How Essential are Oils?

Intentions are everything even when it comes to your consumer choices. Under the law, the intended use of any “aromatherapy” products determines how they are to be regulated. There are a number of ways to establish a product’s intended use, including but limited to the consumer’s perception, claims on the product’s label and the ingredients therein. Some fragrance products are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These include products such as air fresheners, scented candles, laundry detergents, and household cleansers. In this same accord, drugs must meet requirements such as FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before they go on the market.

This principle also holds true for “essential oils.” For example, a fragrance marketed for promoting attractiveness is a cosmetic. But a fragrance marketed with certain “aromatherapy” claims, imply that the scent will help the consumer sleep or quit smoking, meets the definition of a drug because of its intended use. A drug is merely defined as a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body. Similarly, a massage oil that is simply intended to lubricate the skin and impart fragrance is a cosmetic, but if the product is intended for a therapeutic use, such as relieving muscle pain, it’s a drug. Perception is reality after all.

Therefore, when a person buys a sugar scrub laden with essential oils, where the label claims to “sooth joint pain” they are essentially buying a drug meant to alter the state of their body. Some products are both cosmetics and drugs. For example, a baby lotion marketed with claims that it both moisturizes the baby’s skin and relieves colic would be both a cosmetic and a drug. Such products must meet the requirements for both cosmetics and drugs. 

There’s a fine line that increasingly popular essential oils distributors must tow when it comes to meeting these requirements. Most often when people think of an “essential oil” or other ingredient that comes from a plant, they figure it must be safe. However, this isn’t always the case since many plants contain materials that are toxic, irritating, or likely to cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin. For example, cumin oil is safe to cook with, but it can cause the skin to blister. Certain citrus oils that are used safely in food can also be harmful in cosmetics, particularly when applied to skin exposed to the sun. 

One thing the FDA doesn’t have is regulations in place to define “natural” or “organic” for cosmetics. All cosmetic products and ingredients must meet the same safety requirement, regardless of their source. The way that these essential oil companies get around the lack of quality control provided by the FDA is by maintaining their own practices to ensure that their products are the highest quality possible. Most often by insisting that their brand never includes synthetics, contaminants, or cheap fillers, or by reframing from using unethical production practices. This often leads to a higher price point for the consumer since they’re creating a standard while simultaneously surpassing it. 

Essential oils are widely available in stores, online or via a distributor these days. When it comes to whether or not you want to begin the habit of using essential oils regularly, ask yourself why? The answer to your question will help you decide which route to take. You may only need a simple vanilla oil to make your bubble baths smell sweeter or you may want to invest in some more rigorously refined eucalyptus oil to help ease your achy joints. The choice is yours as the consumer. 

This information was provided for your information. If you have any questions about a business law case, contact a business defense and negotiation lawyer in Arlington, TX, like the office of Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC.