Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Are Essential Oils Whack? Is Therapeutic Grade a Ruse?

Talking to my favorite blogger in the blogosphere, the Ascenscion House (cause she’s the best <3), she set me on a path to re-examine my oil use. Thanks to her I looked a bit more into essential oils, grades, uses, and the labeling. I read a great blog series that makes some great points, she did some great research on what “therapeutic grade” is (technically nothing I found to my dismay), and puts it in a nice concise way for everyone to read. Which I suggest you do. Yes, the whole 6 entries. I like a lot of what she has to say, and she has changed my mind on a few things. But, I don’t totally agree with all her points, I will go over that further down, though she did firmly cement my belief that doTerra is not so great based on the behavior of some of its affiliated people and they will never be getting my money.

So here is my views.

First off, I love herbal remedies, and herbal medicine, since like, always. I blame my reading of Clan of the Cave Bear in Junior High, and wanting to be Ayla when I grew up. Only recently, due to my issues, have I begun to really learn and use these in earnest. Before it was just fun facts to know, and for cooking. But now things are serious, and once I realized I had a concentrated way to use these great herbs, and they were even more effective, I was hooked. Essential oils are great! I think they are a great addition to any pain management arsenal, and everyone should have a bottle of lavender just for bug bites, burns, scars, and abrasions. Once you start pretty soon you become a lot like this –

I mean seriously people, its the best.

I mean seriously people, its the best.

But essential oils are an unregulated product, the FDA does not police them. Which that means there are no government constraints around labeling and packaging. Now I must point out the FDA frequently won’t even consider things that would be extremely beneficial for the population, despite scientific tests at times, and will approve things that they then recall. I have experienced for myself the fear and anxiety you get when you call your pharmacist back after a mysterious voice-mail telling you they won’t fill your pills, and their reason is the FDA has recalled them due to causing heart issues. They had been approved, and on the market since 1955. Also, some oils in Europe are tested with Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry, which I am very familiar with. The problem with the Euro testing though is, they are only looking for certain things. If you are looking to find seed beads in sand, and you are using a sieve with inch wide holes, you won’t find a lot of beads but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. These tests are sort of the same, since these are only testing for flavorings, or perfumes, the tests aren’t going to be as precises, or looking for the same things, as a more in depth test. This could be a great way to help identify and be able to set known grades of oils in the future but it is sadly not utilized to its fullest in Europe and not at all in the US.

Personally, I feel the point of essential oils being strong since they are usually condensed versions of the oils that make most herbs “work,” is sort of an obvious thing. Which since common sense, isn’t as common as it should be, I guess I should point that out. These are really strong, and not to be trifled with. You are using phenomenal, cosmic amounts of biological matter, to make an iiiiiiiiitty bitty amount of oils.

Yup. Exactly.

It takes 10,000 pounds of rose petals to make 1-7 pounds of oils, depending on the technique used. That is a lot of mass with a very small output of oil as you can see, and is part of why rose oil is so ridiculously expensive. The usual process for extracting the oils is called distillation. The best way to distill or extract the essential oils is with steam, there are other methods like chemical extraction but this introduces chemicals to the mix and means that the oils are not only what the plant itself produces.

So, oils are the condensed plant, and made through a process called distillation, preferably done with steam. The oils are extracted by the heat vaporizing them (why you should keep the lid on your tea if you are making herbal teas), and then cooling them so they condense into their oil state. Early European Alchemists and early Middle Eastern Islamic scientists, thought that vapor was the spirit of the liquids, hence our still calling hard liquor “spirits.” Just like distilled alcohol (derived from the Arabic word al-kuḥl) is stronger than if you were drinking a normal fermented beverage. Think beer’s strength vs brandy (distilled wine). So you need a lot of stuff to do it, and of course there will be an expense for higher quality ingredients (which again you need a lot of), as well as labor, and specialized equipment (since this is not something you can normally do in your back yard). What all this all boils down to for you is, that this is something where you will (generally) get what you pay for. Expensive will usually (but not always) mean better quality. I have found that the less you pay, the less effective it is with some oils. I try to test a few before going with one I like, and I have found my more expensive oils do much more for pain than the less expensive. Now, brains lie, so this could be entirely the placebo effect, so in all honesty I don’t know how accurate that is, but that’s what I have found.

If you are just looking for something just for its aroma, the less expensive is definitely the way to go. For bath time, for diffusing, and things like that, I will always reach for my cheap oils. That way I feel I can use as much as I like, and they aren’t just going down the drain when they are just there for the smell. The reason the cheaper oils don’t always work as well is they tend to have additions, adulterates or differences in processing (done with chemicals or too much heat breaks down the active chemicals in most herbal medicines), even if the bottle says 100% pure. This is why I would suggest avoiding cheaper oils if you are considering ingesting your oils. Mostly since you don’t know what they could have added, and that can be dangerous. You should always talk to a doctor or some professional before taking anything that WebMD doesn’t say is perfectly safe to ingest in large amounts. Again, common sense!

So, if they are condensed, logically, that means the oils are super condensed form of that plants medicinal chemicals, and that means they are super-duper strong stuff. To think that all oils, or anything that is strong enough to work, is 100% “safe” to use just willy-nilly, is just absurd. Anything that can have an effect on you, should be taken with respect and care. Just like fresh or dried herbs, use them with common sense, do your research, and it is always a buyer beware situation. It is the responsibility of the purchaser, that means you, to make sure they are using their purchases wisely. And it is up to you to ensure your own safety. One should never assume that anything at all can be taken in any amount and be safe, even water and vitamins become deadly poisons in certain amounts. Everything, like I love to say, should be taken in moderation, but since they are so potent it can be easy to over do it with essential oils. Even easier to go wrong if you don’t understand the plant itself in its natural state. You should also always start with small amounts, internally or externally. If you are applying it to your skin it is best to dilute it first. I may be a wild west lady that shoots from her hip, and generally applies a lot of them neat (undiluted), but that may not work for you. I always apply them to a test patch, and then diluted, before I ever attempt a neat application. If you are planning on ingesting the oils, start with 1 drop, and if more is required step up drop by drop to find the point where symptoms subside. I used this method to work out my dosing for my lactose intolerance with fennel, 3 drops for me for most things milky, but heavy cream, fresh cheeses, and cheese sauces (oh I love you evil Alfredo sauce!) needs 5 to prevent the intense cramping. 

I have mentioned a few times that you want to avoid adulterated oils. That means, oils containing chemicals that were not part of the plant. The adulteration issue is an old story in human history, and is usually found hand in hand with a product that is unregulated. Then because of lack of regulation, there is a far larger chance of issues with quality of the products, like possibly toxic chemicals. You can even read a great, well written history of how foods have been adulterated in the past in the book Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud. Or if you feel more contemporary, just look at the current example of unregulated e-cigarettes. There are already studies coming out, saying that there is a possibility they are worse for people than traditional cigarettes. If there isn’t some sort of way to ensure quality, there will always be dishonest sales people that will take advantage of this to adulterate and make more off less. 

Personally after all the information I have read, I will continue to use Young Living, if I am considering ingesting my oils, or if I am wanting to get maximum pain treatment effect. I base this currently wholly on personal experience, since I have used a few cheaper oils and they just don’t seem to compare for pain treatments, but again, that could all be in my head. I also am ingesting them at my own risk, so if I develop some sort of weird issue later because of this I feel it is worth that risk to alleviate my daily pain. Also YL, does note on their site, in their handouts, and on the bottles the ones you should not take internally. A few of the really bad ones to ingest have child-safety lids as well. I don’t have children, but this is still a good feature as I can identify them by touch if needed. They also stress to not use them neat, and dilute them more than even I agree with. Currently the YL bottles you can take internally are labeled as such. Now, while they (YL) are the more “upscale” oil vendor (read as: expensive), while they do have great customer service, and reward points you can spend, they definitely don’t carry a wide enough range to have everything I need. So for everything else I happily will be giving my money to, (as always local first) my local herb store (if you are in the Austin TX area I highly recommend Garden of the Ancients), Mountain Rose Herbs, and thanks to Whole New Mom, and her great detective work, Native American Nutritionals (I just put in an order and I am excited to see how well they work 🙂 yay!). 

So now you know!

And you know how I feel about essential oils, their labeling, and use. Hopefully this will encourage you to look more into essential oils and what they could be doing for you. But don’t just take my word for it, do your own research, and decide for yourself!

Side note: I have also come across some documentation of YoungLiving and the FDA on classifying some of their products as supplements, so it is possible they may come under FDA regulation soon. I also did my own gum-shoeing, and sent a few inquiries out to see if I could get responses on this, hopefully I hear back and can share the info. Also they are starting to label their bottles with “Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil Supplement.” Which I have been trying to get the whole story on, and hope to hear back on what that exactly means.


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Best Shampoo Ever!

Recently I started making my own shampoos and I fell in love with this recipe. It worked great, don’t get me wrong, and it might work for you. But it didn’t for some people, and I didn’t care for it being runny. So I decided to make a hopefully more “universal,” easy to make, and gel-like DIY shampoo. Plus if you throw in some essential oils you can have a multi-function shampoo! I love multi-tasking things!

This recipe also has a longer shelf life than the original recipe I used, because its got citric acid (which if you like the first recipe, add some and it helps to extend the life there too). You could just use lemon juice, but its easier to control the pH variations since the powder is more consistent than lemons fresh squeezed. To find citric acid, locate your local grocery store’s canning supplies there is usually some there. Lemon is good for the hair and it lightens it, so you can add lemon juice or oils to this if you can’t find citric acid, if you want increased lemon smell, or if you are a blonde to brighten your hair or just help bring out highlights if you aren’t. Lemon oils will not preserve as well, so use in combination with lemon juice or citric acid if you go that route.

With this recipe it is super customize-able for your hair type, and you can make your own blend of smells, so do what you like  and feels good for your hair. I like lavender since its a great stress reliever, and lavender is also great for your hair, skin, migraines, and muscle spasms. It soothes irritation, so if you have a dry or itchy scalp this is also a great oil to use or add in a blend. That is 6 things in a one step shampoo! Bam! How you like that efficiency!?

Also, I find that a hot shower at the first twinges of a headache with this definitely helps hold things off a little longer. Not to mention when I use this version, I have less tangles throughout the day, and it definitely uplifts the mood in general.

So on to what you need? Not too much, this is a super easy recipe and all you need is the following:

  • Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap – you can buy it pre-scented, any style will work. I usually just grab the small bottle since one will do you for a couple months worth of shampoo.
  •  1/4 c Coconut oil – solid, not the kind that is liquid at room temp
  • 1 large Aloe leaf – or about 1 1/2-2 cups aloe gel
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon “nourishing oil” – vitamin E oil, or any other oil like jojoba, sweet almond, avocado, olive oil, or whatever. You can change it up as you get to know what works best in your hair.
  • Food processor, or blender
  • empty bottles for shampoo
  • 5-10 drops of essential oils – again I use lavender, you can add up to 15 of any blend of oils you like more tends to be smell overkill.

For the aloe, if you are lucky enough to have a large aloe plant use a large leaf, one at least 1.5 to 2 ft long. If you aren’t growing them sometimes you can buy a leaf individually at some Latin American markets, or you can buy just the gel in the health food section, that is not the kind you use for sunburns, the sort you can eat.

You want all of its gooey goo!

Gut the aloe, this is messy, so just realize you’re going to work with a slippery thing that’s hard to cut, and use good knife safety. Gloves are a good idea if you have them, but I’m a rebel without a cause, and go bare handed. I find you can sort of shave the top part of the leaf off, with a sharp knife, and scoop/scrape the gooey innards with a spoon into a bowl. Again, be careful of the aloe spines when doing this.

Toss the aloe gel in the food processor or blender, add in the coconut oil. I would start with 1/4 c since a little goes a long way with this, but you can add more if you have dry hair or find it isn’t moisturizing enough. Don’t add more than 1/2 a cup though as I find it gets way too oily. You want to blend this until you have a pretty even emulsion, it will turn sort of milky white, and then you add in the castile soap, citric acid, essential oils and your tablespoon of nourishing oil.

Give it another quick whiz, and bottle. I just reuse old shampoo bottles or even the Dr Bronner’s bottles make great shampoo bottles, and fill using a funnel. You should have a thick gel in the end that should be easy to apply, and provide a rich creamy lather. When you rinse your hair you will notice it feels different than other shampoos or conditioners, it will have a slight oily feel but once dry it shouldn’t be oily. Remember to shake before each use!

This makes for me, and I have long but extremely fine hair, at least 2 months worth of shampoo sometimes more. You don’t have to use a conditioner or anything after unless you want to, it is pretty much wash ‘n go. You can also use this as a great body wash!

ProTip 1: If your hair is lank, clumpy, and oily, you have probably got too much coconut oil in it. So of you add too much coconut oil, you can counter this with additional castile soap. Add it bit by bit until you find that it rinses clean, with no heavy oil residue.

ProTip 2: Citric acid helps to balance the pH of the shampoo, if you notice your hair is too dry you may need to adjust the amount of citric acid. It adds shine but can strip moisture from naturally dry hair, you can counter this with a teaspoon of your nourishing oil or even coconut oil, and adding more if needed based on your results. I wouldn’t recommend more than a tablespoon of citric acid in a batch for oily hair, and a teaspoon at most for dry. Again it is a preservative and will help prolong the shelf life of the shampoo, so even if your hair is dry go ahead and add some.

Dr Bronner’s pre-scented soap guide (minus lavender) – you can use these soaps and matching essential oils for specific uses:

  • Peppermint – for headaches, helps with itchy scalp or irritated scalp, or any bacterial infections. Also good for an “invigorating” shower that reduces stress, but helps you feel more awake due to increased circulation. Peppermint oil tends to wash cleaner for a less oily feel.
  • Eucalyptus – good for anti-fungal, and it helps to stimulate circulation. It is good for muscle pains and dandruff, and is supposed to stimulate hair growth.
  • Almond – Almond and Sweet Almond oil are great for hair and it has a lot of vitamins in it that are good for your hair and skin. It helps reduce frizz and increase shine if you have curly or frizzy hair. It is also a good hair strengthener to help hair grow longer and thicker. I find if I add this instead of other oils I have less static in my hair as well.
  • Citrus – We already discussed lemon earlier, orange and lemon oils are good for hair and help it to be shiny and lighter.
  • Rose – Pretty much like lavender, it is good for stress relief, and has some anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. It is also very good for soothing an itchy scalp. Rose oil is rather expensive and I would use this shampoo as a base and possibly add lavender or other oils that complement rose.
  • Tea Tree – best known remedy for dandruff, this is a good oil for treating that. It can be strong and irritate further if you use too much so use the base soap first and add drops of additional tea tree oil to ensure you don’t add too much.

I have been told this shampoo makes my hair nicer than ever by a few people so hope you get some good results too 🙂 Happy showers!