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!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.