Chemicals, chemicals! They’ll melt your skin, they’ll eat your children! Oh, the horror! And even worse, they’re in your water, they’re in the air, you can’t escape them! Unless, of course, you buy a very special ‘chemical free’ essential oil for $75.
In the past few years, there has been a growing worry over the ‘dangers of chemicals’ and with that, a touting of very pricy ‘chemical free’ products. It seems in the hysteria, people have forgotten what exactly a chemical is, and why ‘chemical free’ anything is impossible.
So, what is a chemical?
A chemical is any substance that contains matter. A chemical can be pure, or it can be a mixture – such as a gas. Chemicals come in three states: solid, liquid and gas. The air we breathe is a chemical mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. The water we drink is a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen. Essential oils – every single one – are a chemical cocktail. Lavender is made up of Linalyl acetate, linalool, a-pinene, delta-3-carene and camphene (along with about one hundred others). Roman Chamomile is a blend of different alcohols, esters and ketones; And that isn’t a bad thing! These are the chemical substances that naturally occur in the plant. They are what essential oils are comprised of, what makes them therapeutic, and smell fantastic. Menthol – which is found in peppermint – has a cooling/soothing effect. It is often used in topical products for tooth pain or in muscle preparations.
I think the fear of chemicals started with concern about artificial, synthesized chemicals, which is a valid worry. Synthesizing chemicals can be extremely beneficial in the realms of science and medicine, but some can be harmful and have dangerous long-term side-effects. For example, nitrate is a naturally occurring chemical in our body and plants that is also synthesized and used as a meat preservative. When it is exposed to high heat, such as through cooking, it can turn into nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. Another example is MSG, a flavor enhancer used in foods that can reportedly cause headaches.
With regards to essential oils, propylene glycol or other synthesized aroma chemicals can be added to prop up an essential oil’s aroma, shelf life, and increase profits. This defeats the purpose of the essential oil and can be very hazardous.
Over time, the concern about the effects of certain synthesized chemicals turned into a witch-hunt against chemicals in general, combined with a loss of understanding of what the word ‘chemical’ means. Chemicals overall have been vilified and viewed as something to be avoided. Companies (and certain essential oil ‘experts’) will latch onto this fear, touting that their products will protect you, but it is impossible for any product to be chemical free. Unless they are selling you nothing -not even a box full of air- which is impossible, their product will contain chemicals.
Every essential oil contains chemicals, and that’s a good thing. What you should be concerned about when looking for quality oils is if an essential oil is synthetic or altered from its natural chemical state. Anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing hot, chemical-filled air.
– Sebastian McGaughey, the Editor
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