I F*ing Hate Essential Oils

Pouring oil over your head
Same thing, right?

Runners are people who value health and wellness, so naturally there’s always a magical health trend trying to worm its way into runners’ lives and social media feeds. Of course, there was yoga and green smoothies. There was myofascial release and eating paleo. Coconut oil had a moment, although in retrospect it seems to have been undeserved. We’d be remiss if we forgot the stylish healing powers of KT-tape.

But now, on trend ladies and gentlemen runners, get ready to douse yourselves in essential oils. Like Gatorade tried to tell us we needed their special products before, during, and after running or else we’d fail miserably, as we laughed in its passé face, so, they say, we must slather different oils on ourselves to magically prepare, perform, and recover.

Before it goes too far, I’m just going to nip this trend in the bud and hope the entire industry floats away in an incense cloud.

Am I the only one already tired of walking into a friend’s house to be greeted by a cloud of dirty hippie air? I’m already tired of seeing fellow runners lube themselves up before a race like they’re going to slide right down the road. I’m tired of gagging on the scent of Phoqizz™ or Balyntz™ or whatever that weird church smell is when I walk into my group fitness classes.

Pray to the oil

I’m tired of feeling as though I’m the weird one when I discuss giving my kids antibiotics for their strep throat. Now, call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s better to rub licorice-smelling crap on the bottom of their feet while spinning around in circles throwing flower petals in the air. I’m mostly tired of unsolicited sports medicine advice from “friends” who were formerly stay-at-home parents or had other careers, and are now “Wellness Experts” for a not-a-pyramid-scheme. Do you know how many Facebook messages I’ve received in the past few months from these “friends” extolling the many virtues of their essential oils and wishing to pass out the miracle drug for the low, low price of $40 per bottle?

I’ll save you some trouble. Feel free to copy and paste:

“What’s this you say? You now sell an essential oil that will heal pain, give me vitality, and the energy boost I crave? All I have to do is fork over $40 and this 0.3 ounces of miracle will make all my running dreams come true and give me the life force I need to finally clean the back bedroom where I throw all the stuff every time I need to clean for company? Well, shoot, sister! Congratulations on achieving wizardry and take all my money!”

I don’t believe that there’s any sort of medical truth to the claims being made by those profiting from selling this stuff. I know everyone swears they “had a virus, and then after three days of rubbing LightPurple™ on my forehead it went away!” I asked some viruses and they assured me that’s not how viruses work.

I’ve also heard “I was stressed, and then I sat quietly and rubbed CalmOil™ on my feet and felt better!” I would venture to say that sitting quietly and rubbing anything on my feet would calm me down. But what do I know, I’m not a “wellness expert”. I’m also not a doctor (or a sorceress), but when I was a teenager, I rubbed Vaseline on my sister’s eyebrows before I plucked them and told her it was numbing cream. She swore she felt better. That’s what we non-wellness experts like to call the placebo effect. Call me a skeptic. I just have a hard time believing that modern medicine is a farce, and the answer to health and wellness lies in a Facebook “party” hosted by that one girl from high school English class.

Drinking essential oils?

And I’m looking for relief from my chronically sore hips and hamstrings, but when stretching and a good foam-rolling session don’t do the trick, strangely I find relief in bottles I buy at CVS. Pharmaceuticals: medicine that is scientifically proven to relieve pain and not make me smell like a Woodstock reunion. When did we decide that we’re too good for ibuprofen? Ibuprofen lasts four to six hours, and smells like nothing. Even better than ibuprofen is its stronger, longer-lasting friend naproxen, of which I’ve reaped the eight-hour pain-relieving benefits multiple times over the course of my running life.

You know what else I hate? Feeling oily. I don’t like the sensation of oil on my skin and can’t wait to take a shower after a massage to rinse that greasy feeling down the drain. I may be in my mid-thirties, but I have the skin of a 13-year-old (don’t be jealous!) and rubbing oil on my forehead would make me look like the “before” picture in a Proactiv commercial. The only oil I like on my body is peanut, and that’s only when it’s coating a potato that’s been sliced and fried and is going in my mouth.

You can rub your GreenDream™ (for vitality during exercise or repelling insects) and put CitrusBright™ (for muscle pain or clairvoyance) on your sore muscles all you want. Meanwhile, I’ll be giving you the literal stink eye while pounding Advil and drinking coffee. You just keep selling that CznaykOyl™.

Am I wrong about essential oils? Or would you like to run for VP of my essential oils haters club?

Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Salty Running. This is also satire. Although Olive f’in strongly dislikes essential oils, she realizes she might be exaggerating how much product must be applied to reap zero benefit. 

I am a stay at home mom and group fitness instructor from South Texas. I love reading, wine, and travel. I write about trends, injury prevention and maintenance, and satire. I am training to break 1:30 in the half marathon sometime soon, and for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

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  1. I can buy a little of the aromatherapy element and perhaps there are marginal benefits to the herbs for medicinal purposes. But i agree that the benefits seem way oversold and I also prefer to steer clear of all MLMs just because it blurs the lines between friendship and sales – is this person my friend or is she selling me something? If it’s for someone else, great. And I also steer clear of fads in general although coconut oil can be delicious!

  2. I’m with you. If it doesn’t take pain away quick, give me some kind of buzz or keep me jacked up then I’m not buying into the hype. I take ibuprofen like it’s candy. I have enough stuff to spend my money on than to give it to someone blowing smoke up my a$$.

  3. Very thankful this is not a thing around here. My Pilates classes smell like normal people and nobody is trying to sell me oils except a guy I saw with a card table on the sidewalk downtown. (He had incense, too.) All my friends are trying to sell me appears to be jewelry still. Whatever happened to Pampered Chef? At least you got snacks that those parties.

    Anyway. I agree there’s probably some aromatherapy benefit but I don’t think you need to slather yourself in them for that to work. And I’m with you on the oily skin. My face does not need more oil, thanks.

  4. I totally agree! My husband has a couple cousins who traveled from Alaska to Ohio literally to try to get everyone in the family to buy into their essential oils business. We kept asking them questions about Alaska, because, well how cool is it that you live in Alaska? They kept telling us about oils……. The thing that bothered me the most was she wanted me to tell the doctors in my ICU to try using essential oils on our patients–the sickest people in the city, and you want us to use oils on them to help them fight for their lives?! Ugh. I could go on and on. I am okay with people using an oil for a simple pleasure or even as an alternative therapy, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere! Funny article 🙂

  5. I’m with Salty on this one. I use them to make my house smell nice (orange, eucalyptus, etc.) And if people want to use them on themselves, while still taking advantage of modern medicine, totally fine. It’s an interesting reaction to the former stage of overuse of antibiotics- does anyone actually believe amoxicillin helps sinus infections anymore (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25870064)? But please treat my kids’ strep, and ear infections! And be sure my kiddos are fully vaccinated..but I digress. I totally do NOT like when friends try to sell me stuff. I don’t want candles, oils, sex toys, or anything else, thanks.

  6. Thanks for the giggle. Especially timely, as I just unfollowed everyone who tries to sell me something on facebook. No more Stella & Dot, Proacitv Solution, Isagenix, Cabi, … I have one friend who sells a non-toxic skin care line but she’s up front about how she only does it so she can get the stuff for free herself, so she’s still in (plus, she pays for shipping if you get in on a bulk order….).

  7. When did oil shilling become such a thing?? And how do people honestly believe the “miracles” it can provide? Sigh. Guess I’m just old fashioned

  8. I use essential oils through a company called Doterra. I guess I could sell the product if I had time to, but I just joined in order to get the manufacturer pricing. I am a skeptical person, but I also think don’t knock it until you try it. I don’t go around spreading the “good word” about essential oils like a preacher on his Sunday pulpit, but I will tell anyone who asks that they have worked for me. I use them at night time for sleeping (I used to be a major insomniac) and now I will get a solid-SOLID- 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night. I will rub lavender on my children when they are upset or are having a hard time sleeping (I will put a few drops in their bath before bed too). I use a blend called “Digestzen” when they have an upset tummy and it has greatly helped to make them feel better. I use a blend called “Breathe” for myself and for my son. We are both asthmatics and it helps clear the passageways when we have colds. I use another blend called “On Guard” almost daily during cold and flu season or when I feel a cold brewing for immunity support. I will diffuse a blend of peppermint, lemon, orange peel, and eucalyptus in my class on the daily as well. I teach 8th graders and they love it. It is supposed to help with being alert, but if anything, my classroom smells wonderful. I am a firm believer in Western medicine as every CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens is on every other street corner. I will get a sigh of relief when the doctor says that one of my kids has strep (instead of the wicked, 5 day, there is nothing you can do for it, virus) so it can be cured fast with a dose of antibiotics. However, I also have seen what alternative forms of medicine can do for people. Essential oils as medicine? Probably not, but I have an open mind. I also have quite a few friends that make a living selling whatever the new popular gimmick is now a days – leggings, face cream, candles, jams, children books, tupperware, wine (my personal favorite), what have you. Some of these woman have become very successful in what they do and some depend on this to make ends meet in their family budget. I don’t get annoyed by a request or an invitation, I either just ignore it or I politely decline with honesty – either I am not interested in their product or I’d rather put my money towards other things (except for the wine- I am usually a sucker for that request). So, as far as essential oils go, I would fall probably on the lover side. I could even be the VP. As far as respect for what my friends may do to make ends meet in this crazy world we live in and to help provide for their loved ones – I could be the president of that club;).

    1. I have many friends involved in MLMs too and I wish them all the best! I just have a hard time getting down with mixing business and friendship. I feel bad sharing Salty posts on my personal FB! haha. But I know that’s me. I do occasionally go to a party and buy something and love to help friends practice their pitching and stuff. I generally hate when people SELL to me anyway. I prefer a more down-to-earth authenticity when I talk to people in general, so I’m sure that has a lot to do with my general dislike of MLMs. I’ll be your VP of the friend-supporting club 🙂

  9. I have nothing against the products themselves, but I do not like MLMs. If you wouldn’t invite me to your birthday party, don’t invite me to your LuluRoe, Mary Kay, Thirty One, or Essential Oil party (if you are a close enough friend and have a product I like and want, I may support you, but not an acquantance from FB or someone I just met).

    I did a yoga class where the instructor had the oils, and the oil helped me breathe better. I really liked it. After the class, the instructor tried SO hard to get me to buy the oils! She added me to an essential oil Facebook group, etc. Geez, I just wanted to do yoga!

    Side note: I do love yoga, myofascial release, and KT tape. I think they have all helped me with my current injury (ITBS). But so have conventional treatments like rest, ice, compression, PT exercises, the NSAIDs my ortho prescribed (I see the doc ASAP if I get hurt, not relying on remedies).

    1. Agree with all of the above! I have had one serious injury that put me on the injured list for 4+ months. Yoga helped me tremendously, as well as intensive PT. I have kept injuries at bay since then with going to my sports chiropractor for ART. I have been dealing with some lower back pain that has been wrecking havoc on my sciatic nerve, so before I start Boston training, I started going to yoga classes with my husband. I can already notice a difference after a few classes with my flexibility and not being so locked up.

  10. I DESPISE essential oil companies, especially the MLMs. I just want to slap peopple who use them on their children. After seeing a baby having to be airlifted to a trauma unit because her mom listened to the dangerous garbage that doterra and Young Living sell about how to use their products and how safe they are and put peppermint oil on her infant which sent her into respiratory failure. They should NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER be ingested, but people are doing it and swearing they are doing well. And for those diffusing them everywhere, please make sure you warn your friends so that those with asthma can stay away from your home. Placebo effect is amazing for those who think anything positive is happening and far too many are burning themselves and their families by slathering them in these oils.
    I am currently working hard with our state legislature to 1) stop ALL independent sales of these products so that only certified aromatherapists may sell them 2) begin fining (personally I don’t think any fine should be under 6 figures) all reps who tell customers to apply neat or to ingest until we can stop the sales 3) stop all preschools and daycares from diffusing oils.
    After working in healthcare for almost 20 years I have seen far too much harm come to people using these oils. It needs to stop.

  11. My 9 year old daughter had a twisted ovary that required emergency surgery. My cousin tried to tell me that if I had put basil oil on it, she wouldn’t have needed surgery. I was so mad I had to walk away without responding.

  12. You’re missing out on so much joy girl! Why so bitter? After reading your blogs about yoga and essential oils, me being an empathic person, I’m feeling sad you are choosing hate over love. Yoga and essential oils have change my life from negative to positive <3

  13. Move over can we co-president this thing? Can we add Ecenecia , ossooliciium (BS however you spell it) to the list too? OMG the oils make me crazy! As the wife of a Dermatologist lets toss in all the multi level marketing R&F, Nerium, Amway, whatever products too. I love this article!!!

  14. Fun! Agree for most of it but some components of plants are very powerful and chemically characterized since they are used, purified and concentrated to cure cancer. So what I am saying is that there is hard core powerful molecules phenols, cétones, sesquiterpenes , esters in them that are active. They can be used without oil, ingested on a support or capsules and pills. Essential oils are not oil so it’s confusing, they can not be used with water but only soluble in Lipids. Which means if you use them pure they can get into systemic blood circulation through skin lipids. Am not saying you are wrong with all the trendy thing and mis usage since diffusion is not the most effective way to use them. People are mistaken by the name and don’t know that depending on which oil you dilute them, the skin an absorption is different. As a microbiologist (lots of bs too in my fied the microbiota but it’s been my research topic for 20y) I am now taking a training on HE in plants, but it takes me 2 days per month because we do it « scientifically with a pharmacist and dang lots of chemistry. What brought me to the essential oils is that some contain acetate butyrate and propionate and these anti inflammatory molecules are missing in ibd patients microbiota , for which we don’t have a cure. So if by any mean, providing a mix of essential oil would help them heal then that would be worth it. Also some mix of essential oils can kill infectious bacteria or yeast (in vitro) and we don’t quite know how it works, which could mean new antibiotics. The main difference with some drugs is that HE oils are obtained by distillation and contain several hundreds of molecules, with few dominant ones. So yes obviously we already know that phenol can break any cells but But the mix of molecules seems to be the most effective against infectious microbes. Maybe I will be able to tell more in may when am done with the training.

    1. Interesting comment! Though I’d approach anything I buy over the counter with caution were I trying to cure someone’s cancer or kill her infectious bacteria or yeast, ha! Still, I’ll buy that plants have medical benefit, since I’m pretty sure that’s where modern, FDA-approved-style pharmacy started. At what institution are you taking this course? Can you give a further explanation on what you mean by “HE in plants”? It’s hard to read, remember I’m not a microbiologist or doctor, but I think you’re talking about Internal Bowel Disease when you reference the microbiota … I’ve read a lot about research on probiotic treatment using fecal transfer and am interested to hear how you think the two treatments compare.

  15. Yes I stop listening when someone starts talking about eccential oils and their lava rock bracelets. Usually wearing Lularoe leggings.

  16. Young living has no problem with people drinking 120 dollar bottle frankenscence to get rid of their cancer! What bullshit, I’m sure people die fooling around with this shit.

  17. I can’t wait for the essential oil craze to end so we can all get back to breathing clean healthy air. I was entertained by your statement “Dirty hippie air” because its so true. I can’t go anywhere without inhaling the junk and its as big a problem as second hand smoke was in 1968. If good health is the goal, clean unadulterated air will ALWAYS be the smartest choice. Everything else is just gimmick marketing.

  18. I love you. I’m not sure how old this post is, but I love you.

    I’m not even a damn runner and I still might follow your blog from now on.

    When will this stupid fad end??? I just texted my friends in misery because, as someone who is allergic to eucalyptus, I have to be careful to always travel with Benadryl because these idiots think that diffusing something that is cooked down to the most potent form of whatever-the-f#@*-makes-it-special is the best way to cure cancer. I get to breathe it in-stuff that actually will CAUSE me health problems- because they think it’s some kind of miracle and my body is ‘just ridding itself of toxins,’ so my gasping and throat tightening is really NBD.

    You know what my friends said? They said “Oh. We love essential oils. We use them, too.” I feel like I’ve slipped into some sort of alternate universe.

    Thanks for hating essential oils, too.

  19. You are not wrong about essential oils. I hate them too. They smell like Hell. I miss clean air. Instead we live in a world of hydrocarbon junkies having hallucinations their essential oils will cure every disease known to man. Then they force them on everyone around them. Its no different than the second hand smoking issue. I will be so glad when the fad is over.

  20. Oh.My.God…. you just nailed everything I’ve been thinking about essential oils right on the head. Just when I swore I must be the only person left on the planet that hasn’t bought into essential oils, I discovered your post. I have a family member who sells them. I’ve been to a party (one of the MLM kind) to educate myself. I’ve also heard that if you don’t like the smell, that’s what your body needs. NO, I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe I’m out of the ordinary, but walking into someone’s home that is using essential oils in a diffuser just plain clogs me up inside of 10 minutes. So that means my body needs whatever your pot is diffusing? I think my nose clogging up is my body’s natural defense against whatever that is that’s being diffused. What probably irritates me the most is I have had people who use oils come in to MY home and instantly, MY home smells like whatever concoction they’ve decided to roll on themselves that day, and it lingers on and on for days. It irritates me to no end! I have yet to smell an oil that isn’t so God-awful strong that it makes me gag. I guess I should liken it to someone using perfume heavily that I don’t like the smell of… but that perfume smell doesn’t linger on for days on my furniture.

  21. Not everyone likes the smell of essential oils. For myself they are one of the most offensive smelling products on the planet. But whether you like or dislike them, the truth is they are ultra high VOC and harm air quality. This poses risks to those with respiratory issues. We fought the second hand smoke issue for decades and won. Now we gotta fight this.