The Sense of Smell: Are Essential Oils Safe?

When I first started making skincare products, all other natural self care products were using essential oils. As I developed the Suu Kuu formulas, I found it challenging to incorporate essential oils into my work for a number of reasons. First, I am committed to working with small farms, and I could not find a source that I felt comfortable with. In order to produce a small amount of essential oil, large quantities of plants are required. For this reason most plants grown for the resource intensive essential oils industry are mono-crops on large corporate farms. * The common practice for these farms is to rely heavily on spraying, and considering how much plant material is used for a single drop of oil, those chemical inputs may be  compounded in the final product. In addition, some of the oils that are sourced from wild harvesting methods are on the threatened species list such as sandalwood, rosewood, and cedarwood. These oils are likely to be adulterated to keep up with demand. In addition to the environmental impact of the use of these materials, I have some philosophical reasons for making essential oil free formulas, especially as they affect our sense of smell. 

Essential oils are expected to be safe because they are marketed as natural, but that is not the whole truth. Although they are natural, they are still a fragrance, and they affect the body very similarly to a synthetic fragrance, which can be disruptive and harmful to the endocrine system. In addition, the overuse of essential oils topically can lead to skin sensitivity, and they can be irritating for people with pre-existing skin sensitivities, sometimes even causing injury. The potency of these oils can be more harmful than helpful to the skin. 

Many natural skincare lines rely heavily on the essential oils for the active ingredients. These products can be alluring with the strong scents that they provide, but they may be working against us. One reason I feel it might be dangerous to make massage oils or face oils with essential oil is that if the blend becomes oxidized the user might not know because of the intensity of the fragrance that is masking it and blocking our judgement. Let’s be more careful with where we introduce additional and powerful scents in our life. We need to take care to cleanse our senses and not overwhelm them. This is one way we can remain well and in balance. 

I like to use the example of a beeswax candle. I find the scent just enough and beautiful, actually a strong smell, but if I were accustomed to the smell of artificially scented candles I might not notice the scent of the beeswax at all. Then, I would feel disconnected from my natural surroundings. If we can become more clear then we can have more heightened awareness and might more easily connect and experience the world around us.  For example, the sense of smell is a big part of our sense of judgement. Your life experience holds a memory and records smells and connects them to whether they are safe or not. In this way, your sense of smell informs your moral judgment. 

Without being conscious of it you can smell the emotions of people you are with. For example someone who is uncomfortable emits different smell particles than someone who feels confident, and these shift as the person's mood shifts. Therefore, if you are desensitized it might be more difficult to determine what is best for us. 

Harvesting in a patch of chamomile I can smell the beauty of the flowers, but it is much more subtle and nuanced than even a drop or two of chamomile essential oil. In this way our formulas are not scent free; they do hold subtle smells of the plants they are made with, but they will not overwhelm the senses. The sense of smell has the ability to transport us to a specific place in time, but often these smells are the most subtle as well.The more we overwhelm our sense of smell the more insensitive and disconnected we become from our surroundings. 

Our skincare line uses freshly dried local plants to make oils that are gentle on the skin, but powerful in their effectiveness. I relate it to how the energetics of flower essences can be so powerful in their subtle nature. If comparing to touch this would be like a gentle embrace rather than an intense shove. With plants more is not always more.