplicatable results in peer-reviewed studies published in reputable medical journals. We call that science, CAROL.

What isn’t science: dosing small children with chemicals (which essential oils actually are, by definition) that haven’t been studied or assessed for their effects — and which vary widely in potency depending on the brand. Which can be downright dangerous. Essential oils, according to WebMD, can be harmful when consumed, and infants and children have thin skin, which can lead them to absorbing dangerous amounts of the oil.

Meanwhile, some oils are downright toxic, including “camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils.” Even oil-friendly websites admit that children should never ingest essential oils, or be given them undiluted (without a carrier oil). It’s not even safe to put drops of them in the bath, lest they cause skin irritation. And they should never be used with children under six months.

Then come the people who chose essential oils over, you know, actual medical care. Like vaccinations. One Scary Mommy commenter said of the flu vaccine, “Our family never gets the shot. all it does is pump your body full of chemicals. we use essential oils to boost immunity. my kids have never gotten the flu.”

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again for those in the back: Only vaccines can protect you from vaccine-preventable diseases. Got it?

Hand-washing helps. Good hygiene helps. Your ylang-ylang does not help, and eschewing a vaccine in favor of an essential oil means you do not believe in science. Therefore, we cannot have an actual conversation about the subject, so bye-bye.

Do not get me started on claims that essential oils can cure your cancer. Just don’t do it. Back away slowly from that corner of the internet and never, ever return.

Look, if you need some sleep, it can’t hurt to rub some lavender on your pillow. But don’t corner the rest of us with the eye-rolling zeal of a hippie prophet who thinks that not only can oils fix us all, Heal the World is playing somewhere in the background and incidentally, you’re going to make a buck if we buy.

Maybe oils worked for you. Awesome sauce. We all need a hobby. But I don’t corner everyone and tell them that crocheting can cure their cancer, then offer to sell them some yarn. Keep your oils, your diffusers, your rollers, your car air fresheners (because apparently you can’t even approach basic traffic patterns without help), your scented candles, your carrier oils, your sales pitches, and especially your medical advice to yourself.

When I want some help relaxing and smelling nice, I’ll give you a call. When I need some medical advice, I’ll head to an actual physician. Oils are “an alternative therapy,” not “a therapy.” Anyone who tells you different is lying, deluded, or selling something. Or maybe all of the above.

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