Confessions of DIY’s Gone Wrong

Before learning about essential oils, I was not one to make my own anything that I couldn’t buy in a store. But essential oils opened up a new world for me. Some of what I made was great, some was questionable, and some was downright dangerous. I was armed with recipes from the internet, empty containers, and spray bottles as well as essential oils, olive oil, witch hazel and liquid Castile soap. What could possibly go wrong?

I was freaking out about “toxins” and “chemicals” that people were talking about at the essential oil parties I was going to. As a mother, I was the one that bought products for our home and I now felt responsible and guilty for every artificial anything I had ever purchased. The first thing I wanted to learn how to make was soap, since we used it every day. This was years before the internet and YouTube were popular. So I headed to the library and got every book on the subject. I used the proper safety equipment and quickly learned the ins and outs of soap making, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Soaps are made by combining fats and lye mixed with water. I also added some beautiful essential oils to create a pleasant smell. The end result was a stable bar of salt that we call soap. This was a great DIY because I focused on learning everything I could about the ingredients, process, and safety first.

Later, I began going to and hosting my own “make ‘n’ take” parties that were a lot of fun. We made household cleaners, bug sprays, linen sprays, body butters, sugar scrubs, and roll-ons to name a few. I added to this repertoire of favorite DIY’s after becoming certified in aromatherapy. The ones with just oils and essential oils are actually self-preserving. So they were basically safe and can last up to a year. Later on I learned that they can, however, go rancid. If something starts to smell like crayons or old nuts, its probably time to chuck it. This includes vegetable oils, butters, and essential oils. They are basically stable for months and even years if stored in cool, dry places. Unless in a huge container, the products could be easily used up before rancidity set in, which happens to oils in heat and/or light. Essential oils will not prevent rancidity. They can also oxidize with exposure to air. This can lead to them being a skin irritant.

What I did NOT learn from essential oil parties given by business representatives or from aromatherapy classes, was preservation, safety, and stability of products and why this was important. I can understand why the subject did not come up in the parties, because I was taught that all things from a laboratory were synthetic, which equaled toxic and bad. Nature=good, laboratory=bad. If we made it from stuff we could eat, certainly it was safe to use, right? We weren’t using all that toxic stuff. Aromatherapy classes for certification, on the other hand, were geared to learn the chemistry of essential oils and their effectiveness in certain situations. The goal was small batches to be used quickly by a client, so not much need for preservation. Stability was not really an issue either for the same reason.

Then there is the category of “I can’t believe I did that.”

I have recently been interested in formulations for skin care. As an aromatherapist, I have an understanding of how essential oils can benefit the skin, but they ideally need a vehicle to make that happen, like being an ingredient in a cream, lotion, cleanser, etc. Using only vegetable oils, honey, and beeswax is an option, but what if my goal is hydration? Water is the key ingredient in many hydrating products Also, many products come in contact with water when you use them. Water is the key to life, especially microbial life in a skin care product. Water is the source of an incredible amount of contamination. When those nasty microbes enter – especially in a formulation with lovely vegetable oils – they feast on the buffet of edibles.

Preservatives are a must. There are some good preservatives out there for formulators to use, but one must take the time to learn about them and the appropriate amount. Years ago, without the knowledge I have today, I would have shut my eyes and stopped my ears to hear anything about something so un-natural and synthetic. I did not understand that without a proper preservative, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes could enter your skin through cuts, scratches or other irritations. Even liquid Castile soap and aloe vera contain water. I made a liquid foaming soap several months ago. It had some essential oils that tend to be germ fighters, hence why I added them. Here is a picture of it. Notice the biofilm and separation of ingredients on the top. It was not stable (separation) and not preserved. Here I was, trying to make an all-natural cleaner for my family, and I inadvertently gave them something unsafe to use.

My wish is that you learn from my mistakes. It is not enough to get a recipe off the internet and make it in your kitchen without knowing what you are doing, especially anything that contains water. There is no such thing as a natural preservative. Essential oils, vitamin E, and grapefruit seed extract cannot do what needs to be done to make a products safe. With the plethora of information available today, it is not difficult to learn about what makes a product truly safe and stable.

The ups and downs of preservative-free products

At Envisage Aromatics, every ingredient matters. To date, all products have been made without preservatives. There is an upside and a downside to this, however. The upside is that you are not getting the high amount of parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde that are in many products to keep them fresh. These are allergens to many people. I say high amount because manufacturers must stabilize their products for unseen conditions, like high temps in a warehouse or delivery truck, which kill many preservatives. It also may sit for a long time on a shelf before being sold. They add preservatives for worst case scenarios.

Soaps and products made with only vegetable oils are not as prone to rapid spoiling. Water is the key to life. It is the doorway to microbes that you don’t want in your products. Products like soaps, salves, butters, and scrubs should last a long time, but microbes are introduced if you use your fingers to scoop them out. It is best to use a clean spoon to get the product out of the jar. I am going to be exploring scrubs that are cubed for single use. There is less possibility of contamination that way.The bad news is that – like fresh fruit or vegetables – products with no preservatives will spoil. Generally it is weeks, not months that you have to use them up. Keep this in mind as you make your purchases. Buying smaller quantities is smart, because they will be used up more quickly. Refrigeration will help too.

I am going to explore the use of organically friendly preservatives in the future for my products that contain water, like lotions and creams. There are a few good ones out there that can be used in moderation to be sure you have the safest product. Stay tuned!

Flash points and fires with essential oils

Fires rage across Australia as I write. Heartbreaking photos of animals trying to flee and towns decimated by the wildfires show the terrible devastation. Both loss of life and acts of great heroism are in the news. At least 10,000 square miles in New South Wales are burned to date.

Eucalyptus forests are particularly vulnerable because they contain essential oils with a low flash point. Essential oils are volatile by nature, which means they have very tiny molecules. They are so small that they are suspended in the air around plants with especially large percentages of smaller terpenes. That is the aroma we smell. If you have ever seen pictures of the Smokey Mountains, that grayness is the veil of essential oils hovering over the trees. Every essential oil has a flash point – the temperature that can ignite an oil. Eucalyptus has a flash point of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That is relatively low. Tea tree, also found in New South Wales, has a flash point of 138. Having forests rich in eucalyptus and tea tree makes them especially vulnerable.

The severe drought and fires are going to have lasting consequences for these plants and the ecosystems they support. Eucalyptus can grow in dry areas as well as rain forests, but the devastation of rain forest eucalyptus is more serious, as it is rare.

We should all pray for Australia, that the rains would come, the fires put out, and the people and animals could have their homes again.

Photo by Alfred Kenneally on Unsplash

Detox and the skin

By Madhero88 and M.Komorniczak –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Everywhere we are bombarded with news of toxins and detox. We are told that toxins are in water, food, air, and in products that we use everyday, but what are these destructive things? Is there a method to identify them? How can I measure the effectiveness of a detox regimen?

We are told that we can buy this or that or do activities that will detox our bodies. There are even programs to detox our minds! Of course, you must purchase a book or class for that. What will happen if I don’t act immediately? Surely, you don’t want to find out, so you buy the pill, oil, food, juicer, diet program, etc. and hope for the best.

I have started digging into the concept of toxins and detox, trying separate fact from fiction. I hope that you will be comforted by what I have learned and will be encouraged to do your own research.

I am awed by the body’s innate ability to remove toxins and waste from the body. I will define a toxin as something potentially harmful to the body, natural or synthetic in origin. We have lungs, kidneys, and liver that act as the primary agents of detox. There is nothing man has created that can do a better job. Urinalysis can measure both the amount and type of toxins expelled by the body. Liver enzymes break down harmful molecules into what can safely be expelled eventually through the intestines. The immune system takes care of pathogens. In a normally functioning body, bad things are eliminated through these basic channels.

Until recently, I thought the skin was also a way that toxins could be eliminated. I found out that it is a barrier to bad things coming in, if the molecules are over a certain size, but it is a one-way street. As an aromatherapist, I employ many essential oils as excellent cleansers in my products. What is on the surface can be washed off or exfoliated, but there is no mechanism for detoxing the body through the skin. I know this is the opposite of many claims, but scientists have been studying what comes out of the skin and it is sebum (oil from oil glands) and sweat (over 99% water). A terrible skin reaction is never detox. It is a physical or chemical burn, allergic reaction, or result of something else going on in the body, according to a doctor’s diagnosis.

Please don’t take my word for it. I am not a doctor and this is not health advice. I encourage you to research exactly what you plan to detox and how it can be medically proven when you get rid of it. My conclusion after looking up many scientific articles is that being physically healthy requires moving the body through physical activity and eating to nourish the body. Your body is finely tuned to do what it was designed to do, although sickness happens even to those who try to attain some measure of physical perfection. As a Christian, I believe that this is a fallen world, with sickness and disease, but I rejoice that one day we will have a resurrected body, that is not going to suffer with anything. It has been purchased for me without doing any detox program – it is through the blood of Jesus.

For further study:

What is “galvanic skin response”?

Galvanic skin response (GSR) is the term I have found in the promotional material of some popular devices that are supposed to be able to scan your body and then with complex algorithms, determine which essential oils and/or supplements are best for you. GSR is an older term for what is today more commonly called electrodermal activity or EDA. These devices are hugely popular, very expensive, and trusted by millions.

Years ago I got caught up in this technology. I could put my hand on a device and in less than two minutes I would get the scan results. With those results I had a window to my body and soul. This was due to using a desk reference to decipher the results. Was I “toxic”? If an essential oil or product thought to help with that was listed, well, I must need detoxed. Was I angry? If some oil blends with emotional names popped up, I must need them to “release” this emotion.

I had some very intriguing and unexplainable scans. One woman had a brain tumor and what do you know, an oil came up on the scan that was supposed to support the brain. Another time an “emotional” oil blend appeared. I asked the person a question about it and they burst into tears saying, “How could it know that?”

That’s what I wanted to know. More and more I began to question this magic tool that knew so much.

EDA can be boiled down to the activity of the sweat glands on the skin. These are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. I emailed the company that I had the device with for more explanation. They gave me none, but just said that it measured the galvanic skin response. How could this specifically tell me what was going on in my body? How could a particular oil or supplement be recommended based on minute changes in the sweat of my hands? They could not or would not answer.

I canceled my account and threw away my $800 device as fast as I could.

This article goes into more detail about the history of such devices. They are numerous and most have already been exposed as pseudoscience and quackery. It compares the devices to “magic 8 balls.” Some energy healing websites believe that they measure “energy, use quantum physics, or intuition and the subconscious.” There is no possible way to verify that. All that is left are testimonials. I heard that one woman was told after a scan that she was completely toxic. I would ask you, what is she to do with that information? Supposedly, use all the recommended products.

There is a lot of pseudoscience in alternative medicine, aromatherapy included. In my opinion, whether a specific wellness strategy, diet, plant or whatever comes from the East or West, is ancient or modern, it is either medicine or nonmedicine, science or psdeudoscience. It is up to the consumer to research those who advocate it and those who oppose it. The truth will be borne out if one is not afraid to research.

I do believe that there are things that “work” that are not rooted in real science. In my experience I have seen the paranormal. I have seen pseudoscience be effective, but I now question the source of the effectiveness. I have personally stopped doing all of those techniques and have thrown away the tools. Most of the time, the “healing” was temporary or one malady was exchanged for another. In my opinion and conviction, these devices are like expensive Ouija boards, giving advice that is neither accurate nor profitable for body or soul.