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5 Ways To Use Essential Oils Sustainably

Essential oils are more popular than ever. In fact, the demand for nature’s aromatic liquids is growing +9% every year and, according to Grand View Research, is expected to reach more than 380 kilotons by 2024. 

At the end of the day, the demand for essential oils produced from aromatic plant material is putting a strain on their availability.  And, as users of essential oils, we can’t simply assume that the easy and affordable access we have today will always be around. We must do our part to use essential oils responsibly, while always keeping conservation in mind. 

In fact, if we want to continue to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, we need to begin thinking and acting with a sustainable mindset.  

 

Here are five ways to use essential oils sustainably:

 

1.) Avoid using essential oils on the “at-risk”, “endangered” or “to watch” list

Because essential oils are so popular, many of them are being overharvested without a plan to replenish their crop for the long-term.  “At-risk” essential oils are typically produced from wild medicinal plants which are currently most sensitive to the impact of human activities. An organization called The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a Red List of Threatened Species which helps you understand which plants may be most vulnerable. You’ll notice that some of the most beautiful and beneficial essential oils are starting to come onto these lists.

Here is a list of some of the more popular plant species (not all) and their level of risk (Source: Aromaweb):

Critically Endangered:

  • Sandalwood (Santalum album

  • Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)

  • Palo Santo from Peru (Bursera graveolens)

Endangered:

  • Atlas Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)

  • Laurel Leaf (Laurus nobilis)

  • Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)

  • Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)

Vulnerable:

  • Elemi (Canarium luzonicum)

  • Opoponax (Commiphora guidottii)

 

Consider using these essential oils deemed “of least concern” by the IUCN (as of Jan 2019) instead:

  • Black Spruce (Picea mariana)

  • Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)

  • Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis)

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

  • Linden Blossom (Tilia cordata)

  • Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis)

  • Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

  • Siberian Fir (Abies sibirica)

  • Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia)

  • Virginian Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)

Note: generally speaking, common citrus essential oils such as lemon, lime, and grapefruit are also not of great concern at this time. 

 

2.) Only buy essential oils from suppliers that have a commitment to sourcing from farms and distillers with sustainable practices

With over 500 suppliers of essential oils in the U.S. alone, it’s hard to know what to look for in a supplier in terms of sustainability. A good indication that your supplier is committed is if they clearly describe on their website how the essential oil was produced, specifically describing the conservation and sustainability efforts being made for that oil. If there’s no mention of anything, move on. There are better options. 

One thing to be aware of is that often the “at-risk” and “to watch” essential oils are more likely to be adulterated. A price too good to be true is often an indication of such tampering and should be avoided to mitigate the possibility of irritation. 

 

3.) Use the “less is more” principle of dosing

If you’re going to use any “at-risk” essential oils sourced from sustainably-minded suppliers, please use them sparingly, knowing that each drop is particularly precious. In aromatherapy, we have a motto “less is more” because, in fact, you can get good therapeutic benefit from just a small amount of essential oil. 

Try making applications with a 1% dilution (5-6 drops/1oz) first, and, only if needed, increase the amount slightly for greater effect. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances and their components have wonderful properties to support us, even at small dosages. 

 

4.) Buy small quantities of essential oil at first

Until you know what essential oils you use most regularly, getting lured by a great sale and purchasing large quantities isn’t going to serve you, or the plant it came from. Essential oils are, generally speaking, most valuable and therapeutic during the beginning of their shelf life. And, as they’re a natural product (like food), they do have an expiration date. If you’re not using the essential oil regularly, over time the oil begins to oxidize and change it’s chemistry, getting duller and providing less therapeutic value. Then, after expiration, the oil becomes useless and has to be disposed of as hazardous material. It’s money down the drain, but, more importantly, it’s a waste of precious plant material.

 

5.) Take good care of your essential oils

Just as you take care of your fresh produce, so too should you take care of your essential oils. Remember that essential oils stay vibrant and provide therapeutic benefits if they’re stored properly. The biggest enemies for essential oils are light, air and heat, which means it’s best to keep your oils in a dark, cool and dry location, and always making sure to keep the cap closed tightly at all times.

 

We love our essential oils, and we want to make sure we have access to them over the long-term. This means if each of us takes these small measures, it will go a long way in helping to ensure we have affordable access to them for years to come. It’s a mindset. Let’s do it for the planet and for our wellbeing.

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