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.
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!
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."