As many of you know, each year LüSa Organics embarks upon a sustainability initiative to bring our brand closer to the environmental ethics we hold most dear. Two years ago we cut the cord on palm oil, while last year we curbed our use of plastic by 90-plus percent. This year, we’re taking a closer look at essential oils (EOs) and sustainability.
When I started LüSa Organics (then “Queen Bee Soaps and Baby Moon”) back in 2002, I was already smitten by essential oils.
I had been making body care since 1996, and EOs were already my go-to. They came highly recommended as a safe skin care choice, had a long history of effective use, and some highly rated benefits (be them physical, mental, or emotional).
They were also a natural way to create amazing scent profiles in our soaps and balms without resorting to synthetic chemicals.
In short: I loved them.
I was new to herbs back then as well. And though I dabbled in a few herbal infusions, I didn’t know much about working with whole plants. So EOs were a wonderful source of plant magic (if you will), not readily accessible to me in other forms.
But with time, we evolve and grow.
I began studying herbs. Bit by bit, I learned more about working with whole fresh and dried plants, and I began creating herb-infused base oils as the foundation for many of my products.
And just like that EOs didn’t seem quite so magical as before.
Because in my experiments and experience, an essential oil-based product could rarely hold a candle to a whole herb infusions, except in the scent department. Sure, there were exceptions, but formulas I once created using lavender essential oil or peppermint were leagues more effective when created with a calendula or chickweed infusion (alone, or in conjunction with EOs).
And while essential oils still had their place at the table, I felt myself gradually inching away from them and toward the wholesome embrace of whole, organic herbs.
Roots and leaves and flowers infused in raw, organic oils bring so much to a product, that once I began exploring this potential there was no looking back.
When I explain the difference to my students, I tell them this: that EOs are a wonderful tool, but they’re not everything. And to me (in some applications) they feel more heavily processed and less nourishing than an herbal preparation.
Put simply, herbal infusions feel whole.
And so products that I had been making for a decade or more with only essential oils were reborn, laced with long-infused herbal goodness.
And everything felt different.
Instead of simply being a lavender-scented moisture balm and stretch-cream, Belly Balm became something more when infused with calendula, rose hips, marshmallow, and lavender.
Da Balm, infused with nine powerful plants, was added to our line (and our family’s grab-and-go first aid kit as well). Booby Balm arrived on the scene to great enthusiasm by nursing parents–an unscented, nursling-safe nipple balm for those early days of breastfeeding.
And these new products either didn’t need EOs at all, or just needed a few drops, to brighten up what the herbs were already bringing to the table.
“But EOs are amazing!” you say. “They’re nearly magical!”
I hear you. I do! Even today I love and appreciate all that EOs offer. But I now also see the drawbacks of essential oils alongside the benefits.
I haven’t broken up with EOs, if you will, and I will continue to use them in much of the LüSa product line. But essential oils and I have grown apart a bit, from how smitten I was with them earlier in my life and career.
Because there is much more to herbal magic than potent, concentrated essential oils. So much more. And while I don’t foresee a day when there aren’t EOs in my home or business, they just aren’t at the forefront anymore.
And so we’re making a few changes here at LüSa Organics as to how (and what) EOs we use. Those changes (and why it’s important to us) are outlined below.
What’s the issue?
Here are a few of the reasons we’re reevaluating our relationship with and usage of EOs, as well as some exciting changes we’re making to address these concerns.
1. Essential oils are resource-intensive.
Essential oils take a lot of resources to make. For example, it takes a whopping 2 lbs of fresh lavender to create a .33 oz bottle of lavender essential oil. That’s a lot of plant matter for a bottle of EOs! Some other oils take far, far more than that (it takes some 40,000 roses, for example, to make 1 oz of rose otto essential oil).
This raises some sustainability concerns for me, simply due to the amount of land we’re devoting to these crops, as well as pesticide use for non-organics.
And the more we move toward zero-waste in our lives and in our business, the more I want to face the fact that using a massive amount of EOs in our products contributes to resource waste.
2. Overuse of EOs can be unsafe.
We live in a day and age when EOs are everywhere! You can buy essential oils from your friends, at the coop, even the pharmacy or grocery store. Because EOs have become so common, their misuse has become more commonplace as well. It’s not unusual for folks to apply essential oils neat (undiluted on their skin), while some even consume them on occasion (both of these are applications that most aromatherapists agree are unsafe).
As more and more people experiment with using essential oils at home, and the more EOs we use in our products, the more concerns are bubbling up that many of us are getting too much of a good thing.
And while we love our EO-scented products, we think that we can make some improvements with how we approach product-scenting (more on this below).
3. Some essential oils are extracted from rare or endangered plants.
Some essential oils are simply unsustainable–and unethical–to continue to use. Here at LüSa, we researched the 70 essential oils we currently have on the shelf, and two of them are rare or threatened, due to unsustainable harvest techniques or poaching.
Those oils are Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) and Frankincense (Boswellia carterii).
What can we do about it?
Just like palm oil in 2018 and plastic use in 2019, we can look at our own status quo and move in a fresh direction. Change can be hard, but it leads us to better, more sustainable places time and again.
All this to say: we can change the way we choose to do things.
It won’t be easy, but we’re certain that it’s worth it.
How we’ll go about it is outlined below.
Essential Oil Sustainability Plan
Here are the actions we are taking to bring our essential oil use in line with our sustainability goals in the coming year.
1. Phase out all rare essential oils
We’re starting in the simplest place: with the two oils on the list above. Just as we would not purchase an endangered animal, we will not purchase a rare or threatened plant oil simply to make something smell nice. While in some cases the therapeutic uses of these oils may be justified–I have a friend who is using frankincense oil as a part of her cancer treatment, for example–recreational/pleasure-only use feels inappropriate.
Spikenard is an oil we began working with more than a decade ago, but one we never got deeply involved with. We add it in small amounts to Sweet Soul Sister Soap as a scent anchor. In a small and easy swap out, we’ll replace this oil with a more sustainable one. Expect a subtle, negligible shift in the scent balance of this soap in the coming year.
The second oil we’re phasing out is Frankincense. This one I’m certain that many of you will miss. We add small quantities of it to a few products for its therapeutic value, while it plays center stage in our Frankincense & Goat Milk Soap. Needless to say, we’ll have to retire this soap scent from our regular product line-up in order to achieve our sustainability mission.
And while that is one of our favorite soaps ever, we just can’t with good conscience keep offering it on our website. We hope you understand and can support us as we make this big change! We will keep selling it for the time being (as we are well stocked with the oil) but expect to see it disappear in the coming three to six months.
What other products contain Frankincense? Only three, and we’ll simply reformulate these in the coming months. Expect a small, subtle shift in the scent of Muscle Magic Arnica Oil, Charcoal Facial Bar, and Eye Serum, after we replace it with an oil with similar properties from a more sustainable source.
2. Reduce EO use in many other products
In addition to phasing out these two threatened oils, we’re reevaluating our use of essential oils in our Pregnancy + Postpartum line, our Baby + Kids line, and our Everyday body care.
No, we won’t stop using EOs in our products! No way, no how.
We love good smells around us as much as you do. But we will be reducing the amount of essential oils in some of our products, in order to create a more subtle (but still aromatic and delightful) experience.
We’ve experimented with a few formulas already, and are smitten by the complex and subtle scents created with a higher dilution rate.
3. Offer more scent-free products
In the coming season, we will start offering more luxurious unscented products for hair, skin, belly, and baby.
Products like an unscented, herb-infused shampoo bar (which we’re making now, for a March release), EO-Free Baby Wipe Juice, and more delightful unscented soaps and balms–all coming later this year.
We hope you’ll join us in this embrace of the unscented side of LüSa by trying out some of these new products (as well as our existing unscented line) in the coming months.
4. Continue seeking sources for certified organic essential oils
EOs are among the only ingredients we regularly purchase non-organic. A large number of the 70 EOs we use are simply not available as a wholesale, organic oil. Others are, but at a price point that is exponentially higher than those we currently use, which would drive up the cost of each product significantly (approximately a $2 increase per tin of balm).
Since many of our essential oils are wildcrafted, they are by their very nature organic, but others are farmed.
We will continue to seek certified organic essential oils for our products, in hopes of finding stable sources for enough of our oils to transition our Pregnancy + Postpartum, and Baby + Kids lines to 100% organic in 2021. By reducing the amount of essential oils in each product (or removing them all together), we’ll be able to do this while keeping prices stable. (We’d love to hear from you if organic certification matters to you, or if all organic ingredients is enough.)
Growing up, my mom frequently told me two things:
“All things in moderation” and “The only thing constant is change.”
I think both of these gems of maternal wisdom apply here. Because we still love EOs, we’re just working on exercising some good, judicious moderation.
And that, of course, means it’s time for all of us to embrace a little change.
Thanks for standing by us while we make this shift. It means so much to have you here, cheering us along.
Rachel Jepson Wolf and the rest of the LüSa Organics Team
Have a thought to share? Comments are open on this post. We welcome your input. Truly.
LüSa Organics product and production photographs by our friends Ray + Kelly Photography. All other photographs by Rachel Jepson Wolf.