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Cary Caster On Turning Aromatherapy Into A Profitable Venture

People

Cary Caster, an aromatherapist and ethnobotanist, has founded a company that is making aromatherapy and essential oils accessible and user friendly for the masses.


Caster's field is one rarely explored in the U.S, and is far from glamorized. Aromatherapy - relaxation, healing through oils and blends and the purest of ingredients has a tendency to be perceived as a whimsical field, especially given the lack of information, until now. Caster is bringing the information, the science, the reputability, and has transformed these into an incredibly cool brand.

“People often don’t realize the rigorous scientific research that has been done on aromatherapy. We now know what scents affect which part of the mind and body and how to harness that for greater health,” says Caster, who has spent years poring over research about the correlation between the immune system and the brain, and how these oils can help the two.

Further to this Caster has looked into how these essential oils can help with sleep patterns - getting your required REM cycles in during a short or long sleep time. Below, she talks with SWAAY about her findings and how very essential these oils are in today's world and the busy U.S market.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your aromatherapy and ethnobotany - how long were you studying these disciplines?

I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Botany in 1981. Upon graduating, I worked for 3 years at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami. It was working at the garden that stimulated my desire to return to college for a master’s degree in Ethnobotany. While I began my graduate studies in conjunction with the New York Botanical Garden’s Ethnobotany program in 1984, I got married and moved back to FL, where I began raising my family. When I became pregnant with my first child 30 years ago, I began using essential oils more extensively. I quickly became addicted to learning more about these botanical wonders! In wanting to learn more about the effects of the essential oils on the body, I became a Licensed Massage Therapist in 2000, which I still maintain today. However, it was when I lived in London in 2002 that I obtained a formal yearlong Certification in Aromatherapy from the Institute of Traditional Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy, which incorporated the additional influence of the principles of Traditional 5 Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. I later continued on with both an Advanced Aromatherapy Certification from Aromahead Institute in 2008 and further obtained a Clinical Certification in France in 2009 from Essential Oil Resource Consultants. This formal education in Aromatherapy from these institutions in Europe is considered a complementary modality and recognized as a form of alternative medicine, unlike here in the United States, where Aromatherapy is not yet regulated. I resided on the board of directors for the Alliance of International Aromatherapists from 2012-2016. I also attend an Aromatherapy conference, reviewing the current research on and application of essential oils, every year since 2002. I continue to learn more about this profound growing science every day!

2. When did you decide to launch the 21 drops line?

I decided to launch 21 drops 10 years ago when I began seeing and hearing the word aromatherapy used more frequently but was truly discouraged by the quality of the products I found claiming to be “aromatherapy”. I felt and continue to feel that the public deserves to have a more pure, higher quality essential oil experience to truly understand their powerful healing properties.

Cary Caster

3. What is the science behind the drops? How long does it take to formulate the ingredients?

Each essential oil has its own unique makeup of phytochemical components. These numerous components work on different systems of the mind, body and emotional state by fitting into receptor sites in our olfactory bulb, which then trigger electrical impulses to different body parts. While we know that lavender is “relaxing”, it can take years to fully understand the chemistry of lavender’s 100+ naturally occurring components and the diverse effects these. Have on different systems of the body, as Lavender isn’t good for just one thing due to its complex chemical makeup. Depending on the condition one is trying to address, you would focus on the chemical makeup of an essential oil, but with my additional training in The 5 Element Theory of Chinese Medicine, I also look at the energetics as well, such as hot/cold, wet/dry, yin/yang, etc. I also take into consideration numerous safety concerns and contraindications that should not be taken lightly when using essential oils. I had my private massage and aromatherapy consulting practice for many years before launching 21 Drops®, so I utilized these learnings of recurring issues and solutions to create our blends.

4. Is it difficult to navigate this industry - as it's in between beauty and holistic therapy?

Aromatherapy is a relatively new category of the larger consumer product industry here in the United States and is quickly growing. However, because it does hover between beauty and wellness as a holistic therapy, many retailers don’t know exactly where these products belong. We had an experience where 21 drops® was brought in by a large national retailer, only to find our products placed in the fragrance department, where we didn’t belong. That being said, essential oil use in this country is not formally recognized as a holistic therapy, and the schools for Aromatherapy certification vary from a few days to over 360 hours for a basic certification. There’s no nationally recognized regulating body, which makes the industry a bit of a “free for all”. Also, there are huge differences in the quality of the essential oils being marketed and one isn’t going to get any great benefit from EO’s that have been synthetically altered or created, which unfortunately is more than 90% of essential oils on the market. Thus, certain oils are used more for their beautiful scent, rather than their therapeutic value. This is why 21 drops has self-imposed quality standards of 3rd party GC/MS testing of all our essential oils, which we make available per batch on our website, so there’s full transparency of the quality of our oils.

5. How do you market the drops? Are they a difficult seller?

We have found that the spa market is the best market for our products for several reasons. First of all, massage therapists working in these locations are usually more familiar with essential oils with a better understanding of product quality and sourcing. Also, we sell more of our retail product where our back-bar products are also being used in treatments because the client has the opportunity to experience the blends and the wonderful effects they create. In addition, Aromatherapy requires a bit of education since most people have heard the term but aren’t familiar with what essential oils actually are or how they work. The spa customer usually has a bit more time for learning about products instead of a mass retail setting. It’s also interesting that many store owners who buy 21 drops are more familiar with the new upcoming trends, whereas the average consumers are still a bit behind in this area and thus the products that the buyer likes aren’t always appreciated by their customers without the input of more information and knowledge.

6. What claims are you allowed to make about the effectiveness of the drops?

According to the FDA, any claim about changing the structure or function of the body is considered a “drug”. Because of this, there are very little, if any, definitive claims one can make about the effectiveness of any essential oil product without having done specific testing. That is why we can only offer language as to their suggestive effectiveness, rather than being able to state their upfront health benefits. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the use of essential oils for more extreme illnesses by people who have not been clinically certified by an approved school. By unqualified people making claims without proper training, it makes it more suspect for the essential oil therapy industry to progress as a validated modality. That being said, it exciting to learn about the amount of research confirming the effectiveness of essential oils on a clinical level. This science is quickly expanding by qualifies doctors and researchers and confirming what many who have been using essential oils have known for a very long time.

7. Did you need FDA approval before releasing the line?

As an essential oil consumer product, we hired an attorney who specializes in FDA review of packaging copy to make sure we were compliant with our verbiage so as not to mislead the public nor neglect any regulations. We did not need FDA approval because we do not make any strong claims to “cure or heal”, and purposely moderated our language so as to being suggestive about the benefits of our blends without making any definitive assertions.

8. Where do you source all your ingredients from?

We source our essential oils from Artisan distillers from all over the world. Our distillers use either sustainable or organic farming practices. The processes of distillation that these distillers use differ in that they use lower temperatures for a longer period of time to extract the most complete essential oils for their therapeutic components. As an example, our Ylang Ylang EO comes from Madagascar, our Rosemary EO comes from Tunisia, our Myrrh and Frankincense EO come from So Africa and our Lavender comes from France, our Sandalwood comes from Australia, while our Cedarwood comes from the USA.

9. Are you self-funded? Tell us a little about the investment process for a brand like 21-Drops.

21 drops® is a self-funded company and like most young brands, all of the profits go right back into the business for sales and marketing to develop brand awareness and growth. As a Clinical Aromatherapist, I had little business background in consumer goods and thus had to rely on other experts who I felt knew the industry better than I did, yet that didn’t always translate to successes and we have had an interesting but not unusual journey.

10. Why are essential oils becoming increasingly relevant in today's market?

Essential Oils are becoming relevant in today’s market because a good quality essential oil has the ability to work incredibly well at addressing a multitude of issues and concerns. A very important factor to consider is the science of olfaction and how this relatively young science is beginning to show promise in the holistic approach to the way we think and feel. I am particularly fascinated with psychoneuroimmunology and how our thoughts can affect the way we are feeling. I think essential oils fill a huge gap by offering a more holistic approach by helping us to feel better emotionally, which in turn, helps our entire physiology function more optimally.

11. Is there anything you would have done differently - looking back on the business journey so far?

Looking back, I have numerous things I would have done differently! First and foremost, I would have started with fewer blend options, because it’s now proven that people become overwhelmed with too many choices. Many times, I would have customers walk up and say, “I need all of these blends!” and then continue to walk away without purchasing any of them! I also would have hired a consulting CEO a lot sooner, had I realized the vastness of the business options and avenues of where one can easily spend too much money, trying to get a company off the ground. Otherwise, I must say it’s been and continues to be an amazing journey, with new learnings along the way every day! I’m most excited for the next chapter!

​4 Min Read
Business

Please Don't Put Yourself On Mute

During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.


When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)

This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.

By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.

But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.

I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.

If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?

At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)

At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.

They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.

  • Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
  • Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
  • Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
  • Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
  • Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.

It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.

So please don't put yourself on mute.

Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.

But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.