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My Take on (Un)Well, the Netflix Documentary Series on Essential Oils

I could tell by the way two acquaintances separately told me about this video, designed to entertain and inform, as it says in the preamble, that it wasn’t positive. 

Never the less, I watched it.  I wanted to see what was out there. And this was an eyeful!

The show begins with the essential oil industry being “like a cult. They prey on housewives and mothers”.  Really?  Off to a good start (she says sarcastically). 

 

Not long into the showing I find myself thinking…

I’m confused.  What exactly is the point of the video?  Is it about whether essential oils are good for you?  Or are essential oils safe?  Is it about how or whether essential oils can help you with your health?  Or is it about the essential oil company Young Living and their unethical business practices?  Or is it about MLMs (the business model of multilevel marketing)?  Still not sure.  I think the “documentary” was misnamed. 

The Good.

I love that these producers raised awareness of essential oils. Yay.  Essential oils are becoming more common and to have this topic raised on Netflix is great!  Love it!

I think the video did a great job of showcasing how potent and body-affecting essential oils can be. Essential oils are real, potent, body-affecting chemicals. That’s what’s so great about them!

So many things about this video that I applaud….raising awareness, the hospital integration of essential oils (which is happening in many institutions across America), solid, first-hand examples of lives improved, the fact that essential oils can be used to improve both physical and emotional health, the introduction of using oils in conjunction with conventional medicine (my personal approach and expertise), the use of oils via the aromatic route, highlighting the work of Dr. Zielinski who’s teachings and writings are legitimate, showing that essential oils have a serious side.  All great.

The bad.

Showcasing a situation where essential oils were clearly used incorrectly, and thus possibly creating or contributing to an untoward effect, is not helpful.  Anything can be used incorrectly and cause a problem. 

Putting all essential oils in the same category is dangerous.  Pointing out that “they are available in Target, Walmart, Yoga Studios” and also used for health purposes with specially challenged persons in the same program -without showing differences between the oils- is only helping to fuel the confusion that already exists.  Every time I see a television commercial touting ‘natural essential oils’ in air fresheners or insect spray, I shudder. 

Don't waste my time.

The ugly.

Why did the video spend so much time and give so much attention to Young Living’s culture, their court case and crappy business practices?  And what does this have to do with whether pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils can help you with wellness?  Was there some hidden agenda by the producers?  Was this designed to be information on essential oils and health or an exposé of Young Living’s poor, unprofessional and deceitful practices?  (Not that I’d have any problem with that video being produced, I just didn’t know this was it.) 

Summary

For me the show was confusing.  And much more entertaining than informative. 

Unfortunately, it was not a balanced representation of the use or knowledge of essential oils in today’s society. Nor did not provide much actual information on whether essential oils can be used to improve health, and if so, how.  The film was, seemingly, more effective at raising ethical value questions about the essential oil industry rather than helping anyone with health.

I’m a nurse who believes in the strength and efficacy of essential oils used for health when they are produced purely, distributed ethically and used smartly.

But a large portion of this video was essential oils not produced purely, distributed unethically and used incorrectly. 

But let’s talk about the oils!

The first thing to understand is that there are two categories of essential oils,

a)Plant-based essential oils which are  pure, made-by-nature, natural, health raising chemicals currently being used by many for medicinal purposes, and,

 

b)Synthetic essential oils produced in laboratories which are not natural, not pure, and not health raising. Any product that uses a mixture of natural and synthetic falls into this category because they are not pure.

These two types of essential oils are vastly different in every way, except maybe in aroma, since the synthetic ones are made to mimic the natural ones.  It’s a shame we can use the same words to label these very different chemicals.  Very misleading. 

So here’s what I know about working with essential oils…

  • They are not all created equal. The differences are vast and have far reaching implications for safety and efficacy.
  • Pure essential oils are very potent and should not be underestimated.
  • You should be educated in their use and use them correctly.
  • When they are used correctly, they appear safe.
  • When they are used correctly, there is a large body of evidence to support their health-raising potential.
  • We’re all responsible for making our own healthcare choices, and therefore, deserve good, honest, straight-forward information on which we can base those decisions.

If you’re interested in using essential oils for health (and in today’s chemically laden, side-effect-burdened, addiction-risking society, I think it’s a really good idea if you are), and if you want to get the best safety and efficacy you can, you must learn how to do it.  Not unlike the first time you learn anything new.  Here are some starting points;

  • Find a person (like me) or company willing to provide you with education and support,
  • Find appropriate, honest, relevant resources on-line, in books and in groups,
  • Use your head and be your own advocate in all of your healthcare actions.

In the future, I’d love to see a documentary (on Netflix or anywhere else) that actually informs (you can leave the entertainment out) regarding the true capabilities and potential drawbacks of using essential oils for health. As humans and moms and dads and consumers and pet owners and patients we deserve honest information. 

As an aside, watching this ‘documentary’ encouraged me to look at other videos in the (Un)well series.  My general impression is there is a great deal of sensationalism brought to the subjects and sensationalism seems to be the greater goal over informing.  Well, just like essential oils, I suppose there are different ‘types’ of journalists.  For the topics they seem to cover, the way they cover them, including the choices they make of what to highlight and the overall negative and fear-based undertones of the copy,  for me it’s not a series I’ll be following.

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