The show explores the good and the bad, the helpful and the detrimental, all without explicit judgment. I understand the principle – let people talk, and let the viewer decide – but I came away feeling that there could have been more depth. Are essential oils safe or unsafe? Do they possess any proven useful properties? Such questions are barely explored, and no medical doctors make the final cut (I did recommend two, and I know the producer was excited to talk to one of them.)
The upside – a third (non-medical) doctor, one of our tutors, is featured! Joy Bowles adds a sane, cautious note, initially just as voice-over, which is quite fun when you know that voice well. Lora Cantele, publisher of IJPHA and long-time friend is also featured, in her role of aromatherapist helping a special-needs family with essential oil blends. Right at the beginning, we see holistic nurse and clinical aromatherapist Amy Quarberg offering personal inhalers to a man experiencing post-surgical pain in a hospital in, Maplewood, Minnesota. In both cases, the recipient is given a choice of blends, and aromatherapy seems to be helpful.
The show also takes a thorough look at the multi-level marketing side of the industry, and how it operates. We see how easily misinformation can spread – apparently, Frankincense oil helps clear the blood from around cells (perhaps confusion with a myth we address here) – and Netflix suggests that profit is the main driver, to the detriment of many who join. This has always been a point of contention in multi-level marketing. The cult-like aspects of MLM are featured, and the disconnect between someone showing friends how to drip essential oils directly into their mouth (voice-over about essential oils and cancer), and the challenges of safety – not to mention efficacy – is implied. Following an examination of the eccentric and controversial life and ethics of Gary Young (who founded Young Living) we see Stacy Haluka, who went public some years ago with her very nasty skin reaction to of essential oils, apparently from over-use. You can see Stacy’s account here. (All our adverse reaction reports are anonymous. If you want to report an adverse reaction, go here: https://tisserandinstitute.org/safety/adverse-reaction-database/#home/add-adverse-reaction-report/)
Essential Oils probably won’t change many minds. If you believe that essential oils are purely quack medicine with no real benefits but some dangers, then Netflix delivers. If you believe that aromatherapy can help people with behavioral issues or pain, Netflix delivers. I know many others were approached and interviewed for the project as well as myself, and while I understand not all material can make the final cut of a 50 minute episode, I would like to have seen a greater depth of opinions and practice. I have high hopes for Uncommon Scents, a documentary on aromatherapy that has been in the making for a while, and will encompass a broad range of voices.
Robert Tisserand is a speaker, educator and consultant on the science and benefits of essential oils and their safe and effective application, and in 1977 he wrote the first English language book on aromatherapy. In addition to teaching online courses, in recent years he has inspired live audiences in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. He was privileged to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the AIA in Denver in 2007, and in 2014 he co-authored the second edition of Essential Oil Safety, which has helped set industry safety standards. Robert is the principal of The Tisserand Institute.