065: Retha Nesmith on Aromatherapy & Safe Essential Oil Use

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The Wellness Mama Podcast
065: Retha Nesmith on Aromatherapy & Safe Essential Oil Use

If you’ve followed my homemade cleaning and beauty recipes over the years, you know the important role aromatherapy and essential oils play around my home. (I might even be a little obsessed!)

At the same time, you know that I’m careful to use essential oils safely and that I’m not afraid to speak out against the dangerous uses I often see. That’s why I’m excited that Retha Nesmith, certified aromatherapist, made time to sit down with me and discuss this favorite topic.

Whether you’ve just dabbled in essential oils or have the most impressive collection known to man, this podcast has something for you!

A Fresh Approach to Aromatherapy Education

There is so much misinformation about safe essential oil use and I know several people who have actually been harmed by inappropriate use. I’ve found a few great sources of safe essential oils and am happy to see the rising awareness about safe essential oil use. Plant Therapy is one of the essential oil companies I’ve come to know and love especially for their strong commitment to educating the public on how to use essential oils safely.

If you check out the Plant Therapy blog you’ll see a refreshing difference in their approach. In an industry often full of hype and misinformation, the Plant Therapy experts lay out the facts in a balanced way.

The Power of EOs and Aromatherapy

Retha shared with me how her mom (also a trained aromatherapist) used essential oils in their home growing up. Now Retha carries on the tradition of using these natural remedies with her own three children. But just because she’s been around essential oils for a long time doesn’t mean she uses them without caution.

Retha echoes a lot of the concerns I have had about the real dangers of using essential oils improperly. Their amazing power to heal can become power to harm unless we educate ourselves.

She does an amazing job making the information simple while answering some questions I still hadn’t quite resolved even with all my research on essential oils and aromatherapy over the years.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn

  • All about the benefits of aromatherapy (it really does more than just smell nice!)
  • What makes an oil “essential” and how EOs differ from other household oils
  • Common mistakes people make when using essential oils and how to avoid them
  • Why the term “natural” or “pure” doesn’t always mean “safe”
  • What it means when EO companies make quality claims … and how to back them up as a consumer
  • How to quickly and easily find the proper dilution and diffusion ratios for oils
  • A reasonable approach to the controversial question of whether to take EOs internally
  • How to cut through the hype and choose the right essential oils for your family’s specific needs

Resources We Mention

Essential Oil Charts and Further Reading

[toggle title=”Read Transcript”]
Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast!

Katie: This episode is brought to you by Perfect Supplements. This is a new supplement company that I really love. I’ve recently discovered them. Their products are made in the USA. They make all-natural, nutrient-dense superfood supplements at incredibly reasonable prices.
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Katie: Welcome to the Healthy Moms podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and I’m excited to be here today with Retha Nesmith, who is a certified aromatherapist with Plant Therapy essential oils. And I love Retha and she’s awesome to work with but she grew up using essential oils way before they were popular and trendy. And her mom was an aromatherapist as well. So now with three children of her own, she often turns to essential oils as a remedy and she also enjoys seeing others learn how to use them safely and effectively.

And in her role at Plant Therapy, she does a lot of this, helping people to understand that essential oils are powerful. And with such powerful tools do come some safety precautions. And I’m so excited to have her here today to talk about the many benefits of essential oils and how to use them safely. So welcome, Retha. I’m so glad you’re here.

Retha: Thanks, Katie. I’m excited to be here.

Katie: Awesome. Well, let’s jump right in because this is a topic that I know a lot of my readers use and love essential oils and you guys have some great essential oils. Let’s just jump in. One thing that I wanted to really talk about. So essential oils have gotten incredibly popular in recent years with good reason, but I feel like there’s still a lot of misconceptions about them and also some potential downsides if they’re used incorrectly
because, you know, you always hear that the dose makes the poison, and even water can be dangerous in the wrong amount.
So can you talk about what an essential oil is and what makes it different than other types of oils?

Retha: Sure. An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid, meaning, you know, it doesn’t like water, and it comes from a single botanical so, you know, like a rose plant or peppermint. And it consists of volatile aroma compounds, which are chemical compounds that make up an essential oil, and it can be anywhere from a chemical constituents up to hundreds of chemical constituents that make up one essential oil. The thing that, you know… So it is an oil in the sense that, you know, it doesn’t like water and you’ll find out with fatty oils, you know, it doesn’t mix with water. They’ll form little balls and, you know, try to get away from the water.

But one of the things that makes it different is it’s volatile. So unlike a fatty oil that’s really oily, an essential oil is not oily at all and it actually evaporates quite quickly, you know, which is one of the reasons that we recommend diluting and a few other things. And it’s one of the things that makes it different from a lot of other oils like fatty oils or a carrier oil. And so, yeah, that’s kind of, you know, a really quick description of essential oils but they can be quite complex because they are made up of all these different chemical constituents up to 200. And each one of those constituents that make up an essential oil is what gives it its therapeutic properties.
Like linalool in lavender, for example, is what makes lavender a very calming oil. You can also find linalool in, you know, a ton of other oils. Sometimes it’s a major constituent of the oils and sometimes it’s a very small percentage of the essential oil.

Katie: Okay. That’s really helpful to understand. So from what I’ve read, essential oils are typically extremely concentrated. I think some of the examples I had seen is that it takes 256 pounds of peppermint leaf to make one pound of peppermint essential oil, about 150 pounds or more of lavender flowers to make one pound of lavender essential oil, and literally thousands and thousands of pounds of roses to make one pound of rose essential oil.
So obviously they’re very concentrated and they could have very potent effects, and certainly we should respect them because of this. So let’s talk about that. Since they are so concentrated, are there any basic cautions people need to understand before they just slather essential oils or drink them, especially?

Retha: Just like you mentioned earlier, even some of the best things, some of the most natural things, you know, water, can become unhealthy to us. You know, our bodies can fight them if we have too much of it. And, you know, that’s the same with essential oils. And some essential oils… It’s important to know that it’s not one size fits all when it comes to essential oils. There are some essential oils that are a lot safer than other
essential oils. For example, lavender, it’s a very safe oil. It’s a kid-safe oil. You know, it can be used in a lot of different ways. And then there are oils like cinnamon or oregano that are a lot stronger, a lot more intense, and there are a lot more restrictions to them compared to a lavender oil. So it’s not a one size fits all when it comes to essential oils.

So some of those, because of how concentrated the oils are, you’ll find a lot of oils can be very hot to the skin when applied topically, and so we’ll recommend most oils be diluted but especially those oils we’ll recommend a high-high dilution because they will be hot. Sadly, I’ve seen in person and heard from, you know, customers who have been using essential oils and not familiar with some of the safety concerns, but I’ve seen pictures of, you know, just boils from essential oils burning the skin and stuff. So there definitely are precautions to take when using essential oils because they are powerful. They are very concentrated. And, you know, with powerful things come, you know, some restrictions on how to safely use them.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s kind of start maybe in, at least in my mind, the most safe to the one that you would want to use with the most caution. Starting with aromatherapy, which you’re obviously an expert in, and that mainly would mean diffusing essential oils into the air. So can you kind of talk about why that’s beneficial and how to make sure you’re doing that safely? I feel like a lot of people kind of underplay the benefits of using just aromatherapy and having them in the air because it’s not like putting it on your skin where you feel the effect immediately. So talk about how aromatherapy is beneficial and then how to make sure we do it safely.

Retha: Right. I always say that there’s a reason it’s called “aromatherapy”, and that’s because it’s often one of the best ways to get the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. I think sometimes, like you had mentioned, people think that if it’s not on the skin, how is it going to give me these therapeutic properties? How is it going to help me with the things I need help? But just like you mentioned, aromatherapy is an amazing part of using essential oils.
I often like to kind of give an example of we have a lot of people who will come and look to buy cedar wood from us because they remember their grandmother’s cedar wood chest and it brings back all these positive memories and it relaxes them. I think that is the tool of aromatherapy, exactly what they’re describing. I think a lot of people are familiar with that but they don’t connect it with the use of essential oils.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a great point.

Retha: Yeah. We talk about these . . . I had mentioned earlier the essential oils are these volatile aroma compounds, and it’s these natural aroma compounds that these plants are making. When you go an smell a rose and it’s just this gorgeous smell and it’s relaxing and it’s beautiful, that’s the aromatherapy part of the essential oil. That’s what you’re smelling are these aromatic compounds within that rose. That’s what they’re extracting to get this essential oil and you can get all these same benefits.

The plants make these essential oils, these aromatic compounds, sometimes to deter bugs or sometimes to attract certain insects or something. So there’s power even within the plant before you’ve even extracted them.
Aromatherapy is a huge part of using essential oils and I think it’s often not focused on because people think that you need to use them topically, when in fact they don’t. But along like we talked about earlier, all these benefits but there are some precautions. Sometimes it can be overpowering, especially to young children who are still developing and even babies who can’t communicate if the smell is too strong or something. If an adult is diffusing an oil and it becomes a little overwhelming, then you know to go and to turn the diffuser off or step away for a minute. But if it’s a child, they can’t always communicate that with you, so there’s even extra precautions when using essential oils around children.

One of the things that we like to tell our customers to kind of make it simple, since we are educating on a mass scale, it’s harder to get into specifics unless we’re talking to a specific customer. So one of the things that we like to tell our customers, when they’re diffusing all day, we recommend diffusing for 30 minutes on and 60 minutes off. That is enough to get the therapeutic benefits of the essential oils while giving your body a break and allowing your body to do all the amazing things that they can while having the essential oil assisting the relaxation or whatever it might be that you’re diffusing the oils for.

Katie: Yeah, definitely. I know in our house right now in the winter we’ve got your candy cane aromatherapy blend going and the kids love it because it smells exactly like a candy cane and I love it because they’re not eating sugar. So from what I’ve read also, as far the biological effects of aromatherapy, just like the reason, on a negative level, why when someone smokes they’re able to absorb all the nicotine and the chemicals from the cigarettes, the same thing, from what I understand, happens with aromatherapy as well because the lungs are actually one of the more absorbent parts of our body and they can very quickly get things into our body.
Can you talk about that a little bit and how the benefits of essential oils actually can very much enter your body through aromatherapy and that’s, of course, why you want to exercise caution and no overdo it, like you just said, but also why it can be so effective? I know if we have someone with the sniffles or a sore throat, it can be really soothing.

Retha: Yeah. I’m not a doctor by any means and I don’t have all the scientific terms, but one of the things is, essential oils, I think a lot of people don’t realize that when you use essential oils via aromatherapy, the essential oils get into your bloodstream. And often when people are like, “Oh, just diffuse and that can’t be harmful at all,” often it can sometimes become more harmful because it’s harder to calculate the exact amount that is getting into your bloodstream inside of your body. That’s another one of the reasons we have the precaution or the safety guideline of 30 minutes on, 60 minutes off if you’re diffusing all day because it’s hard to know exactly how much of that essential oil is entering into your bloodstream, entering into your body, but it absolutely does.

You think, “I have to apply it topically for it to get inside my body,” because that’s a physical thing. You put it there and it will go inside your body, but when you’re using aromatherapy via inhalation or essential oils via inhalation, it is getting into your body. It’s getting into your bloodstream. So there are amazing therapeutic benefits that can come from just inhaling the essential oils.

We said there are some precautions because it is getting into your body, it is getting into your bloodstream. That’s how it heals you and that’s also how it can become harmful is because we don’t always know exactly how much is getting in based off of what oils you are diffusing, what kind of diffuser you are using, how often you’re diffusing. It’s a lot harder that way than if you just say, “Put 3% of this oil in this spot,” and they can calculate a little more the exact amounts of what’s actually getting into your body, into your bloodstream.

Katie: That makes perfect sense. With that understanding of how aromatherapy can be such a powerful tool, are there any oils that are just in general that you wouldn’t want to even diffuse around a baby for instance?

Retha: There are. There’s actually quite a few. Plant Therapy has a line of KidSafe oils and that comes with 21 specifically formulated blends for children that Robert Tisserand formulated, but we also included, when we launched this over two years ago, our kids-safe line, we also included a KidSafe stamp on all of our single oils so that when our customers come to our website to look at the oils, if it has a KidSafe stamp on it, they know that that is one of the safest oils to use around children. If you go to our website, you start looking, if it doesn’t have a KidSafe oil, then there might be concerns for topical use or for inhalation.

Some of the ones that are most talked about are peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, and the reason for that is because, 1,8-cineol and menthol are both chemical constituents that have been known to cause breathing problems in young children. I think that’s hard for some people to hear because they used those growing up or they used them around their children for a long time, but I always say you won’t know if it causes a breathing problem unless you try it and then if you try it and it does cause a breathing problem, then there are concerns there. I recommend until the set age limit, which is 6-10, to just kind of stay away from those ones because it has been shown to cause breathing problems in young children.

And then there’s other concerns like, first, cinnamon oils or oregano that are really strong oils. Not only do we not recommend them for topical use because they are hot oils and can burn the skin with young children, but we also don’t recommend them for diffusion because, like we talked about earlier, it’s harder to know how much is getting into the bloodstream and the effects of that. Because they are such strong oils, we just recommend they not be used in any way around young children because there are some concerns that can’t always be calculated with those extremely powerful oils like oregano and thyme and cinnamon bark and oils like that.

Katie: Yeah. I really appreciate your explanation of that and you’re right. Actually I’ve taken heat for saying before in a post that you really shouldn’t use peppermint around babies because I had researched that and I have a friend who’s an aromatherapist and I had a lot of people who said just that, like, “No, I’ve used it and I was just fine. I’ve used it on my kids and they were just fine.” I’m like, “That’s great,” but just like you said, these are very powerful oils. That’s the great part, there are some great alternatives to use that are safe around children, especially when you know how to use them correctly.

I’ll make sure to link . . . I know you guys have some good resources, and also just include kind of a list of which ones are KidSafe because I think that’s really helpful. I’m so glad that you and other companies too are really trying to raise awareness because I think essential oils are such a wonderful tool and I hate to see them being written off as being dangerous when there are very safe ways to use them.
Another way that essential oils are often used is topically. This is one of the first ways that I ever started using them, and that was in homemade beauty products and lotions and soaps and shampoos. That’s a pretty easy use to understand, but talk about using essential oils topically and anything we need to know about dilution or proper ratios.

Retha: Yeah. Using them topically is often a lot easier because there are specific guidelines. For example, on our website, if there’s any concerns with topical use with an oil, for example cinnamon bark, we have a maximum dilution recommendation, so it’s easy. You stay under that maximum dilution recommendation and you’re going to be fine using that oil topically. Then we have a guideline of dilute this oil 1-3% or dilute this oil 3-5%, so it’s a lot easier that way because there are these specific guidelines and you know if you do this then it will be safe and there’s not other things to worry about.

We do always recommend diluting essential oils and we recommend this for a few reasons. As I mentioned earlier, essential oils are volatile, meaning that they evaporate quickly. If you dilute an essential oil in a fatty oil like a carrier oil, then it’s not going to evaporate as quickly and you’re going to be able to get more of the essential oil working on those therapeutic benefits that you want, more essential oils into your body, more essential oils staying on your skin if it’s a topical concern. That’s one of the reasons we recommend diluting essential oils.
Another reason is because an essential oil is volatile, it can very, very drying to the skin and when mixed with a carrier oil at a right dilution percentage, essential oils change from being drying to actually very therapeutic, some, like lavender, to be very healthy for the skin and can be great for all skin types when diluted. So that’s a couple of the reasons that we recommend dilution more on the scientific side, but then again we recommend diluting essential oils for safety concerns as well.

Like you said, we have a dilution chart that gives recommended dilutions and how you do that, so how do you get a 10% dilution or how do you get a 1% dilution. We have a dilution chart that gives that information and also gives recommended dilutions per age range. The reason there are dilution recommendations per age
range is because as we grow . . . when you’re a child, your skin is a lot thinner, it hasn’t completely developed and it’s a lot more sensitive, so we recommend you dilute a lot more for a young child. That goes the same for an elderly person. Their skin starts to thin again and becomes a lot more sensitive, so we’re going to recommend you dilute the oil a bit more. So it is a little bit easier.

There’s also other concerns when using essential oils topically. Something to keep in mind, like I said earlier, essential oils, because they’re hydrophobic, they don’t like water, so they won’t mix with water. A lot of people like to use essential oils in the bath but we don’t recommend you just putting the essential oil in the bath because it’s not going to mix with the water. You can put it in a bubble bath or a shampoo and then it will mix with all of those fatty oils and all of the other things in the shampoo or the bubble bath or whatever it might be. Then it will evenly disperse within the water and you’ll be able to get all of the amazing therapeutic benefits of using essential oils in the bath without having any of the concerns of maybe being burned by an essential oil or have it be irritating in a way because it’s not mixing with the water and it is getting on your skin undiluted.
Katie: Yeah, that’s a really great point because if it’s a oil like that, it would just kind of float on the surface, right? So you could actually get a whole drop of it just straight on your skin if it was floating on the top of the water.

Retha: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve seen where parents have put our germ fighter blend . . . like I said, two years ago when we launched our KidSafe line, we launched our Germ Destroyer, which is comparable to our Germ Fighter blend but it’s KidSafe. But before that, we had parents . . . I heard once where a parent put the Germ Fighter in the bath water and then their child sat on it and it has hot oils in it like cinnamon and it just burned their legs because, like you said, that oil was just floating on top of the water and it’s not diluted at all because it’s not mixing with the water. So there definitely can be some concerns because it won’t mix in with the water.

Katie: That’s an important point. Another issue, at least that I’m cautious of with topical use that maybe you can help shed some light on, is some oils can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, from what I’ve read. Is that right and which oils would you not want to use if you were going to, say, go out to the beach or in the sun for awhile?

Retha: That is correct. The biggest concern with that are citrus oils, but not all citrus oils are phototoxic but a lot of them are. On our website we’ll list if there is that concern, but in general, if you aren’t really sure what you’re doing, if you have a citrus oil, if it doesn’t say if it’s phototoxic or not, I would say don’t apply it on your skin and then go out in the sun, just to be safe. But you’re correct that there are oils that do that. I think some people don’t realize that it’s not only the oil but in the past couple of years we’ve seen stories of people cutting up limes or something and then their hands being burnt by the sun, and it’s because of those oils in the lime and then lime essential oil is phototoxic so you shouldn’t use it topically and then go out in the sun.

On our website, if there is that concern, we list it. If you can use it at a certain dilution and it’s safe to use in the sun, we list that information to try to make it as easy for our customers to go on and know exactly the safest way to use these oils. But that definitely is a concern and we’ve seen that happen, sadly, with different safety reports that have come out of people using essential oils. So that is definitely something to keep in mind when using essential oils. I say just to be on the safe side, if it’s a citrus oil and you don’t know if it is phototoxic or not, if it doesn’t list it, I would say don’t use it and then don’t use it topically and go out in the sun unless you’ve done some research and know if it is a phototoxic oil or not.

Katie: Great. That is great. Thank you for clearing that up as well. Now to get a little bit into the more controversial side of essential oils and that’s with internal use because I feel like there’s a whole lot of sources on the internet that say completely different things about this. And I feel like a lot of maybe listeners even are a little bit confused about internal use when you have on one side sources that recommend that you drink 20- 30 drops of certain essential oils daily and then others that say you should not take them internally. So from a certified aromatherapist perspective, you’ve learned a lot about this, so can you kind of give us some good guidelines for internal use and what to be cautious of there?

Retha: Yeah, absolutely. Like you say, we kind of see extremes in this and on each end of the spectrum we’ll see people who are using essential oils internally every day, adding them to their water, which we don’t recommend in any way, shape or form because essential oils do not dilute in water and you’re getting those oils directly on your sensitive mucus membranes in your mouth completely undiluted as well as internally, because they don’t mix with water. So we never recommend that.

Also in capsules or in more safe ways we see people ingesting essential oils everyday all day often, and then we have on the other end of the spectrum where there will be people who say you can never ingest an essential oil. We’re kind of a little bit in the middle, although a little bit more on the safer side only because we are educating a mass amount of people. It’s not just one or two people. So we do have to be a little extra cautious.
I wrote a post about this that I actually wrote from my final paper when I was getting my certificate in aromatherapy. So it would have been in 2014 and it’s on our blog and it’s called “Can Essential Oils Be Ingested?” and it has a lot of, I think, important information on it because I think a lot of people get confused with the difference of using essential oils internally for medicinal purposes and all of us getting essential oils internally as we might drink a pop. Essential oils are used in food flavoring a lot and I don’t think people realize that. And they’re in the food we eat because, like we talked about earlier, is these aromatic compounds and these things that are in the plant that we are extracting.

So they’re in everything that we eat but with them being as food flavorings or in the food we eat, we’re getting way less than 1% of a drop of essential oil per day and they’re completely mixed in, you know, because it’s part of the food we’re eating. But when you’re using them medicinally, you’re using them in a lot larger amounts and there are some safety concerns because of that.

And, you know, in my post, I just wanted to read a little part because I went back to my post to kind of go over this question because there’s a lot of different things to think about and, you know, I don’t think we should cover all of it because it can be kind of overwhelming. But I think just this little part that I’m gonna read is kind of important for people to understand.

So in my post, I said, “There are some constituents in essential oils that can be toxic, irritating and sensitizing if the essential oil is used in large enough doses. Just because an essential oil is 100% pure and natural does not mean that it cannot harm you. Harm from an essential oil not always is due to impurities or adulterations. More often it is simply about the constituent it contains.”

Then I say, “For example, a teaspoon,” and I know that’s kind of a large amount but stay with me, “a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil or wintergreen oil, even if 100% pure, can be fatal to a child.” And there is research and studies that show that this has actually happened. There have been children that have died from a large amount of wintergreen. I think, you know, people say, “Well, I’m not taking a teaspoon of wintergreen oil internally.” And hopefully that’s true, but it’s important to note that that is how powerful these essential oils are, that a teaspoon, which might seem like a lot of essential oil, but if you think of a teaspoon as, you know, water or something, it’s such a tiny amount and you think that, “That has caused a child to die before?”

You know, this is one of the reasons why there are precautions because this is seriously strong, concentrated oil, you know, that we’re using for therapeutic benefits. And so, you know, there definitely can be benefits from using essential oils internally. And Plant Therapy is definitely not anti-internal ingestion of essential oils, but we do recommend that people do research. We do recommend that they contact an expert in this area, an aromatherapy practitioner, someone who understands each and every one of the chemical constituents within that essential oil and what are the cautions with using those internally, are there any cautions with them being toxic, sensitizing, irritating. Some essential oils can also have interactions with medication, so is that a concern?

So there’s lots of things that play into using essential oils internally more than if you’re just using them via aromatherapy or topical use. And so this is why there are a lot of extra…you know, this is why a lot of people are kind of pushing back on the internal use, because there are a lot of precautions that a lot of people aren’t aware of and it can become serious and we have seen serious side effects of people using essential oils internally. So although it can be done safely, we don’t recommend, you know, just the average person using essential oils medicinally on a daily basis. You know, we recommend that they contact an aromatherapy practitioner or someone who’s educated in the use of essential oils internally who really understands each and every constituent within that essential oils and knows if there’s any safety concerns with those constituents that are found in that essential oil.

Katie: Yeah, that’s so important. And you’re right. People may think, well, a teaspoon of wintergreen is a lot, but if a baby gets a bottle of wintergreen essential oil, they could take a sip of it that’s equal to a teaspoon. So
that’s really important to know, and I think you’re right. I think that education is so much the key. And especially because there are people like you out there who have a good understanding of this, and other aromatherapists, and people who are certified in this who listeners can find to make sure, like you said, for their personal case, it’s a safe way to use it, it’s not going to interact with medication and that it’s safe for their age or state of life.
And I know, like, you have heard too many of the sad stories about moms giving infants, tiny babies, oregano essential oils straight, which just like if it got on your skin, it can burn you. And that is extremely strong for someone so small. So I think what you’re saying is super, super important. And I know that we’re gonna get a lot of questions as well because quite a few of my readers are either pregnant or nursing, and I’ve researched this quite a bit as far as just you want to have a special caution there too because there are things that can affect a pregnant woman. For instance, some oils have even been used, from what I understand, to help women go into labor but there are some to be cautious of. So what are the particular cautions if someone’s pregnant or nursing that they would want to be aware of?

Retha: So there are definitely some essential oils that they would not want to use at all. And, you know, we have a chart of essential oils that are safe to use while pregnant. And, you know, just kind of a little side note, all of our safety information that is found on these charts are dilution charts, all of the dilution recommendations on our website, all of the cautions about not being kid-safe or not using while pregnant. All of this information comes from Robert Tisserand, who is the author of “Essential Oil Safety,” and, you know, the safety expert in the aromatherapy industry. So all of this information comes from him. He consults with Plant Therapy and so, you know, he’s just right at our fingertips. We have questions, you know, all of this information… Every time before we put an oil on the website, before we sell an oil, we always talk to him about any safety concerns, if the oil is kid-safe, so all of that. So kind of just a side note so people are aware, you know, this is where a lot of our safety education is coming from is from Robert Tisserand.

So we do have a list of oils that are safe to use while pregnant. And in Essential Oil Safety, Robert Tisserand’s book, he lists oils that absolutely should not be used in any way, shape or form while pregnant. Then there are oils that have some serious precautions that they possibly can be safe to use while pregnant if you’re using them correctly. I would say definitely look for charts like that to know if an oil is safe or not to use while pregnant.
Then on top of that, usually when you are pregnant we recommend a higher dilution. We recommend you dilute to about the age of a two to five-year-old because the oil is getting into your bloodstream so we usually want less of that to happen because then it can get to your unborn child and so there are some concerns there. So we recommend a higher dilution when you’re pregnant and we also don’t recommend you use essential oils in your first trimester. As most people know, that’s when most of the development of the baby occurs is in your first trimester. So since essential oils are getting into the blood stream and there are some precautions when using essential oils when pregnant, it’s easier to say not to use at all during your first trimester just to make sure that there isn’t anything unsafe with the essential oils that they’re using, especially during that extra-sensitive time of the baby’s development.

Katie: Yeah, exactly. That’s so good to hear, and I’ll make sure to find the charts that you guys have and link to those so anyone who’s wondering about the specifics can check those out.

Another question I’ve just thought of that I don’t think I even mentioned to you before, so hopefully I’m not throwing you a curveball, but when it comes to the different types of essential oils, what kind of standards are there or certifications are there, what kind of oversight do they go through? I know that you guys have quite a few organic essential oils, which obviously, I would guess, are pretty similar to a plant or a vegetable getting certified organic. But there’s a lot of claims out there as far as certain essential oils being more potent than others or being medical grade or therapeutic and how that makes them okay to use internally. Can you shed some light on that for us?

Retha: Yeah, absolutely. This is a question we get often so it’s not a curveball because I’m very familiar with this question. In the United States there’s actually no certification, no grading, no anything of essential oil. It’s sadly and not so sadly kind of a free for all when it comes to essential oils in the United States. Other countries have certification guidelines that companies have to go through. There are some countries where only doctors can prescribe essential oils internally. There’s lot of things in other countries but the United States is a little behind when it comes to the essential oils because we don’t have any of that in the United States.
A lot of people will bring up that the FDA has a list of generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, essential oils. They will say all these essential oils can be used internally. Well, that’s not necessarily true. They are generally recognized as safe to use in food. So if you go to the FDA’s website, it specifically is talking about these essential oils used in food flavoring, and as we talked about earlier, that is different than using them medicinally. So that’s something to keep in mind.

But like I also said earlier, we’re not anti-ingestion, we just want to make sure that people are doing it safely so there’s that too. When it comes to this certifying therapeutic grade or, like you said, medicinal grade or clinical grade, a lot of those terms are used by companies that have their own – how do I say it – they have their own guidelines on the quality of their essential oils and if their essential oils meet this guideline then they’ll say that they’re therapeutic grade or whatever. But there’s no United States grading. There’s nobody in the United States, no government agency, nobody that actually does any of this grading.

So if a company is saying that their oils are therapeutic grade or whatever it might be, that’s the company giving it to their oils themselves and not a third party or any governing agency giving that certification or that grading of the oil to the company, if that makes sense. I kind of rambled a little bit there.

Katie: No, that does make perfect sense.

Retha: Okay, good. So a lot of people are like, “Well, how do we know if an oil is good then? How do we know if an oil is good then? How do we know if an oil is pure?” There really isn’t any way to just know.

Some of the things we recommend you look for when you’re looking to purchase an essential oil, one is you have to be comfortable. You have to trust the company. You have to be comfortable with the company that you’re purchasing your essential oils from. That’s not going to be the same for everyone and that’s okay. I think that that’s something important for people to keep in mind because we see a lot of arguing in the aromatherapy industry of, “This company’s best,” “No, this company’s best,” and I don’t think that’s the reality. I think some people are most comfortable purchasing from this company for whatever reason and some people are more comfortable purchasing from another company for whatever reason and everyone has the right to make that decision.

So I think that that’s important to state. But some of the things that we, as a company, try to do is we try to be very open and clear and honest with our customers so they know exactly what they’re purchasing. Plant Therapy was one of the first, if not the first company, to offer batch specific full GC/MS reports on our website.
This is different than other companies because we actually have the signed report that we get from the chemist that we directly upload onto our website. This can be verified with the chemist. It has his signature on it of the third party chemist or laboratory that we use. So customers or people can know without a doubt that we are not editing this GC/MS report in any way, shape or form.

That allows our customers to order their products, look at batch specific number on the bottle, go to our website and pull up the exact GC/MS report on that oil. The GC/MS report is going to show all the chemical constituents within an oil or if it’s adulterated. Or if something else has been added, it’s going to show that. So our customers know exactly what is in the bottle that they purchased from Plant Therapy. So that’s one of the things that we like to show our customers, so we’re just upfront, “Here’s the GC/MS report, the specific one we got from the chemist. It hasn’t been edited in any way,” so that they can be educated on exactly what they’re using.

Robert Tisserand also gets to look over our oils and he will look over the smell of the oil, the consistency of the oil, and a few other things. He then will send us his recommendation on if he believes this oil is a pure oil or if it has been adulterated or something and then he’ll tell us what ones he recommends that we send to the third party to be tested. On our GC/MS reports you’ll also find Robert’s comments of what he thought of this oil before we sent it to the third party chemist to be tested. So not only do you get the GC/MS report but you also get Robert Tisserand’s comments on each one of our oils.

That also helps our customers know that this isn’t . . . for those that don’t really understand a GC/MS, they also have another expert’s opinion on the oil that they can trust instead of just trusting the company, which I know is sometimes hard because we’ve seen a lot of companies do things that have lost the trust of
individuals in the industry. We completely understand that it sometimes can be a little overwhelming and hard to just trust a company. I know that that has been really helpful for a lot of our customers as well, to be able to have not only the GC/MS reports to look over and do research and compare it to other companies and all of those things, but to also have Robert Tisserand’s opinion and comments on the oil as well.

I think that even though there aren’t general certifications or grading of essential oils in the United States, I think there are definitely things that companies can do and Plant Therapy is doing to make it so that people can know if an oil is pure or of the highest quality before they purchase it.

Katie: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. In other words, there’s no nationwide standards that are independent and that could tell you based on just company which ones are more safe than other. But there are companies like you guys who are going the extra step of submitting it to an independent third party lab to get that data and to show the quality yourself. Is that kind of the basics of it?

Retha: Yeah, absolutely.

Katie: Okay. So if someone has oils that they got from another company, is that something they could try to request from other companies or do most companies not do that?

Retha: I know a handful of companies that do and I know a lot of companies that don’t. If you have it, it won’t hurt to request that from the company, and if they aren’t willing to give it to you, then that’s something that you have to think about, something if you feel comfortable with. And that will be based on the individual. But I say it never hurts to ask the company for a GC/MS report.

It never hurts to ask the company about their quality control procedures, what goes into figuring out if the oil is pure, what goes into sourcing the oil, what goes into knowing what farms the company works with, all of those things. It never hurts to ask the company. And then based off of the company’s responses, that will help the customer know if this is a company that they can trust, if this is a company they feel comfortable with. And like I said, that’s going to be different for every individual but I say start out by asking these questions and maybe with a couple different companies and see what one you feel most comfortable with. See if one is giving you the answer that you want to hear and that you’re trusting their answers and you’re trusting that they genuinely are doing the things that they need to be doing to make sure that they are giving their customers the absolutely best quality that they can.

Katie: Okay. That’s great. Just to clarify as well, the GC/MS report is showing that it’s chemically pure and that nothing’s been added to it. But so today someone finds that report on your website, just because the oil’s pure still doesn’t mean that there’s complete safety to use it however they want. All those dilution ratios and cautions, they should still research that as well, is that right?

Retha: Absolutely. I think it gets confused a lot of times that “pure” means safe, and it doesn’t at all. Honestly, this is just kind of my own personal opinion, I think sometimes an adulterated oil could be a lot safer than the pure oil because it might be adulterated with something that isn’t unsafe, which will make all of the unsafe things in the oil last, which could make the oil safer if it’s adulterated. So just because it’s a pure oil does not mean it is completely safe to use in any way, shape or form. Most often it’s going to mean that there will be extra precautions because it is a pure oil, because those chemical constituents are then at their strongest because they aren’t being adulterated with anything else, diluted with anything else. So there are definitely precautions that need to be made, especially with these pure oils.

Katie: That’s a great point.

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Now back to the episode.

Katie: I think you hit a really important topic that I’ve gotten into personally recently, which is that just like you said, just because something is natural or pure doesn’t mean it’s actually safe. Just like just because something is synthetic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad. There’s a lot of medications that are synthetically made and they’re life-saving and there’s a lot of natural compounds like arsenic that are very toxic.

I feel like there’s been so much good with this natural health movement, but you also have to just be a conscious consumer and not just trust a label that just because something says it’s natural, which is also not even a regulated term, that it’s safe. So I think that is such an important point that you just brought up.

Retha: Right. Yeah, it’s true. I think it gets confusing, especially as this becomes new to some people. We still see a lot of people starting to go into the natural lifestyle and I think it can be overwhelming because there are
a lot of terms and things out there that they think, “Oh, well, if it says ‘therapeutic grade’, it must be good to use it in any way, shape or form.” But you’re right, just like you said, just because something’s pure doesn’t mean it’s safe and just because something’s synthetic doesn’t mean it’s completely unsafe. So it’s important to do research on each one of the things that we’re using and make sure that we’re educated in everything that we do so that we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our family.

Katie: Absolutely. We’ve talked about all the cautions but I want to wrap up with the positive side and to really bring home the point that essential oils, to be most effective, they’re most effective in their proper ratios and their proper dilutions. You’re not always going to get a better result by using more.

But to talk about the positives, for someone who is just getting into essential oils or who maybe is already into essential oils but wants to make sure they’re using them safely, what would be some great starting points on good ways to use essential oils that would be generally safe for small children and families?

Retha: A couple things that I would recommend is first I would recommend . . . we have a lot of customers who have binders of all this stuff that they have printed and that can be overwhelming, because there’s a lot of information out there. First I would recommend to just print a couple of things. If you have children, I would find a list of oils that are kid-safe, or like I mentioned on Plant Therapy’s website, we have a KidSafe stamp on all of our oils if it’s kid-safe.

That way, you aren’t having to do all this research. You can trust a company who’s done all this research for you and then just start there. When you’re starting out, there’s so much information that we want to get the basic information just set in stone for you so you don’t have to think about it too hard when you’re first starting out. That’s one of the things that I would first do.

The other thing is I would find a dilution chart. Plant Therapy has one but there are a lot of bloggers out there who have created their own. A lot of other companies have created their own. I would find one that you feel comfortable with and I would also have that printed off so that as you’re using essential oils, you can constantly go back to it.
Let’s say on a bottle of lavender it’s going to say, “Dilute to 3-5%” and all of the sudden you’re like, “Aahh, I forgot how to do that,” go to the chart, find it, it’ll explain how to do it and you’ll quickly get used to it. I would think just a couple charts like that based off of if you have children, if you’re pregnant, whatever it is that kind of just gives those guidelines for you so you’re not constantly having to go back and, “Oh, is that kid-safe? Is it not kid-safe? What do I need to dilute that to?” It’s just right there in front of you that you could always go back to as a guideline.

Another thing that I always recommend to someone who is just starting out is I say, “List one thing that you want essential oils to help you with.” Maybe they want essential oils to help them sleep at night. Maybe they
have anxiety and they want essential oils to help with that. Whatever it might be, pick one thing and then one to three essential oils that are supposed to help with that and get to know those essential oils. Figure out how you react to those essential oils. What one works best to help you with the concern that you originally had that you wanted to start using essential oils for?

Get familiar with those essential oils. Get to know them. Figure out what works best for you, why and what dilution works best for you – applying it to your feet, or applying to your chest or putting it on a cotton pad next to your bed. What way helps you sleep better?

As you get to know the essential oils and you get to know your body and how you respond to the essential oils, then add a few more essential oils into your collection and get to know those. I love hearing some of the experts who have been in the industry for 40+ years. I love hearing them talk about essential oils because they have such a relationship with the essential oils that they use because they’ve been using them for so long and I love that.
I think that the industry has kind of gone to everyone owning hundreds of essential oils and using them every day and in every way they can because why not, you have them, and I don’t think that that’s the purpose of aromatherapy. I think that sometimes people need to step back and think instead of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on all these essential oils and you’re going to end up using three of them, start with the basic, get to know them. And as you get to know them and as you get to be comfortable with using them and knowing how your body reacts to them or what one’s the best for what, then you can continually add more and then you aren’t going to have hundreds of essential oils that you never use, but you’re maybe going to have 50 that you use often because you know what they’re good for, you know why you have them. You know how they help you.

I think for someone who’s starting out, I think that that’s the way that you should go about it is really just start with one to three essential oils and then add onto them instead of starting with 50 or whatever it might be. So that’s kind of what I recommend a lot of people do.

Katie: Yeah, good advice. One thing I also wanted to bring up just from a personal level is I know anybody who’s been a reader for a long time, they may be wondering also why are you in the podcast and why am I talking about Plant Therapy, because for a long time I have just linked to places they could buy single essential oils in bulk or whatever quantity they wanted. That’s something I’ve recently changed. So I just wanted to also bring that up and address out loud.

That’s partially because a couple of the companies I was recommending, for one, I got a lot of complaints about how long their shipping took and there were some other issues there, but also because while for years and years I used to just mix my own blends, now with six kids I’ve become pretty busy all the time and it’s so convenient to have blends. They smell great and I think that’s one of things people love so much about a lot of these companies are the blends they can get.

I had done a lot of research and found, like you said, companies that I trust that I now buy oils from that they have blends as well, and especially kid-safe lines. I’ve done that research myself over all these years and actually, when I looked into you guys, I went through every one of your KidSafe ones and checked it against my own research just to make sure because I’m a very avid researcher like that. But I wanted to find kid-safe ones because it’s a big time saver for me.

The criteria that I was using, I was trying to find oils that were cost-effective but still high quality and that had blends and kid-safe. So I just wanted to put that out there for anybody who may have that question in their mind as to why I’m now linking to you guys and linking to companies with blends and kid-safe lines instead of the ones I’ve linked to for 10 years. That’s the reason. And also just because I feel like from talking to you and getting to know you like I have in the past couple of months that it really helps to have a company that has a mission.

I feel like you guys do have that and you talk about the safety and you’re not recommending unsafe usage and you’re not telling people to drink whole bottles of it. So I really like that about you guys and I just wanted to give my own personal side of that for anyone who is curious, and also to say I’m going to link to them, but you guys have these little stuffed animals that are essentially kind of like diffuser stuffed animals because you can put essential oils in them and my daughters are in love with them right now. So I just wanted to say that as an endorsement of you guys because I know some people may have that question in their mind.

But also just mention a little bit about Plant Therapy in general and the kind of things you have. Obviously essential oils, but you guys have some other things as well.

Retha: Yeah, we do. We have a full line. So Plant Therapy started in 2011 and my sister and brother-in-law actually own the company Chris and Amanda. I started working for Plant Therapy over four years ago and I just went to my brother-in-law and I was like, “Hey, is there anything that I can do? I kind of just want to earn a little bit of extra money for my family?” I started Plant Therapy’s Facebook page, and I started their blog, and I was their first certified aromatherapist on staff. And now we have six, which is crazy. And, you know, we have a bunch of employees going through the certification program so that’s exciting.

You know, and then I started doing all their marketing. So it’s been really fun for me to be able to see Plant Therapy grow from a brand-new company to the company it is today. And I’ve been able to see, you know, their goals and all their ideas really come to life and that’s been fun. And, you know, one of the reasons, like you said, I’ve grown up using essential oils but I’m passionate about Plant Therapy because I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen them from the beginning to where they’ve come now and it’s been really fun to do that.

And, you know, I would say the two biggest things for Plant Therapy is quality and education. Like I said, we were the first company to offer batch-specific GC/MS testing on our website. Full GC/MS tests on our website. We were the first company to offer a kid-safe line, which we launched over two years ago.

We’ve kind of set a lot of these guidelines for companies and standards and that’s been a wonderful thing to see that other companies have come on board and started doing these things because it’s become more and more important to customers and companies are recognizing that. That’s an amazing thing and I think wonderful to see as an aromatherapy industry, that we’re all coming together to offer the best for everyone in the industry, all of the customers and people interested in essential oils.

Those are the two main goals of Plant Therapy is the quality and the education that we offer. I think Plant Therapy has done an amazing job with those two things. We really were passionate about essential oils and we’re passionate about educating our customers how to safely and most effectively use those oils because not only safety is important but we want the customers to get the most out of their oils too. So having the oils be effective and actually work is a huge part of our educating our customers.

Along with that, of course we offer carrier oils and hydrosols and cases and diffusers and a lot of things to really make it easy for someone who’s not only brand-new but someone who’s been using essential oils for years. We have all of these tools and all of these things that it’s really a one-stop shop where people can come and get everything that they will need to be able to use the essential oils in the safest and most effective way. That’s been important to us. As we’ve added new things to our product lines, we say, “Is this going to make it easier for our customers to use the essential oil? Is this a safe way for customers to use essential oils?” All these questions are asked when we’re adding new products to our line.

Like I said, that’s really our two goals is the quality and the education on these essential oils. So everything that we sell, it has to go online with these two things to make sure that we are offering the best to our customers.

Katie: That’s so awesome. For anybody listening who wants to reference any of the things that either one of us has talked about, I will make sure that the show notes, there’s notes to all the dilution charts and the safety charts and the pregnancy references, and also to your paper about internal use. If anyone’s interested in finding out more about Plant Therapy in particular, I have a link set up, wellnessmama.com/go/pt and that’ll go to the page where they can find out more and look at all the different oils and accessories that you guys have.

Retha, thank you so much for being here. I feel like you are such a good voice for education in this arena and that you guys come, like you said, from a point of education and I’ve never gotten the vibe from you guys that you’re the only great company out there that you get from some of the other companies. So I appreciate that you guys are the voice of education in the industry and that you care so much about families using them safely and effectively, so thank you for being here today and sharing with us.

Retha: You’re welcome. It was my pleasure. I had fun.

Katie: And thanks to all of you for listening and I hope you’ll join me next time for the Healthy Moms podcast.
Katie: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Healthy Moms podcast. Did you know that you can become a Wellness Mama VIP Member for free? Just go to wellnessmama.com/podcast to subscribe to the podcast and then click “Free Membership” to gain access to a membership library of health and wellness resources. You’ll get the latest from Wellness Mama each week as well as special discounts and offers. Also, find Wellness Mama on social media to stay updated with the latest podcast episodes, blog posts and more. Thanks again for listening. I’ll see you next week.

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Thanks to Our Sponsors

This podcast episode is brought to you by Perfect Supplements. If you have trouble getting your family to eat nutrient-dense foods like liver or kale, Perfect Supplements is a solution that makes it easy. They take superfoods and concentrate them in capsule form so you can get all of the benefits without cooking something no one will eat.

Perfect Supplements is USA made, incredibly reasonably priced, and super selective in purity and sourcing. Our family uses their desiccated liver capsules (from 100% grass fed cattle). This is the same product that has been recommended by Tim Ferriss and Dave Asprey, and now that I’ve tried it I can see why. We also use Perfect Supplements collagen, greens powder, and fermented kale.

You can get 10% off of any order by going to perfectsupplements.com/wellnessmama and using the coupon code WELLNESSMAMA10. The best part is they always offer bulk discounts too!

This episode is also sponsored by The Wellness Mama Cookbook. My kids helped me test these recipes so they are definitely family-approved. They’re also mom-approved and here’s why.

I know what it is to be a busy mom without a lot of extra time. I made sure the majority of the Wellness Mama Cookbook recipes can be made in under 30 minutes and many of them only one pan (who wants to wash dishes?). The cookbook has over 200 grain-free recipes without refined sugar or flour. I found ways to replace those ingredients by sneaking in nutrient-dense vegetables kids love!


You can check out the cookbook at any major bookstore, on Amazon. I’m delighted to share my family’s favorite recipes with all of you!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


2 responses to “065: Retha Nesmith on Aromatherapy & Safe Essential Oil Use”

  1. Mercy O’Connell Avatar
    Mercy O’Connell

    Wanting to make some Diy (bath salts & bubble bath) for extended family’s Christmas gifts. My cousin is pregnant, so I have many questions. Thank you for the numerous very clear EO + pregnancy resources, as well as diy recipes!!

  2. sara Avatar

    I have tried plant therapy oils and, whereas I think their marketing strategy of kids safe oil is a great idea from a consumer perspective as well a financial perspective for the company, I did not “love” them. I really wanted to. The price and kid safe labels were an excellent selling point. I do like how they promote not injesting. Customer service was good. I just didn’t find that I got the same results as some other more well known brands. I felt maybe they weren’t as “strong”. For diffusing they worked ok not the same when someone was sick or needed healing. I am not affiliated with any MLM or company. Just a mom :). Would love to know other experiences…

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