Everyone needs it, especially in our frenetic, often toxic world. We believe that the shower should be such a place of sanctuary and renewal of body, mind and spirit. This is why we created ESSIO Aromatherapy for the Shower.

A lot of other people claim aromatherapy benefits for their products, “aromatherapy” shower gels, for instance. The trouble is, these products do not contain the precious essential oils which define aromatherapy. What’s more, the cheap synthetic fillers in these products may actually irritate your skin, as well as cause other health issues with repeated use.

What is Aromatherapy?

So what is aromatherapy in the true, most literal sense? First let’s take a look at the definition of aromatherapy from the medical dictionary:aromatherapy quote

There are several similar definitions, and they all include the use of essential oils.  This is because the properties of essential oils are specific and unique and cannot be replicated with synthetic additives.

By contrast, mass-market, drugstore brand aromatherapy shower gels generally contain several chemicals which are of dubious value, and are detrimental to your health. Consider the ingredients listed below from a shower gel product sold by a large U.S. retailer:

shower gel strawberry

The ingredients are listed in order of their weight percentage. So, the most prevalent ingredient is water, which is followed by Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), an industrial chemical, which is manufactured from coconut oil. But don’t be mistaken, in its final form SLES is far remote from its botanical origin. The product is manufactured by reacting Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) with Ethylene Oxide. To make SLS, coconut oil is subjected to several industrial process steps including sulfonation, hydroxylation, and hydrogenation (also used by the processed food industry to convert unsaturated fats into saturated fats, which are known to cause heart disease). SLES and its precursor SLS are key ingredients in industrial cleaners, such as engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps (Yuck!). According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, prolonged skin contact may cause allergic contact dermatitis and prolonged inhalation may cause asthma. While there is no evidence that pure SLES may cause cancer, the product is often contaminated by ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, both of which are known to be human carcinogens. Worse news:  SLES is not even the most toxic chemical present in commercial aromatherapy shower gels.

More reasons to read the label closely…cocamide dea

Cocamide DEA, or cocamide diethanolamine, is a diethanolamide made by reacting fatty acids in coconut oils with diethanolamine. It is a viscous liquid and is used as a foaming agent in bath products like shampoos and hand soaps, and in cosmetics as an emulsifying agent. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists coconut oil diethanolamine condensate (cocamide DEA) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen, which identifies this chemical as possibly carcinogenic to humans. In June 2012, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added Cocamide DEA to the California Proposition 65 (1986) list of chemicals known to cause cancer. In addition, Cocamide DEA is also a skin irritant that may cause contact dermatitis and is readily absorbed through the skin.

Phenoxyethanol is a bacteriocide that is used as a replacement for parabens.  It was originally considered safe, but the MSDS now lists it as toxic to the kidneys, nervous system, and liver, and hazardous in case of skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion.

Buyer Beware.

Notice that the product we’ve used as an example does not contain any essential oils. This is typical of mass-marketed bath products, skin care products, candles and more which claim to be a part of the aromatherapy practice. The product we’ve singled out does, however, contain fragrances and strawberry juice. Fragrances or fragrance oils can be either natural (essential oils) or synthetic. If the fragrance listed in the above ingredients contained essential oils, most likely the manufacturer would have specified them separately.  Synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals and are much less expensive than essential oils. They can be harmful. A study published in 2005 confirmed the presence of phthalates in 36 well known perfumes. Phthalates are known estrogen and testosterone hormone disrupters and they affect DNA and lung function, but they fly under the radar, especially in products which target aromatherapy fans and consumers seeking products to support holistic wellness.


Fragaria Vesca (Strawberry) Juice is a natural, water-based product, which is not an essential oil, and therefore, though it smells nice, does not deliver the benefits of true aromatherapy. Finally, the list of ingredients shows the presence of two dyes, Red 33 and Red 4. They are undoubtedly included to make the product look red like strawberries. As far as we know, they are both harmless in low concentration, but they do not contribute any benefits to you the consumer. In fact, the yummy strawberry fragrance and fruity color probably inspires many well-meaning parents to purchase this product for their kids.

It’s Not Easy Being Green.KermitTheFrog-CutePhoto

Despite the widespread and frequent exposure to fragrance chemicals in thousands of products, there is minimal government monitoring and regulation on their safety. The FDA does not require the manufacturers of fragrances to disclose the ingredients of synthetic fragrances, because these formulas are regarded as “proprietary”.

There is something chillingly predatory about manufacturers targeting the conscious consumer’s desire to be healthy, then placing the consumer in harm’s way through deceptive claims and packaging. It should be a crime, but because of arcane requirements and inconsistent regulations, this masquerade is as close as your drugstore and supermarket. It waits for you in countless incarnations on the shelves of the hair care, skin care, bath and body products aisles. Kermit the Frog croaked it years ago: it’s not easy being green. And it’s not easy separating claims from results. Choosing well takes attention, work, and effort. But to echo the tagline of one of the world’s leading manufacturers: you’re worth it.

Our advice: read the label before you buy it– and before you steam it up, slather it on your moist skin and start inhaling its fumes.