Lavender, rose, jasmine and geranium aren’t just flowers—they’re peaceful sleep, a positive mood, stress-relief and glowing skin. That is, they are if you use essential oils.
Essential oils are all the trend right now, with Millennials and Generation Zers promptly exchanging ibuprofen bottles for flasks of eucalyptus oil. For every ailment, there is an ostensible cure in the form of two drops or a quick whiff of an earthy, potent oil.
Essential oils are made through an elaborate process of distilling or cold-pressing plant materials and mixing them with various solvents and fats. It’s not an easy process or a low-impact one. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), in order to extract one pound of lavender oil, it’s necessary to distill roughly 220 pounds of lavender flowers.
As a recent convert to the essential oils veneration, I decided to delve into the hard facts behind the trend, starting with the largely unfounded claims of health benefits touted by both major “oil” tycoons. Back in 2007, Physician Data Query (PDQ) conducted a study over the effectiveness of essential oils in relieving secondary symptoms in cancer patients, like anxiety, stress, nausea and vomiting.
PDQ’s study contained many different trials, including regular massages or daily inhalation tested the effectiveness of oils in treating patient anxiety and nausea. PDQ’s researchers concluded that while “a decrease in anxiety and improved symptoms were noted in the group that had massage with essential oil…no improvements in vomiting or chronic nausea” were recorded, and in some cases, records showed that tasting sliced oranges had a greater effect on patients’ overall well-being than sniffing a citrus-based oil.
Essential oils have been and remain to be a placebo drug, with multi-level marketing enterprises like Young Living and doTerra capitalizing on the oils’ feel-good effect. Over the past 10 years, both companies have doubled their revenue, as well as surpassing one billion dollars in sales in late 2015 and early 2016, according to a recent New Yorker article.
“Like homeschooling, beekeeping, and canning, the use of essential oils crosses the political spectrum and speaks to a common desire for increased self-sufficiency—or, more darkly, a fear of imminent institutional collapse,” wrote The New Yorker’s Rachel Monroe, who covered the essential oil epidemic late last year.
Millennials and GenZers alike are known for their innate distrust of social constructs, and it’s clear that this same fear is prevalent in their choice of remedies. No longer do they trust doctors to care about their well-being—independence is key to the Millennial, and this phenomenon is evident in their holistic, self-sufficient approaches to wellness.