I was recently accused of spreading around “quackery.”
It’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. Occasionally, there are people who undercut the research I’ve done along with the chemists and scientists I’ve worked with. They say, “You believe in alternative medicine? You must be a quack.” Unfortunately, it’s part of the package when you’re dealing with a relatively new and unregulated health industry. Thankfully, it doesn’t ruffle my feathers so much anymore.
However, this particular critic accused me of something much worse: promoting essential oils as a cure-all for cancer.
It’s true that I wrote a blog post on how essential oils helped me through one of the most trying times in my life—when I was diagnosed with Stage 1, non-aggressive breast cancer. But I never said that essential oils are a cure for cancer. In fact, I continually promote the idea of using essential oils as complementary treatment alongside conventional treatment. I myself underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. I used essential oils to mitigate scarring, improve my mood, and help ease the tenderness of my irradiated skin—all of which were the focus of that post.
Unfortunately, it seems my critic didn’t read the full blog post before taking her stance against me. I respect her eagerness to protect cancer patients from unhelpful and dangerous “cure-all” treatments. I’ve been in a similar battle of my own, trying to make sure essential oils are used safely and responsibly. This is a good reminder that we must always search for the truth, and not simply make assumptions based on our opinions and beliefs.
It’s not quackery. It’s real science.
As for the wider accusation of promoting “quackery” in general, I think this is a good time to explain that it’s not quackery. It’s real science, which I’ve had the pleasure of studying for 40 years and counting. For those of you interested in where I’ve studied and who I’ve studied with, see my Vintage Aromatherapist blog. You can also find a list of my aromatherapy accomplishments here. I’m always striving to accomplish more, but I think my achievements aren’t too shabby thus far!
During those 40 years, I worked with well-known and respected minds, including Martin Watt, Dr. Trevor Stokes, Dr. Robert Pappas, and Tony Burfield—to name a few. I wrote many papers and presentations, along with the personal blog mentioned above. I also wrote all of the courses, books, and classes we offer today. You can find my bio here.
I’m very passionate about illuminating the exciting and surprising truths of aromatherapy and essential oils, and about offering my hard-earned knowledge to my students.
So to those critics, I have one thing to say: it’s not quackery, it’s chemistry!
Many of our students find it challenging to learn the botanical names of essential oils. These names are in Latin and can be quite tricky to pronounce. Plus, students are already learning so much that the botanical names seem superfluous.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! The best integration of information happens slowly and over a long period of time. You should never try to absorb every ounce of information all at once. You won’t be able to, and your mind will feel weak in trying.
So, we’ve collected a list of resources for pronouncing the most common scientific plant names. Read these and say them out loud to yourself over a period of time. Know that they’ll sink in. Most importantly, you’ll be saying them correctly before you know it.
OverPlanted Botanical Latin Pronunciation Guide – This is a comprehensive guide to pronouncing the Latin botanical names of essential oils.
Dave’s Garden Botanary – Here you can look up a plant name, discover its meaning, and find a guide to pronouncing it.
The International Plant Names Index – This is a database of the names and associated basic bibliographical details of seed plants, ferns, and lycophytes.
There’s been longstanding discussion on whether alternative medicine or western/conventional medicine is the most beneficial. When I was diagnosed with Stage 1, non-aggressive breast cancer in 1998, they both played a significant role. Together, they made this time in my life one of deep reflection and profound change.
I found the lump myself and underwent a lumpectomy to have it removed. The doctor also did a lymph node removal to see if the cancer had spread. Thankfully, it hadn’t, so I went through daily radiation treatments for six weeks.
Going through the actual process of radiation treatment is painless and only takes about a minute. However, the side effects come slowly and build up over time in the tissues of the skin. Redness and irritation are common. This isn’t so bad in comparison to some of the other side effects of cancer treatments. But this does take a toll, and since the effect is cumulative, it grows with every treatment. Fatigue is also a major side effect of radiation treatment, and I used aromatherapy blends to help combat it. I also used topical treatments on my scars to help with healing.
Now, before I describe how I used aromatherapy, essential oils, and aloe throughout this process, I want to point out that doctors ask you not to apply anything to the irradiated area. That’s not because it has any effect on the treatment. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s because the radiotherapists put little marks on you to indicate where the radiation beams should be directed. I opted to have the tiny pin marks tattooed on. Yhey rubbed off anyway throughout the day, even when I wasn’t applying anything.
Both my oncologist and radiologist were aware of my profession, and they approved my use of complementary and self-administered treatment.
The Irritation and the Incisions
First, I applied aloe (Aloe barbadensis) straight from the plant. The doctors warned me against applying anything with alcohol. Moreover, I wanted to stay away from the preservatives found in many commercially-prepared aloe lotions, so the plant itself was the best way to go. This alone was very soothing and helpful to the area.
I also used a water spray on the irradiated breast, and this is where the essential oils came into play. Using a four-ounce spray bottle filled with distilled water, I added equal amounts of Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Blue Tansy (Tanacetum annuum). I sprayed this onto the skin after radiation and after my morning shower. When the skin became increasingly tender, I upped the amount. I used this every day during treatment and continued using it for a month after the radiation had ended.
The redness persisted, but the severe irritation ended two weeks after the treatment. Though skeptical of my brand of medicine, the radiologist admitted that my skin fared better than most. He said he was amazed by the lack of burning.
As for the incisions, I had both a one-inch and a three-inch incision from each of the removal procedures. I applied Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) and Artemisia (Artemisia arborescens, high chamazulene, Pacific Northwest variety). Using a 50:50 ratio and diluted at 10% in fractionated coconut oil, I believe this helped with healing and preventing any inflammation or infection. Thanks to my topical treatment and an excellent plastic surgeon (see—complementary!), I barely have scarring now.
Fatigue and Mood
I also used aromatherapy to help with the fatigue and the emotional side effects of a six-week radiation treatment. My afternoon blend included stimulating oils like Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, camphor variety), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), and Basil (Ocimum basilicum). I put this blend in an air diffuser.
When I wanted to rest, I used blends containing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis), Neroli (Citrus aurantium), Rose (Rosa damascena), and Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Out of those, my favorite was Geranium, and that’s what was most often in the diffuser. I also put 5-10 drops of this oil in my bath, and these practices really helped with my moods. Cancer and cancer treatment are very difficult on a person’s well-being, and having my favorite oils there to help me was an immense comfort.
I used Rose in times of depression and confusion as well. To demonstrate how much psychology plays a part in this, I’ll tell you that I used Rose after my mother passed away. So I had developed a cognitive association with Rose when I needed to work through grief. This helped the oil stimulate that response in me again.
What I learned
While I was treating myself and following the advice of my doctors, I also received an immense amount of love and support from the aromatherapy community. I could feel them out there, sending healing vibes and providing unseen but much-felt protection. I learned how important that network is. It can be incredibly healing to have a friendly and open support system.
I also learned how to rest because it was required of me, medically. I’m sure anyone who’s active can understand this, but sometimes I didn’t know how to stop. However, I learned this was necessary in order for my body to recover and recuperate. Once the fatigue set in, I had to rest or else I risked prolonging recovery. Additionally, I learned that sometimes I can’t physically do everything I want to do, and that asking for help isn’t shameful. That was a fantastic life lesson for me—one I wish upon everyone.
I’ve also become much more active in volunteer work since then. I participate in several cancer groups and speak about my experience using aromatherapy as complementary treatment.
I truly believe both approaches can be used in combination as powerful tools for those suffering from cancer and undergoing cancer treatment.
Have you had a positive experience with aromatherapy? Share it with us!
Soon, we will be asking everyone to submit any positive experiences they’ve had with aromatherapy, along with any adverse reactions. We’re calling this the Positive Benefits Form, which will be added to our website shortly. We’re doing this to provide a more balanced perspective on the use of essential oils.
Recently, it was called to our attention that our attempt to provide education on the dangers of aromatherapy might be dissuading new aromatherapy users. That’s the last thing we want. We at the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy are just passionate about encouraging safe essential oil use, especially with the meteoric rise in unsafe practices.
However, as an educational institute with nearly a century of combined experience in aromatherapy, we also love essential oils! We want you to love them and to experience their benefits in safe and healthy ways. We will continue to run our Injury Reports. By listing all of the wonderful success stories as well, we can find balance. Yin and Yang!
What’s your best aromatherapy or essential oil success story?
So, until we’ve added the Positive Benefits Form to our website, let’s list them in the comments section. What are some of your best stories?
One of the best thing I ever did with essential oils is use them during surgical treatment, when my doctors removed a breast cancer tumor and lymph gland tissue. I also used oils after surgery during six weeks of radiation treatments. According to my doctor, I had the best kind of cancer; it was enough to change my life but not enough to kill me. I used oils and natural products during my two surgeries and during radiation, when I was experiencing burning and irritation. Then I continued using them afterwards to counter the lingering mental effects! Read more about this experience here.
Recently, I read a story from a mother who found out what worked for her child and what didn’t. This mainly concerned Lavender essential oil. The mom realized that not all recommended oils work like they’re supposed to. She has consented to me sharing her story so that it might help others. I am thankful to be able to do so.
Here’s her experience, in her words:
“I just wanted to share with you all just how important it is to research EOs before using them, especially on children. I’m a huge researcher, but even I missed this. My 7 year old has epilepsy, and it originates in his frontal lobe so, of course, ADHD comes with the territory. It’s been difficult, so I started researching ‘EOs for ADHD.’ I only paid attention to the homemade blends that used oils that I knew were safe ‘in general’ for a child his age.
A little over a month ago, I tried a blend with Vetiver, Lavender, and an MLM blend that had just a few other oils in it that were not contraindicated for children his age. By day 3, he was like a different child, and it was not in a good way! He was wired, disrespectful, hitting his baby brother, and extremely restless. I posted here for help, and someone mentioned how children with ADHD could have opposite effects with the oils meant to calm the body. It made sense to me because he has an opposite effect with Benedryl. So I stopped using the blend and my sweetheart returned.
I still needed to figure out a way to help him to focus and not be so impulsive, though, so I tried a different blend with only 3 single oils: Cedarwood (2 drops), Frankincense (1 drop), and Lavender (2 drops). I put this in a teaspoon of unscented lotion and massage it into his back (whatever’s left on my hands I rub on his feet just b/c he likes a foot massage). I started this on Friday. By Monday (day 3), he was out of control. He even pretty much told me he hates me, and my son has NEVER said that to me a day in his life. I was keeping a behavior log, so I knew it was the oils. And the one oil both blends had in common was Lavender. So, the researcher that I am, I searched high and low until I found out why Lavender oil would change my child’s personality so much. I found this:
‘For those with epilepsy, be aware that several essential oils may trigger an epileptic seizure and these could include Lavender, Fennel and Rosemary.’
Now, I never stop at one source. I searched more and actually, the type of Lavender in question is SPIKE Lavender. Some sources credit regular Lavender as an oil that calms epilepsy. However, knowing that epilepsy presents itself in different areas of the brain, it should be expected that each situation will have different reactions. This information is enough for me to avoid ANY type of Lavender oil on or around my son permanently. It’s not safe for him. I stopped using it yesterday, but it’s still affecting him today. He is so restless, it’s unreal. However, I’m glad I know WHY he’s had such a terrible few days. And why he would tell his momma that he hates her.
I check multiple sources for good and bad. Also, once I introduce anything new to my children (natural or not) I keep a journal on their behaviors, because sometimes you just never know what’s going on and what could be causing it….This is proof that the oils are indeed strong and capable of affecting a person negatively if used incorrectly.”
“I just wanted to update you all on how he’s doing after I stopped using Lavender on (and around) him. The last day we used it was Tuesday. Today, he is back to my sweet little boy, and it’s obvious that he has a very clear mind now. He even told me that he feels like ‘a new boy’ and that he knows how to make better choices. He was able to complete over 2 hours of school review worksheets in an hour because he was just that focused. It’s crazy to see just how that one oil had such a negative effect on him. I know it’s not a common reaction, but it is obviously his reaction and I’m glad to have the sense enough to know that not all oils work the same for every individual.”
This is an excellent story that shows how every one of us is different. Though Lavender seems harmless and calming, it had the opposite effect in this case. It took a courageous mom to research and find out what was causing the problem, and thankfully she did. So, all mothers out there who are looking for EOs to help with your children’s behavior, take this as a serious warning to make sure you do your research first!