Used properly, essential oils can be great additions to our lives; however, before you buy an oil, before you make a blend, before you try using essential oils, it's important to learn how to use essential oils safely. Essential oils are chemicals -- nature-made chemicals. They will interact with our cells and with other chemicals we use (i.e. some essential oils interact with certain medications).
The focus of this page is to teach basic safety with essential oils. My recommendations come from studying the teachings and recommendations of a variety of world-renowned experts in the use of essential oils.
I highly recommend:
- Investing in the book Essential Oil Safety, Second Edition by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young. If you are using essential oils, planning to use them, selling them for an MLM company, or creating your own company, it's important to know exactly what you're working with. You're on this journey for a reason - you want to turn to natural substances to help you live a healthier life. This book is one of the best investments you can make because it will give you the information you need when you need it - whether or not your internet is working. It covers human anatomy and physiology, essential oil chemistry, toxicity studies, and safety data, and gives recommendations for maximum dilution rates for individual oils.
- Limiting essential oil use to inhalation &/or topical application without ingestion. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances obtained from plants through either distillation or cold press processes. These oils are found in certain aromatic plants in very small quantities. It takes a large amount of plant material to make even one drop of essential oil. For example, it takes 30 lemons to make one drop of lemon essential oil. The General Cautions from the AIA in their booklet Essential Oil Therapy state: "Do not ingest essential oils without supervision or guidance from a qualified practitioner that has had proper advanced training in aromatic medicine." (Alliance of International Aromatherapists, 2018)
- Diluting essential oils in a carrier oil before using topically. Diluting essential oils with a carrier oil may significantly reduce the chances of a reaction. Diluting also allows you to add the therapeutic properties of carrier oils and herbs. Using oils neat (undiluted) increases the risk of both contact dermatitis and of developing an allergic reaction to an oil at a later time. There are several skin-loving oils, but there are also many oils that are very harsh on the skin and can damage it on a cellular level. In addition, even though they are applied topically, used neat, some oils may have damaging effects in the body - called systemic toxicity. Systemic toxicity can affect the liver, the nervous system, unborn babies, etc. - you get the idea. Systemic toxicity will be much more difficult to detect than a skin reaction. Note: I understand that this is a highly controversial recommendation. There are even 1 or 2 EO's that may be considered safe to use neat once in a while (like Lavender). IMHO, the risk here outweighs any possible benefit. And, frankly, I've yet to experience an occasion where a diluted blend wasn't sufficient to meet my needs.
- Performing a skin test before topical application of an oil you've never used before. While allergic reactions are rare, they do occur; and if an oil has oxidized, it will irritate the skin very quickly. A skin test can limit a potential reaction to a small area that's easily washed. To perform a skin test, apply a very small amount of the diluted oil on the inside of your wrist or elbow. Wait 10 - 15 minutes to make sure you don't have a reaction. If there is no reaction, it's safe for you to use the blend. If you do have a reaction, wash the affected area with whole milk or vegetable oil, then soap and water and don't use the blend. That may sound weird, but there's science behind it: whole milk and vegetable oil are more lipid (fat) soluble than skin so they will absorb the EO molecules better and faster than your skin can. An aromatherapist RN taught me the milk trick and it's one that I've experienced first-hand. When I was first learning about and experimenting with EOs, I made several different spray-on deodorants. One morning, I grabbed the wrong bottle (one that was several months old and had oxidized) and used it. Within a minute, my armpits were fire-engine red and burning terribly! Fortunately, I knew the remedy. I went to the kitchen, got a cup of whole milk, and washed the affected skin. The reaction started to calm down within seconds. After about 5 minutes, the burning and the redness were completely gone. (I learned a lot that day - including proper disposal of old oils!)
- Certain oils should be avoided by certain groups. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, planning to become pregnant need to check oils for safety information before using them. If pregnant or breastfeeding, very few essential oils are safe and even those should be diluted to 1% or less. There are several oils that can cause miscarriage or harm an unborn baby.
- Children under the age of 2, and limit use with ages 2 - 10: Under the age of 10, children's livers can't process essential oils like adult livers can. Robet Tisserand 's dilution chart shows 0.1 - 0.2 % dilution for children up to 3 months old. That is 1 drop of essential oil to 2 ounces of carrier oil. An article by Lauren Bridges on the Tisserand website expresses the concern that "enthusiastic use of essential oils may actually inhibit normal immune system development. " The analogy here is that, just as our muscles and our brains need to be used - to exercise - it's the same with the immune system. As our immune system encounters new germs, it memorizes them and so knows how to fight them in the future. Overuse of essential oils during this important developmental period carries the potential of reducing the 'information' that the immune system learns. Andrea Butje at Aromahead Institute suggests using hydrosols or making a 1% dilution in a lotion or carrier and putting it on mom's or dad's shoulder and then holding the baby near it so the baby can inhale the aroma. Again, there are many oils (like peppermint and eucalyptus) that should not be used on or near babies faces because they can interfere with the central nervous system (CNS) and can affect their breathing. My recommendation is to use herbal remedies and/or hydrosols with young children (especially under the age of 5) if at all possible. If you're looking to purify the air, having live plants in the room/house are a great way to do that. Both Aloe Vera and Holy/Tulsi Basil plants are known for their ability to purify the air. For ages 5 - 10, use a 0.5 - 1 % dilution, and double check the oils you're using. Lavender EO is a great oil to use with kids, but eucalyptus should be avoided with children under the age of 10 because it can cause issues with their breathing and their central nervous system. (As you become more experienced with using essential oils, you'll discover that, even for adults, a 1 - 3% topical dilution is often all that's needed to give the body the support it requires.) Those with epilepsy or a seizure disorder should avoid using the following oils because they may set off seizures: Birch, Boldo, Buchu, Calamint, Feverfew, Genipi, Ho Leaf ct. camphor, Hyssop ct. pinocamphone, Lanyana, Mugwort, Pennyroyal, Rosemary, Sage, Spanish Lavender (Lavendula stoechas), Spike Lavender (Lavendula latifolia), Tansy, Thuja, Western Red Cedar, Wintergreen, Wormwood, Yarrow. If you have a blood clotting disorder, are taking blood thinners, or are having surgery, check the safety information/precautions before using an essential oil. There are some oils (like Helichrysum) that are contra-indicated in these cases because they have the potential to inhibit blood clotting. If you are taking prescribed or OTC medications, check the safety information/precautions before using any essential oil. Theoretically, some essential oils have the potential to react with certain medications. While there are few studies to prove this, the possibility exists. I recommend erring on the side of caution here. If you are receiving chemotherapy, check with your doctor before using any essential oil. Some essential oils may interact with chemotherapeutic medications.
- Phototoxic essential oils should be used with caution. These are oils that, when used 12 - 18 hours prior to going in the sun, can cause your skin to burn more strongly than it normally would. Such burning can leave permanent and visible skin damage. Bergamot and many of the citrus essential oils are phototoxic above certain dilutions.
- If you are allergic to certain plant families (i.e. you have hayfever), make sure you check the plant family of any essential oil you plan to use before you try it. If you are allergic to the plant family, the likelihood of having an allergy to the essential oil from that family increases. I strongly recommend that you perform the skin test first (and have milk handy). If you have anaphylactic reactions to certain plants, then I recommend you avoid those plant oils completely.
- Be sure to let your doctor know that you are using essential oils, and which oils you're using. This will allow you with your health care practitioner to help you make the best decisions about any treatment you receive.
These are some basic safety precautions - there will be a more thorough treatment of EO safety in the membership section of the website. Please note: The membership section is under construction, and may take me several months to publish.