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!
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019