Essential Oils: Medicine or Marketing?

It seems there is an essential oil for everything. Oncoming cold? Use peppermint. Anxiety or trouble sleeping? Use lavender. Troublesome acne? Use tea tree oil. The cure for cancer? Ask some people, and they will say essential oils. As essential oils’ popularity has grown, so have the claims surrounding what they can do.

Still, even with all this hype, most people will agree that it’s highly unlikely essential oils are going to do much against something like cancer. But, if you’re anything like myself, you’re probably left wondering, what can essential oils do? With this much talk, it can’t all be nothing, but it’s also hard to figure out where the limits of essential oils’ benefits are.

 

Separating the Fact from Fiction

The first thing to know about the healing benefits of essential oils, is there is actually very little research into what they can really do. Many of the tall claims you hear about their amazing, life-altering properties don’t have substantial research to back them up. The second thing to know is that this doesn’t mean all the proclaimed benefits are fake. The reality of essential oils lies somewhere between crackpot medicine and a magical cure-all.

Part of the reason so many messages are floating around about what essential oils can and cannot do, is how they are marketed and distributed. Rachel Monroe discusses this system in-depth in an article for The New Yorker, but suffice it to say, many essential oils are sold by individuals working for a couple large companies. What this means is there are a lot of people who are really into essential oils saying a lot of things without much regulation. When it comes down to it, claims that essential oils can cure complex ailments like depression or cancer shouldn’t be taken as fact. This shouldn’t deter you from what you can get from essential oils, however.

 

So, What are the Benefits?

Essential oils aren’t about to solve the most serious of issues, but they do still have benefits. Herbal medicine and aromatherapy have been around for a long time for good reason. Just like a hot toddy truly does soothe symptoms of a cold, the scents and compounds of essential oils have legitimate benefits. Scent is a powerful thing and there is a definite link between stimulating the right smell receptors and reaping some emotional and even physiological benefits. For instance, if you love the scent of lavender, smelling it will give you a pick-me-up as the smell can trigger chemical messages that make you feel happy and calm. Will it cure depression? Probably not. Can it calm you down, relax you, and help set you up for sleep? Certainly.

Beyond the connections of smell and mood, there are some studies showing certain connections between essential oils and physical ailments. For instance, tea tree oil has been linked to helping with acne and peppermint oil might ease symptoms of digestive issues and IBS. These studies are still early and neither claims the oils are a cure, but there are true benefits when it comes to easing moods and symptoms.

Ultimately, there is a reason traditional herbal remedies and aromatherapy are still around, and it’s the same reason essential oils are popular: for the right situation, they do work! While you shouldn’t look at essential oils as a cure-all, there are many things you want them on hand for, from adding scents to soaps and lotions to using diffusers or creating home versions of vic’s vapor rub or natural sleep aids. At best, you’ll find some scents that soothe aches and help lift your spirits, and at worst, your home and life will smell really great.

 

 

 

For an in-depth read on the distribution system of essential oils, check out:

“How Essential Oils Became the Cure for Our Age of Anxiety” by Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, October 9, 2017.

 

For more information on the science of essential oils, check out:

“The Science of Essential Oils: Does Using Scents Make Sense?” by Cari Nierenberg, LiveScience, September 2, 2015.

 

Myths About the Paper vs. Plastic Question

You’re at the grocery store and you get asked, “paper or plastic?” Most people have a standby option they believe is better, whether that’s thinking paper is more recyclable or plastic can be reused for garbage bags. But, is one actually better than the other? To settle this debate, I debunked two myths about the plastic vs. paper debate to help you decide, once and for all, which way to go.

 

MYTH: Paper is better than plastic

Over time, paper bags have garnered the reputation of being the better alternative when asked the perennial question “paper or plastic?” However, the reality is that paper bags really aren’t much better. While paper bags are easier to recycle and have about 50% more capacity than a plastic bag, the energy it takes to make a paper bag is more than the energy required for plastic bag. Just making the paper alone consumes huge amounts of energy (including fossil fuel based energy) before it even gets to the stage of becoming an actual bag, outweighing some of the benefits of recycling.

 

MYTH: Plastic bags aren’t recyclable

Luckily this myth is false! There is nothing in plastic bags that prevents them from being recycled. However, before you get too excited, recycling plastic bags is an arduous process that requires re-melting and re-casting the bags. This process uses less energy than making new bags, but the quality of the plastic is “downcycled,” meaning the plastic is not as viable and is therefore rarely made into new bags. Just because the bags do not turn into new bags does not make them entirely useless, as they can be turned into raw materials for other plastic-based products, but recycling plastic bags is not a perfect fix.

 

Ultimately, experts almost unanimously agree that reusable canvas bags are the way to go over plastic or paper! Beyond the obvious that they can be used again and again, reusable bags are stronger, sturdier, and carry more than paper or plastic, meaning less trips to get all the groceries in from the car. Reusable bags are not the solution to all plastic waste, but using them can be a small step in reducing the nearly 380 billion plastic bags we use every year in this country.

 

For more information on the “plastic versus paper” debate, check out:

"Paper of Plastic? A Look at the Facts, Myths and Numbers of Shopping Bags" by Collin Dunn, Huffington Post, July 16, 2008

 

Ditching the Softener

For most people, soft laundry is a must; I mean who really wants crunchy, static-y clothes? Plus, if you’re like me, that warm, fresh laundry smell is heaven. That is, until you learn that fabric softeners and dryer sheets can have tons of toxic chemicals including ethanol and chloroform. Because fabric softeners work by coating fabrics in a thin layer of chemicals, those chemicals then rest on your clothes and are vented out with dryer exhaust which isn’t good for you or the environment. While some people have little adverse reaction to the chemicals in fabric softeners, many of the chemicals are classified as carcinogens and allergens, and that isn’t including the massive amount of fragrance used in softeners which are enough of an allergy trigger on their own.

 

Luckily avoiding fabric softeners and their possible issues is pretty easy. For many people, just skipping the softener altogether is fine with the added benefit of less waste and less money spent on boxes of dryer sheets. However, if you don’t like the idea of risking crunchy or static-y clothes, there are plenty of alternatives such as:

 

  • Using felt wool balls in the dryer: they’re reusable and easy to make or cheap to buy!
  • Adding baking soda or white vinegar to your wash: they act as natural softeners and won’t leave your clothes smelling like vinegar
  • Finding natural ingredient or reusable dryer sheets
  • Drying your clothes on the low heat setting: it might take longer but it definitely works

 

If you’re still worried about losing out on the scents of fresh laundry, try a few drops of your favorite essential oil on the wool dryer balls. Most people who ditch the softener never look back and even find their clothes are softer than before. With such painless alternatives, consider doing yourself, your wallet, and the environment a favor and ditching the fabric softener.

 

For more information on fabric softener toxins and alternatives, check out:

 

"Don't Get Slimed: Skip the Fabric Softener" by Rebecca Sutton, Enviroblog

 

"Fabric Softener Alternatives and Other Safe Approaches to Laundry" by Robin Konie, Thank Your Body

 

Mallory McClure

Mallory is a part-time writer and Kalamazoo College graduate native to the Pacific Northwest. When not writing blogs and small business articles, she enjoys spending time with her pets, reading Victorian literature, and supporting the Seattle Sounders.

Small Businesses Supercharging Southwest Michigan

Big businesses dominate the news cycle: Amazon’s buyout of Whole Foods, Apple without Steve Jobs, the perils and pluses of Facebook Live. Because of this, it’s sometimes too easy to forget about the small businesses; yet, they might be more influential than we give them credit for. A recent infographic in 269 Magazine shows that 99.6% of businesses in the state of Michigan are small businesses, and 49.8% of the Michigan workforce is employed by those businesses. I don’t know about you, but I was shocked at how high that number is, almost half of Michigan is tied to small businesses

With those kind of numbers, the amount of money flowing locally must be impressive too. In fact, according to local giant Quicken Loans, for every $100 spent at a small business, $70 stay within the local economy as opposed to $43 with non-local businesses. It’s pretty hard to beat a 70% retention rate, especially when you think about the human component of your local economy. That $70 is going into things like paying friends and family who work locally, maintaining the stores on main street that are unique to your town, and the local artists and artisans who sell to those stores. Plus, it’s been shown that multiple small business bring more local jobs with them than one large chain store. So those businesses are helping build robust local economies and a diverse range of jobs.

Really what this all comes down to is, shopping local is great! You can confidently support the people and town you love when you know that you’re part of what is keeping southwest Michigan so interesting. And for our part, we’re proud to be one of the small businesses employing half of the Calhoun county and Michigan workforce.

If you want to learn more about small businesses in Southwest Michigan check out:

"Small Business in Southwest Michigan" 269 Magazine, Issue 9: May/June 2017

Small Business Saturday & How it Impacts your Local Economy” Zing by Quicken Loans, 23 November 2016

Mallory McClure

Mallory is a part-time writer and Kalamazoo College graduate native to the Pacific Northwest. When not writing blogs and small business articles, she enjoys spending time with her pets, reading Victorian literature, and supporting the Seattle Sounders.

Cool Morning Has us Thinking.

Woke up and the temperature was in the 50's. Not ready for summer to be over, but know that fall will soon be here. How long before we break out our Stormy Kromers? To get us in the mood here are some of our favorite Kromerisms.