Essential oils have become mainstream and are available in many stores and even from your friends. But the growth in popularity of essential oils means added pressure on the production side. Read on to find out why essential oils are all the rage now and why it’s important to find sustainable essential oils.
Benefits of Essential Oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that retain the plant source’s properties. Because they’re so potent, they’re usually mixed with carrier oils like coconut oil or olive oil.
Essential oils have been used in folk medicine for ages and science seems to be catching up. Some studies have shown the potential benefits of essential oils:
They can be a mood-booster. Some essential oils, such as bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine, and clary sage have been shown to help alleviate stress and anxiety. Some, like lavender, can even promote sleep.
They can be used to treat skin. Grapeseed oil contains plenty of skin-friendly compounds like linoleic acid that can help control acne, fatty acids that can make skin feel soft and smooth, and Vitamins E and C as well as polyphenols, which can all fight signs of skin aging. Lemongrass oil, neem oil, and tamanu oil have anti-inflammatory properties that may be used to treat acne.
They can be used on hair. Vitamin E-rich argan oil is great for treating dryness, lavender oil and peppermint oil may stimulate hair growth, and clary sage oil can add much-needed moisture to coarse hair.
The Importance of Sustainable Essential Oils
Compared to herbal infusions, essential oils are highly concentrated and thus require a greater amount of plant matter to make. The Nutritional Alliance Association cites lemons as an example: While you may go through a few lemons each week to make your daily dose of lemon water, it takes 3,000 lemons just to produce two pounds of lemon essential oil!
This is true for all the other essential oils; thus, some plant species are being threatened. Thousands of tons of frankincense are sold each year but this comes at the price of overharvesting. Trees aren’t given enough time to recover and their seeds aren’t hardy enough to produce younger trees. Some estimate that, if exploitation is left unchecked, half the forest sources will be gone within 20 years.
Rosewood in the Brazilian Amazon is another dwindling resource. With the increasing demand for essential oils worldwide, other plants are bound to follow suit.
It is thus important for companies to find sustainable ways of sourcing essential oils. In a paper entitled “Rosewood Exploitation in the Brazilian Amazon: Options for Sustainable Production,” the authors offer a list of suggestions to keep rosewood from going extinct. Two of these recommendations are:
- Conduct ecological studies to better understand crop cycles and plan accordingly
- Looking into other possible sources of essential oils; in the case of rosewood, analysis of oil that comes from the leaves and stems, rather than the tree itself, have been promising
Companies should also sow as much as they reap, perhaps investing in sustainable plantations instead of relying on small growers who opt to clear forests to plant a few trees that end up being overexploited.
On the consumer side, you can use your purchasing power to only support companies that harvest their essential oils through sustainable means. Do your research so you’ll know which companies put a premium on quality instead of quantity and work with growers who harvest raw materials ethically and sustainably.
One such company is Aura Cacia. Some of their products and their sources are:
- Argan oil, sourced from a women’s cooperative in Morocco. The oil, which comes from hand-selected argan nuts, is of high quality, plus it gives the women a source of income.
- Sandalwood essential oil, sourced from sustainable and renewable Australian sandalwood instead of the endangered Indian Santalum album.
- Ylang ylang essential oil, sourced from hand-harvested flowers of cultivated trees in Madagascar. The families of workers at the groves can send their children to a nearby preschool funded by Aura Cacia.
- Rosemary essential oil, sourced from carefully trimmed shrubs that grow in Morocco. The meticulous process ensures that the plants continue growing.
You can find Aura Cacia essential oils at Healthy Options branches nationwide. By supporting a company that makes use of sustainable production methods, not only will you help the environment but you’ll also be protected from companies that use unscrupulous means to increase production, and you’re thus ensured of the best-quality essential oils.