Sunday, May 18, 2014

Essential Oils: To Ingest or Not to Ingest? (and how I ended up picking my method)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a long post about the three schools of thought as it pertains to essential oils. I had a ton of comments on the blog and on FaceBook asking for more info, so I'll just keep writing about what I've learned until you all tell me to stop. :)

(If you haven't read the previous post outlining the schools of thought, this would be a good time to do that so that this post makes sense. Don't worry! I'll wait right here for you!)

Once I realized that there were three schools of thought, that left me with the big question:

Which School of Thought should I Follow?
or more specifically
How do I Feel about Ingesting Essential Oils and Using Them Neat?

I quickly decided that I was okay with doing more than just inhaling oils, so I was able to cross the German School of Thought off of my list. That left just the British and French schools to decide between. And boy, those two schools couldn't be more different. The British school says that inhaling and topical application with diluted oils is the only safe way to go. The French school says that inhaling, topical application (often with "neat" or undiluted oils), and ingesting is the way to go. Ingesting is a big point of contention between the two sides.

I was SO frustrated. The opinions were polar opposite and both sides have research and experts to back up what they think.

So which school of thought did I decide to go with? Well...both actually.

Over the last few months, I've tried both methods and oils from four different companies. Today, we are just going to look at how I chose my method without discussing the actual brands of oils that I tried. We will save that for another post. The best way to explain how I arrived at which method to use is just to outline how I've used the essential oils over the last few months.

Ready? Here we go!

Toward the end of January, after a lot of research, I finally ordered an essential oil kit from a company (a French school based company). I wanted to give it a good try, so I ordered a large enough selection of oils to really get my feet wet. My kit contained a diffuser, 11 oils, and a few extra samples of various other things. I bought a small handbook to tell me how to use them, and some coconut oil for application. I was totally overwhelmed at first, but quickly found a wonderful support group with people who were willing to help me as questions came up.

So far, so good. Now I just needed something good to try these things on.

In late January, I fell and broke my leg. I so wish I could blame it on ice, but nope! I just tripped as I was walking down the stairs and broke my fibula. Have you ever broken a bone? It hurts! Luckily, I was given Percoset for the pain. It worked pretty well, but it wasn't quite enough to completely zap the pain, although it totally zapped my energy. Then, about a week or so after the break, I decided that I must be better, and stopped taking it. Yeah, don't do that. The pain gets in front of you and it's hard to catch back up. Apparently, they prescribe those drugs for a very good reason. On an impulse, I started rubbing an oil, neat (or undiluted), directly over the spot that was broken. It was enough to take the edge off while I was waiting for the Percoset to catch back up. Thank goodness, because it hurt SO much!

But how much of that was just the placebo effect? Yeah, still not convinced essential oils work. I was probably making it up in my head. I was high on Percoset after all.

In February, I started to feel like my immune system was going to dip. I used the oils by inhalation and topically. I was following the French school's suggestions except for ingesting the oils because I wasn't comfortable with that just yet. Everything else, though, was as they suggested. Unbelievably, I was able to maintain my wellness level! Dang! That’s cool, I thought. That is NOT what generally happens with my very American lifestyle.

Can someone have the placebo effect happen when trying to maintain wellness? That seems like it would be harder to do. Need to keep experimenting...

In late February/March, I felt like my immune system was getting wobbly again. This time, I had to work a little harder to keep it up, but I was still able to keep my wellness level where I needed it to be.

Maybe this does work? Crazy!

Meanwhile, in February/March, I started buying oils from a different company. I loved the oils that I had, but I thought that I could find them cheaper. I'm ever on the hunt to save my family money, so I bought a selection of oils that were about 1/4 of the cost of the first batch that I bought. These oils and the company associated with them are from the British School, so I continued to use inhalation and topical application but not ingestion as I continued to do research. I also started following the British school of thought groups more closely and joined this company's FaceBook page. The more I read, the more I learned about how they suggested essential oils should be used to be safe. I ended up changing the way I used the oils to be even more conservative in my approach as promoted by the British school. Their safety guidelines had me a little worried, so I wanted to make sure that I was following them.

So now I was in a group that focused on the French school, and a couple of groups that focused on the British school. For good measure, I was routinely posting any questions that I had in both the British and French groups to compare answers and techniques. And as expected, the answers were totally different.

My frustration with essential oils was mounting. Who is right? What is safe? What is effective? Must do more research.

About this time, my hubby’s immune system needed some attention. The poor guy ended up being my guinea pig. (Sorry, Babe!) I was still using the French school approach (minus the ingestion) when we started looking at oils to support his wellness. With their methods, we were right on top of it, and he was getting awesome immune support. I was delighted to see that the essential oils were working for him as well! Unfortunately, three days into it, I read that what I was doing wasn't the safest approach, and that I needed to highly dilute all of the oils. So based on suggestions from the FaceBook group for the new company that I was trying, I completely changed what I was doing without telling Sean. I knew he wasn't going to notice, so I figured that this would be an excellent way to see which approach worked better.

Uh oh.

It so did not work. His immune system immediately nose-dived, and Sean ended up having another heart episode as he does whenever he gets really ill (We’ve seen a cardiologist. There is no “fix” for it. It’s just something he lives with. That’s why wellness is super important for him.) He was out for days. I should add that as I was adjusting my approach to essential oils, I asked a lot of questions in the British school based group and also emailed directly with their aromatherapist who was about two months away from complete certification. When Sean had his heart episode, I went back to the group and the aromatherapist to find out what I did wrong. I emailed back and forth with her, trying to understand where I went wrong. Please note that in the following emails, I have removed all brand names and identifying oil names since this is a post about schools of thought and methods of application. We will talk brands in another post! I just want you to understand the research and background first.

"When I first started, I was following the French school and rubbing the following on his chest: First coconut oil, and then lemon, peppermint, and lavender.I have no idea what that dilution would end up being, but it worked! I also put Thieves/Germ Fighter in the diffuser. Coconut Oil on the bottoms of his feet with Thieves/Germ Fighter. And a calming oil on his wrists. Those were all from [the first company] that I bought oils from. 
Then my order came in from [your company], and I switched to the following: I mixed Peppermint, a respiratory supporting oil, Ravensara, and Lavender with Sunflower Oil at a 10% dilution in a roller ball. I was also diffusing Thieves/Germ Fighter and Lemon at the same time, and had him rub Thieves/Germ Fighter over a light layer of coconut oil on the bottoms of his feet. 
I used the [French school's method] for about 2-3 days, and we were maintaining his wellness level! Then we switched to [the British method] and the 10% dilution on a Sunday evening. On Tuesday morning he was passed out on the bathroom floor.
Passing out is status quo for my hubby when he is very sick. I wasn't surprised that he passed out because his heart was stressed. However, we were right on top of it, supporting his natural systems, and it looked like we were going to skate through....but then we didn't. :(
Also, just as an extra note, while I switched my hubby over to [the diluted oils and British school,] I continued to use them myself as [the French school] suggested. I put Thieves/Germ Fighter on the bottom of my feet with a carrier, lavender behind my ears and at my temples neat, and calming oil on my wrists neat. And I also breathed in the diffused Thieves/Germ Fighter as well.
I was able to support my immune system, but my hubby went downhill.”
She forwarded my email on to their company expert, and replied with this (wording has been adjusted because her reply was not FDA compliant. The meaning is intact though):

"I just heard back from our expert and there are a couple things they recommend.  
1. Do not change the method in the middle of [something]. [These situations] are really hard because they continue to mutate and change all the time. What is working one time and with one person, most likely won't work as well the next time and with the next person.  
2. The best way to fight something like that is topical inhalation. That means applying to the chest, back of neck and bottom of the feet which it sounds like you were doing. 
3. The dilution is up to you. If you are only using these oils [only a few times a year] and not on a regular basis, use a higher dilution. Especially if you are using the oils on the bottom of your feet. I always recommend diluting oils but if you are only using these oils a couple times a year, then make them a stronger dilution. Just make sure that you are diluting 'hot' oils enough. That will be the main concern here that you don't burn your skin when applying topically.  
So to clarify, you don't have to use a 10% dilution if you are only using for a few days (…) a couple times a year. You can use a higher dilution if that [works[] faster. Also find what works (…) and stick with it. The oils you are using will generally be the best oils but you might need more [of one oil] one time and more Lemon the next time depending on the [situation]."

It kind of makes sense that I shouldn't have switched in the middle of intensely focusing on Sean’s support, but I was clearly using the oils they would have suggested, and even though they said to up the concentration, they still suggested that I keep the oils pretty diluted. Okay. So at this point, the French school provided wonderful wellness support, and the British school should do the same if I increase the concentration a little bit.

This must have been a fluke that it didn't work. Other than upping the concentration, I did everything correctly. I obviously need to try this method again.

I'm super cautious, and I really want to do the best, safest thing for my family. So in spite of the fact that it didn't work the first time I tried it, I decided to fully commit to the British school and pretty much wrote off the original company I tried. I decided that their approach must not be safe and the new group must be safe...even though it didn't work.

(Sheesh, I hope you all are following this. It's kind of convoluted!) 

And then everything went down hill.

In March our kids started preschool and began to bring home every germ that they could possibly find. They were sick constantly, and they managed to personally share with me everything they had as well. The stomach flu, colds, fevers, etc. It was awful, but also status quo for my little preemies.
Let’s just be honest here. Everyone gets sick, and I expect nothing less, BUT I was really hoping for at least a little immune support.

But it really got bad in April. In April, my immune system bottomed out. When I say bottomed out, what I really mean is that it completely crashed. I used all of the suggestions that the British school and less expensive essential oil company gave me. I upped the concentration, I rubbed oils everywhere, I diffused them next to my head, I slept extra, yet I kept getting worse. My voice disappeared, my throat was sore, and then my chest started to hurt. And still, it was getting worse. Wellness? Immune support? None of it even existed at that point.

Why didn't my oils work?

So I went to the Minute Clinic, was diagnosed with bronchitis, and got antibiotics, inhalers and a sore throat gargle. It took 2-3 weeks to recover, and I spent a good part of that being unable to talk above a whisper.

The modern meds worked, and I got better (yay!), but I still wanted to figure out how to support the immune system that my body was equipped with. I wasn’t looking for a cure all. I just wanted to do everything I could to stay WELL in the first place. I was really hoping that essential oils would give our family the extra boost that we obviously so desperately needed.

And then a week later, I had a second cold. At this point, it was the middle of April. I'd already been down for weeks. Within a few days, I could tell that I was in bad shape again. Another trip to the Minute Clinic had them telling me that bronchitis was back, and I most likely had asthma since the colds kept returning (I also had bronchitis six months earlier in October). They sent me to my primary care doctor. My doctor ran numerous tests and said I had adult onset asthma, and a very severe case of bronchitis that was bordering on pneumonia.

What?!?! But I'm following the essential oil immune supporting recommendations to the letter!

At this point, my hubby and I also had this conversation:

Sean: "Hey Bec? Do you consider yourself a sickly person?" 
Me *in denial*: "No, I'm not a sickly person!"

Again, I had done exactly as I was told to do by the British school. Instead, I found myself back on meds, trying to recover from my second round of bronchitis. I think I filled seven prescriptions that week. Not a joke. Essential oils and their wellness supporting capabilities? Now that was a joke.

Guess what happened after that?

(Can I just add here….it is much easier to maintain wellness from the get go, then to do this immune system yo-yoing thing I had going on. It is a fight to ever get back to a position of wellness once you’ve let yourself nosedive.)

Three days after finishing my antibiotics, I came down with a third cold. It started on a Friday night. By Saturday afternoon, I knew bronchitis would set in within a day or so. I was playing ring-around-the-rosie and unless I made a life change, I couldn’t see myself getting to leave the playground…like ever.

Me: "Babe...I think I'm a sickly person." (and yes, I may have been crying tears of frustration.)

So I went back to the very first essential oil company I tried in January and said, "What do I do? You tell me exactly what to do to support my immune system, and I'll do it. I'm desperate. It’s been 5 weeks, my immune system is in the tank, and I'm exhausted. I've been using the oils per the British school, and they clearly are doing nothing to support my body."

They gave me their suggestions, and I dusted off the remainder of the first oils that I bought. I started rubbing, diffusing, and ingesting the oils. I was so desperate to stabilize my immune system and find that happy wellness plateau. The British school hadn't worked at all. Would the French school be any different? Because I was done and about two minutes from giving up on essential oils altogether.

Five days.

Once I started actually using oils that worked WITH my body’s natural systems, it took three days to start feeling in balance. Within five days, I felt...well, I felt great!

Five days.

And the expensive oils that I thought I couldn't afford? Well, I actually kept a very detailed list of exactly what and how much I used of each oil to support my body’s natural healthy systems. I have a paper with the cost calculated down to the penny. I ended up saving money. True story.

But you'll have to wait for another post for the price breakdown. This one is getting too long.

All that to say, I've tried the British School of Thought and I've tried the French School of Thought. I think the British school is far too conservative in their approach. Using oils is great, but if they don't actually do anything to support our major systems, then it's just a waste of time and money. I think the French School can often be too liberal. No need to ingest large amounts and waste the oils! But ingesting on occasion, keeping our wellness level in tip-top shape, and saving tons of money is worth it in my opinion. I think the key is balance.

Since then, we've used the oils and the French approach for our entire family. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't a total fluke, and that they really would provide support for all six of us. It sounds crazy to say, but they really work!

Alrighty. This post is way too long, but I'm going to leave it as is anyway. In the next couple of weeks, I'll post about the four essential oil companies that I've researched and tried, and how we've actually saved money (what?!) with the particular essential oil company that we decided to go with.

Meanwhile, I'm sold on the French approach, and will happily ingest essential oils if it helps keep my body in a happy place!

What do you think? British School or French School? I know this is a touchy subject for many, so let's keep the comments polite!

Don't miss the other posts in this series!

Disclaimer: I am not an aromatherapist, and I have no formal essential oil training. This post (and all other posts about essential oils) should never take the place or be considered a substitution for a doctor's advice. Please, do your own research and ask your own questions!


  1. Also, I would say I fall more into the French camp. I think the biggest reason for diluting with a carrier oil is skin sensitivity, none of which I've experienced with the oils I've used. I will say, I've tried ingesting peppermint essential oil (in a capsule) and both my husband and myself seem to experience weird heartburn like sensations after doing so. So...we don't ingest that one.

    1. I love to add a drop of peppermint into my water every morning it gives me a refreshing start

  2. Excellent information! You're a trooper for so many reasons! :)

  3. Yay! Rebecca, I love that this is YOUR journey- sound like you're making huge strides in what works for your family.

  4. Thanks for sharing all of that! Not to long for me, I loved it, and I am interested in hearing more about it. Looking forward to the next installment. :)

  5. THANKS for this! I'm sorry you went through it all, but I'm impressed that you kept such great track of your journey and appreciate that you shared it with us! I'm somewhere between the two schools for the same reasons you listed.

  6. Balance is so key in everything including EO use. And it sounds like you have found a good rhythm with that!

    I am curious if you would have had better success using the EOs from company #1 even in the British dilution instead of the EOs from company #2. I know we dilute ours pretty heavily (5 drops EO to about 80 drops carrier) and they are still really strong and work well. Not that I don't agree that in some short term applications you may need less dilution. It was just a thought that went through my mind while reading your post if possibly company #2's oils were weaker to start with and thus diluting made them ineffective.


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