Essential Oil Safety
Essential oils are very concentrated substances. One
drop can be powerful enough to relieve an itchy bug bite, soothe a burn,
or stop a cold in its tracks. It is natural to assume that because
essential oils originate from plant sources they are without risk, but
this is not always the case. Essential oils have the potential to cause
minor reactions, such as skin irritation, or more serious consequences
like respiratory failure and cancer, when not used appropriately. Some
of the major areas of concern include, “overdose, neurotoxins, inhaled
allergens, adverse skin reactions, and carcinogens.
Even essential oils with strong safety concerns can be used safely if properly diluted. Knowing how to dilute properly will help us use essential oils safely.
Concentrated substances are rarely intended for use “as is” – and essential oils are no different. There is almost never a time when you would not want to dilute the potency of an essential oil. Diluting essential oils is done by adding a drop (or more) of the essential oil into a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil (more on carrier oils next). This not only provides a good medium for the oil to absorb into the skin, but spreads the oil over a larger surface of your skin for more effect.
Bottom Line: Exercise caution and do your research before using essential oils on the skin, even undiluted.
Photosensitivity of Certain Oils
Always include a caution on my recipes that include citrus oils that they may make the skin more sensitive to the sun. These oils have certain constituents that can make the skin more sensitive to UV light and can lead to blistering, discoloration of the skin or burning more easily from minor sun exposure.
Though the risk of photosensitivity or phototoxicity varies based on the way the oil was distilled, oils generally considered photosensitive are: orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot.
Internal Use of Essential Oils
This will be a controversial point, but many essential oils are not safe for internal use and others should be used with extreme caution. Since essential oils are the equivalent of 10-50 cups of herbal tea (depending on the herb) or 20x the recommended dose of an herbal tincture of the same herb, they should only be taken internally in situations where they are absolutely needed and with extreme care (and under the guidance of a trained professional).
Here’s the thing- essential oils are extremely potent plant compounds that can have a very dramatic effect on the body. Many online sources tout their “antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal” properties. You know what is teeming with many types of bacteria?
Research is emerging constantly about our extremely diverse gut microbiomes, but we do not fully understand them yet. We do know that gut health drastically affects other aspects of health and that imbalances in the gut can cause problems in the skin, brain and other parts of the body. The effects of essential oils on gut bacteria have not been well studied yet and the very real antibacterial properties of essential oils may kill many types of bacteria in the gut (including beneficial and necessary bacteria).
In fact, the studies conducted about the antibacterial properties of essential oils compare them to antibiotics and suggest that they may be an effective alternative to antibiotics (here’s one study).
Antibiotics can be life-saving and necessary in some cases (they saved my husband’s life several years ago) but they should not be used regularly, preventatively or without the oversight of a medical professional. If essential oils can act in the same way as antibiotics, we should exercise the same caution in using them internally.
In most cases, some of the same benefits of an essential oil (taken internally) can be obtained by using the herb itself (fresh or dried) or a tea or tincture of that herb.
Many essential oils are considered “GRAS” or Generally Recognized as
Safe for food and cosmetic use. However, most essential oils have not
been studied, especially in concentrated internal amounts. Things like
vinegar, salt and baking soda also are given this status, but that
doesn’t mean they should be consumed regularly or in large amounts.
Always do your research first!
Essential Oils During Pregnancy or Nursing
Essential oils can affect hormones, gut bacteria and other aspects of health and extreme care should be used when taking them while pregnant or nursing.
There is evidence that essential oils can cross the placenta and get to the baby. The effects of essential oils can be compounded in utero and extreme care should be taken with essential oil use during pregnancy. Again, I’m not saying they should not be used during pregnancy, but that extreme care should be taken and research done first.
I personally would not take any essential oil internally during pregnancy (or even while nursing). At these times, I stick to aromatherapy and very diluted use of approved essential oils in skin care recipes and baths. I also always re-test an oil in a diluted skin test before using it during pregnancy.
Many oils are considered safe during pregnancy, especially after the first trimester (depending on the source), but again, I’d check with a professional and use caution with any herbs used during pregnancy. Even oils that are considered safe may be harmful to certain women and there is some speculation that the actions of some oils on hormones can cause dangerous hormone imbalances during pregnancy.
Oils Considered NOT Safe During Pregnancy- Aniseed, Angelica, Basil, Black pepper, Camphor, Cinnamon,
Chamomile, Clary Sage (often used during labor by midwives safely),
clove, fennel, fir, ginger, horseradish (should not be used by anyone),
Jasmine, Juniper, Marjoram, Mustard, Mugwart (should not be used by
anyone), Myrrh, Nutmeg, Oregano, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme,
I would personally recommend checking with a doctor or midwife before taking an essential oils during pregnancy.
Peppermint essential oil may decrease milk supply while nursing, and as such, I avoid it topically while nursing.
Use on Babies and Children
This is one of the things that concerns me the most with a lot of the essential oil recommendations I see online. In my opinion, essential oils should never be given internally to children or used undiluted on the skin. They should be diluted more than they are for adult application and care should be taken with any essential oils considered “hot” as they may cause damage to the skin.
In general, oils like lavender, chamomile, orange, lemon and frankincense are considered safe for diluted use on children, but I would personally still do a skin test and check with a doctor first.
Some oils have caused seizures in children and extreme caution should be used (this article from a naturopathic pediatrician explains more and gives some case studies– since people have commented, I want to mention that I do think her post is overly alarmist but she makes some good points as well). To clarify- these seizure reactions were rare and most were in people who were predisposed to seizures, but this still isn’t a risk I would take with small children.
Others, like peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus and wintergreen should not be used around young children or babies. These herbs contain menthol and 1,8-cineole. These compounds can slow breathing (or even stop it completely) in very young children or those with respiratory problems. Of course, they should never be used internally or undiluted on the skin for children, but these particular oils warrant caution even for aromatic use. I would not personally ever use these oils on or around babies for this reason.
This article from the University of Minnesota cautions about the use of peppermint and similar oils in children under six, because: “Menthol-one of the major chemicals in peppermint oil-has caused breathing to stop in young children, and has caused severe jaundice in babies with G6PD deficiency (a common genetic enzyme deficiency) (Price & Price, 1999).”
Since the effects of essential oils are more concentrated on children, it is prudent to exercise extra caution when using essential oils on them. Personally, I stick to using safe essential oils in a diffuser or in very diluted amounts in beauty and cleaning products.
Essential Oils in Plastics
Another thing that is not often mentioned is that essential oils should never be stored in plastic containers, especially in concentrated forms. Many essential oils can eat through plastics when undiluted, and even when diluted, they can degrade plastics over time.
I make homemade cleaners with essential oils in glass bottles for this reason (even though they are very diluted) and store homemade beauty products in glass whenever possible.
This caution also extends to other surfaces in the house, which I found out the hard way. A bottle of wild orange oil was left on a piece of homemade furniture in our house and when I picked it up the next day, it had stuck to the piece, pulling off the finish and stain when I picked it up. Apparently, there was a little bit of the oil still on the bottom of the bottle (likely from my hand when pouring it). Be extremely careful about leaving any oils, especially citrus oils, on wood or other stained surfaces.
The Good News
Though there are a lot of warnings about safe use of essential oils, they are wonderful natural remedies when used correctly. I hope that this post doesn’t discourage anyone from using essential oils, but rather encourages proper research and safety first.
I use essential oils in daily, but just make sure that I research each oil and its proper use first. It can also be really helpful to find a trained aromatherapist, herbalist or naturopathic doctor to ask specific questions about essential oils. It is also important to make sure any essential oils you use are organic and very high quality.
Safe Ways to Use Essential Oils:
At the end of the day, essential oils can be a great and safe natural remedy, if used safely. The main ways I use essential oils are:
Candles - I carefully measure the oils that go into my candles.
Aromatically– in a diffuserTopically– Diluted in homemade lotion, toothpaste, lotion bars, body butter and other homemade recipes.
I reserve undiluted skin use and internal use for times of real need when the benefits outweigh the risk and I avoid using essential oils in this way on babies/children or when I am pregnant.
Sources & More Reading:
Bensouilah J, and Buck P. Aromadermatology. Abindon, UK: Radcliffe Publishing Ltd.
Tisserand, R., and Balacs, T. (1995). Essential Oil Safety. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
Biological activities of Lavender essential oil
Essential oils as a cause of breakthrough seizure after temporal lobectomy
Epileptic seizure induced by fennel essential oil.
Biological effects of essential oils – A review
Tiger Balm as a treatment of tension headache. A clinical trial in general practice.
Acute and subacute toxicity study of 1,8-cineole in mice
Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts
Diluting Essential Oils
How much to dilute really depends on the issue you are wanting to address. Here is a handy guide for diluting essential oils:
.25% Dilution (1 drop per 4 teaspoons of carrier oil) – for children between 6 months and 6 years. Please only use if you absolutely must. I personally prefer to avoid EOs altogether for children under 2, and use hydrosols and/or herbs instead. If your child is sick, you may increase up to .50% if needed.
1% dilution (1 drop per teaspoon of carrier oil; 5-6 drops per ounce) – for children over age 6, pregnant women, elderly adults, those with sensitive skin, compromised immune systems, or other serious health issues. This is also the dilution you want when you are massaging over a large area of the body.
2% dilution (2 drops per teaspoon of carrier oil; 10-12 drops per ounce) – ideal for most adults and in most situations. This is also a good dilution for daily skin care.
3% dilution (3 drops per teaspoon of carrier oil; 15-18 drops per ounce) – best used short-term for a temporary health issue, such as a muscle injury or respiratory congestion. Up to 10% dilution is fine, depending on the health concern, the age of the person, and the oils being used.
25% dilution (25 drops per teaspoon of carrier oil; 125-150 drops per ounce) – occasionally a dilution of this strength is warranted. This might be for a muscle cramp, bad bruising, or severe pain.
Using oils “neat” (undiluted) – Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be used neat, on occasion, and only for short-term use. A bug bite, burn, or sting, might be a good reason to use Lavender neat. Just use caution when using undiluted, as some individuals can experience irritation or sensitivity when essential oils are used neat.
100 drops = 1 tsp = 5ml = 1/6 ounce
200 drops = 2 tsp = 10ml = 1/3 ounce
300 drops = 3 tsp = 15ml = 1/2 ounce
400 drops = 4 tsp = 20ml = 2/3 ounce
500 drops = 5 tsp = 25ml = 5/6 ounce
600 drops = 6 tsp = 30ml = 1 ounce
All of my candles are 100% Soy Wax, my Aromatherapy Candles are only scented with Pure Essential Oils
Aesthetic Candles founded in 2011
Our Mission is to create, and sell premium-quality 100% pure soy candles. They are hand poured in Port Richey, Florida. Our candles are created from organic soy candles. We use high quality fragrance oils and pure essential oils. We are careful to us Phthalate-Free fragrances (Hormone-disrupting chemicals). We use cotton wicks. (Burning candles with lead-cored wicks is now known to cause lead poisoning, and there are concerns about zinc-cored wicks as well.)
Dedicated to honoring my Partner in Business and in Life,
Taken from me during the night, June 19, 2015.
.Burn times? This and more http://www.aesthetic-candles.com/burn-times-and-more
Always keep a burning candle within sight. Extinguish all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire. Keep burning candles away from furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, flammable decorations, etc.
Our candles are available in multiple forms. On line, we post just the 8 ounce Mason Jar and votive candles. All of our scents are also available as tarts, mini cubes.