Sunday, May 4, 2014

Essential Oils: The German, British, and French Schools of Thought

About four months ago, I wrote a post about how I was looking into essential oils. I asked a pretty big question:

Apparently, that is a question that a lot of people have, because I keep getting visitors from Google (Hi there!) who are wondering the same thing! Actually, it's kind of nice to know that I'm not the only one who is "crunchy curious" and pretty skeptical. But honestly, it's still a bit hocus-y pocus-y for me.

I mean, c'mon. You rub oils on and stay well. How can it possibly be that easy?

So back in January, I was trying to decide if I even wanted to give them a chance. Essential oils aren't cheap, but then again, neither is modern healthcare. Since I opened this can of worms, I thought I'd write a follow-up post about where I am now. I have spent hours and hours and hours researching essential oils, reading everything I could find, checking books out from the library, and even buying a couple of books to have on hand. I still don't have it all figured out, but I feel like I'm getting closer. Maybe what I've learned will help you too?

First of all, I learned that there are three schools of thought when it comes to essential oils. They are all very different in how they approach oils and the people who follow each school can get very passionate about what they believe.
Essential Oil Use: German School of Thought
The German school uses their essential oils primarily by inhalation. They tend to avoid ingestion and topical use. Indeed, research shows that therapeutic qualities can be obtained this way, especially where it concerns mood. Scents play a huge role in how we feel mentally. Inhalation is also one of the most direct and quickest ways to get essential oils into your system because by breathing them in, you are bypassing the skin or stomach.

Essential Oil Use: British School of Thought
The British school is more common here in America. The British school uses inhalation and topical application. They are adamantly opposed to ingestion unless it is under the guidance of a Certified Aromatherapist, and even then, it should rarely be used. They tend to err on the side of caution, having a long list of oils that they don't use and also a limited list of oils that they feel are appropriate on children. They also insist on significantly diluting oils with general adult use being 3 drops of essential oil in every 1 teaspoon of carrier oil (2% dilution). For kids, it's 1.5 drops of essential oil in every 1 teaspoon of carrier oil (1% dilution). They keep things highly diluted.

Essential Oil Use: French School of Thought
The French school is the other essential oil approach that is popular in America. The French school uses inhalation, topical application, and ingestion. The French school developed in the 1930's in France, although historical documents show ingestion going all the way back to ancient Egypt. They tend to be much more liberal with oils. They promote the "neat" or straight use of many oils unless they are "hot" and need a carrier oil. They also promote the daily ingestion of essential oils to aid in detoxing and immune support. The two big multi-level marketing companies, doTERRA and Young Living, both prescribe to this school of thought.

So in my quest to wade through the world of essential oils, I've been wading through three schools of thought to try to figure out what is best. It's a maze, people. A total maze. And actually quite frustrating because the information out there is SO polar opposite.

Here in America, the British school and French school are the most popular, so that is where I spent the majority of my research (so I won't be talking about the German school much anymore). In an effort to fully understand BOTH sides of the issue, I joined several FaceBook groups made up of people from either side, along with reading a lot of websites that explained both sides. I also tried to make sure that I read websites that were written by those making money from oils and those who were truly providing a noncommercial information. What are these "sides?" The big difference is that the British school does not ingest essential oils and highly dilutes them topically while the French school ingests and uses them "neat."

Which leads me to the second thing I've learned: I found that the essential oil culture is varied and extremely passionate. Really passionate. Really.

I should start by saying that both the British and the French school want to see people living well, full lives. They both see the toxins in our environment and know that we can do better by using a more natural approach where possible. Well meaning, most definitely.

But that's where the two sides pretty much split in their approach to people.

The British school considers it their mission to teach people to safely use essential oils. That is an awesome goal! Because while essential oils are natural, they are also very, very concentrated, and can cause issues in large amounts. The British school feels that too many people use them willy-nilly without the education or knowledge to back up what they are doing. There have been cases of major complications and death resulting from essential oil use; however, from what I've read, it is from gross misuse (I'm talking about ingesting BOTTLES of essential oils in very short time periods) or kids getting into the highly toxic oils like Wintergreen and drinking the whole thing. Essential Oils aren't meant to be taken in amounts that large. A little common sense goes far.

So what has happened in the British school is that they have gone clear to the other side and have said no essential oils should be ingested unless under the supervision of a Certified Aromatherapist and they should always be highly diluted. I like their caution, but honestly, I find their approach too cautious. It really borders on fear-mongering. I've done some research on essential oil toxicity, and they really have to be taken in LARGE amounts to reach toxic level. I'm talking like 700 times more than the typical dose that the French school supports. While the people in this school are quite passionate, I saw over and over and over again how people were shut down when they asked questions about ingesting oils in their groups. Not just shut down, but rudely told off. I wasn't impressed with the way that they approached people who questioned, asked for advice, or needed gentle guidance. Obviously, this is a general statement, and not everyone is like that, but I found more rudeness than necessary. It really seems like there is a personal war against the French school going on in the British school of thought.

The French school approaches it differently. I found that when people asked for non-ingestion ideas, they were happy to give an alternative topical or inhaled recommendation. The people seemed friendlier and much more open to answering questions, providing research, and didn't shut anyone down for questioning them. I watched these groups for a long time and even asked a bunch of my own questions to see how they would handle someone coming in and questioning everything they did. I held nothing back and was pretty sure that I was going to make some people upset. Of course, the goal wasn't to make people mad, but I wanted hard facts and true explanations for the why behind their essential oil use, not just some rote speech they learned somewhere. Not one person was offended. And I saw numerous other people come in and ask the same questions, and they always graciously answered the questions again. I was impressed with their openness and suggestion to only do what I was comfortable with. I did find some of their suggestions to ingest essential oils a little extreme though. I have an easier time getting used to the idea of swallowing a drop or two per day, but some suggestions to swallow 20 drops, did make me question why so much was needed.

In my research, I routinely posted the exact same question in both British and French groups so that I could compare approaches and suggestions for essential oil use. The people who ran the British groups were Certified Aromatherapists and the people who ran the French groups were not.

I bet you are wondering where I bought my oils, what parts of my life I tried them on, how I used them, and the results, aren't you?

Unfortunately, this post is getting super long. I have a lot more to say, but the technical explanations of the schools of thought seemed to have eaten up most of my space tonight. Would anyone be interested in another post about my experiences so far? Honestly, I'm shifting my approach to them as I speak, so the next post would just be what I've tried and what I'm trying now.

Thanks for reading along and commenting with your experiences as well! I really do think there is something here, and I think I'm getting closer to an answer....I'm just not 100% sure what it is yet. Please weigh in with your thoughts!

Don't miss the other posts in this series!


  1. My cousin sells the essential oils and they are amazing! Thank you so much for doing the research and sharing this!

  2. i love my essential oils and would love to see more posts on the topic. Please share what you've tried!!!

  3. Yes, please give us another post on your personal findings :)

  4. Yes! Please give us another post on your personal findings.

  5. Yes, please do share your experiences!!

  6. Thank you for doing all that research and sharing your results. We use essential oils for household cleaners and some home remedies, but I was completely unaware that there were different schools of thought out there. I love learning new things, and I would love to hear more about what you've learned and how they are working for you.

  7. I want your thoughts on them. Everyone I know that uses them, sells them, so they are a bit biased.

  8. Yes, would lover to hear more.

  9. I'm interested to hear more from you on this topic. I'm pretty open to the idea, but have not invested or studied it yet, and retain a measure of caution. I probably wouldn't have researched as much as you, so I really appreciate hearing your process. Thanks, Rebecca!

  10. I love that you are such a researcher! I have friends who sell DoTerra, but somehow their sales model didn't make sense to me. Probably it was too much information instead of the "how do I make a one time purchase?" Answer. I found a blogger online who sells Young Living and the sign up and purchase model seemed more simple. Looking back they are probably it about the same. I have really enjoyed my starter kit and am beginning to run out of the oils. I look forward to reading more of what you've enjoyed and discovered along the way!

  11. Thank you for your research. I would love more posts from a unbiased source!

  12. Thanks for all of your research! I think it's important to get this information out to people so they can understand and use their oils more effectively!

  13. Well I'm sitting here with a diffuser full of Joy, which I have also rubbed on my nervous aging little rat terrier and hoping for the best. Got the idea from my niece, a very smart labor and delivery nurse and NP student who's a big believer. I have done no real research yet, but so far am intrigued. Thanks for yours!!!

  14. Hi, I'm one of your visitors via a Google search of "Are essential oils a hoax?" I've been contemplating and researching (lightly) this subject for several weeks since a good friend who I trust implicitly has been using Young Living oils with much success. I'm on the verge of having her place an order for me, but as I told my husband an hour ago, I just can't get past the "too good to be true" aspect of everything I'm reading. Well, that, or the "essential oils are bogus" aspect, depending on the website. I honestly can't thank you enough for the enormous amount of time, money, and energy that you've spent on this series (which, incidentally, I read out of order, but it still made sense)! :) I'm also a big believer in modern medicine, while wanting to be open to alternative therapies as well. I really don't have anything else to add to this discussion, but I didn't want to spend an hour devouring the fruits of all of your hard work without saying a big "THANK YOU!"

  15. Hi!! I'm also a Google searcher lol I actually really loved your posts. Did you do any research or do you have any thoughts on the British vs. French schools of what should/shouldn't be used on children?? Thanks so much!!

  16. I'm new to essential oils and reading as much as I can before I truly delve into it for me, my family, and my dog. With so much biased info out there -- and a lot that are quite biased -- yours is refreshing. Thank you!


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