An Aromatherapist's Take On Netflix's (Un)Well Documentary About Essential Oils
If you’re anything like me, you jumped to watch episode one of Netflix’s (Un)Well documentary. Titled Essential Oils, the episode takes a look at two camps in the essential oil community and if you’ve been a part of the essential oil world for any amount of time, you’re likely familiar with these two sides of aromatherapy.
On one side, they show those who believe essential oils can be used to cure almost everything, that essential oils can be used profusely and that one can benefit from ingesting essential oils casually. Those that fall in this camp are MLM distributors and an essential oil blogger.
On the other hand, the documentary looks at those who take a conservative approach to how essential oils can benefit people, who don’t view aromatherapy as a cure but rather a complement to traditional medicine and who advocate against the casual use of essential oils. They also include two women who once belonged to essential oil MLMs but departed due to financial loss and even severe injury from advice given by others within the MLM.
While some have voiced that the documentary did not take a stance on either side, I think the documentary’s title paired with what I believe was a negative portrayal of those who use essential oils liberally, revealed their stance sufficiently. Arguments made by these essential oil users were almost always followed by rebuttals from credible industry professionals or by those who’d suffered from the MLM industry.
For example, an essential oil distributor belonging to an MLM claims that essential oils cured her brain tumor when she was a girl. Her personal testimony is a part of what has led her to become such a successful distributor. She is a critic of Western medicine and big pharma and believes that there is an essential oil for “99.9%” of issues. Later she is shown speaking with someone from her “downline” who is struggling to recruit more distributors. The woman encourages her to trudge on.
Later in the episode, a different woman and an attorney speak about an essential oil MLM being an illegal pyramid scheme due to so few making money from selling the oils and products. They’re of the belief that the only way to become profitable from these MLMs is actually by recruiting more people to become distributors. This in turn leaves one to question the motives of the latter woman. Is she seeking to help people better their lives by introducing them to essential oils, or to recruit more distributors and keep up her “six-figure” paycheck? And what does this say about the MLMs?
In another instance, an aromatherapy blogger is introduced. He is shown spraying a mixture of “Peppermint and Clove” onto his young children, including in their faces. In his interview, he states that his family uses essential oils liberally and throughout the day by way of diffusers, hand soap, lotion, culinary use. “They’re everywhere,” he states. He is a strong proponent of using essential oils internally and uses the fact that essential oils are used as food flavorings (alluding to the FDA’s GRAS list) as justification for ingesting oils. The blogger also states that there is a lot of evidence backing essential oils’ ability to help people “in a variety of ways.”
After his interview, essential oil educator Joy Bowles goes on to say that clinical evidence does not exist for what the blogger and distributor have claimed aromatherapy can do. She states that studies on the effects of essential oils on animals and cells don’t necessarily correlate to how essential oils affect humans. Joy goes so far as to say, “What [essential oil MLMs are] actually doing...is running the biggest experiment of human use of essential oils that we’ve ever seen–planet wide.” Furthermore, she insinuates that profuse essential oil use is unsafe and that true aromatherapy does not claim to cure anybody, but rather help people cope with different issues.
Aromatherapist Lora Cantele is also featured helping a mother who wishes to use aromatherapy for her daughter with autism. Throughout the episode, we see Cantele intaking the child’s needs, mixing different blends based on those needs, allowing the child to choose which blend she prefers and checking in on her client repeatedly. By the end of the episode, the child’s mother reveals that aromatherapy has improved her daughter’s behavior tremendously. Cantele also discusses what essential oils are and speaks on safe aromatherapy use. She states that “there are very few scenarios that I can name where it would be beneficial to ingest an essential oil. They can burn your mucous membrane over time and they can cause internal damage.”
Overall, I was very pleased with Un(W)ell’s coverage of aromatherapy. While essential oils might be popular in people’s homes, they’re not so popular in the media, so I get excited when they get this sort of publicity. It was fun to see so many familiar names, to watch certain things be brought to light and to see essential oils presented in such a format. By the end of the program, I was left wanting an entire series on essential oils that expands on the ideas presented and enlightens people on other issues in the industry.
Until that day comes, watch Un(Well) episode one and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.