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It seems that everywhere you turn nowadays people are talking about and using essential oils. It really is no surprise because essential oils hold so many therapeutic properties; while others are so beautifully scented. Between social media, Google, Pinterest, and the rest of the internet, discovering the uses and benefits of essentials oils seem endless! While it is a wonderful thing to know that so many individuals are turning to more holistic approaches for their health and wellness, there are many things they aren’t telling you about essential oils and utilizing them in your life.
What you need to know about using essential oils
While the idea that “essential oils are natural and safe to use” is thrown around alot, it isn’t true for every person. Just as each individual is unique, so is every essential oil. Oils are made up of a variety of natural chemical constituents that enable each to have the therapeutic properties that they do. Many times, these chemical make-ups can be safe for most individuals to use. However, there are certain health conditions and individual situations that raise safety concerns when using certain oils.
For example, Eucalyptus is a popular essential oil to use for congestion and respiratory concerns due to the high percentage of the active constituent 1,8 cineole. However, it is not advised for individuals who have a history of epilepsy, hypertension, gastrointestinal inflammation, and liver issues to use Eucalyptus essential oil (1).
Another caution when using essential oils is if the individual is taking prescription medications. Some oils are contraidicated with certain medications; and Eucalyptus is another example of this based on some studies conducted on rats. This oil has shown to increase the liver metabolism of certain medications, making them less effective.
While there are some essential oils that present little to no safety concerns, there are some that, with certain individuals, can pose dangerous risks. Robert Tisserand’s book Essential Oil Safety is a wonderful reference to avoid using contraindicated oils and ensure safe usage. It is also a reference for many of the topics below.
There is also a lot of information floating around about what ratio of oils : carrier oil to use. Many times, advocates will even advise that essential oils may be used neat (without a carrier oil). The fact of the matter is that this opens an individual up to irritation or sensitivity and should be avoided. Since essential oils are highly concentrated, the “less is more” method of use fits well. It is always best to begin with a lower dilution percentage and work up to a ratio that is effective.
Robert Tisserand’s, an expert in Aromatherapy, guidelines on safe & effective dilution rations can be viewed below.
Proper dilution is not the only thing to take into consideration for safe topical use. Some essential oils have dermal limits. Take Peppermint for example. It has a dermal limit of 2% for adults. This is because of the high amount of the active constituent Menthol and the potential for skin irritation and sensitivity occuring (1). Keep in mind that when using oils on children the dilution ratio needs to be decreased. Depending on the age, as low as .25% may be the appropriate percentage for use.
To avoid the body developing a sensitivity, essential oils should be rotated. This is especially true with certain oils as longer, consistent use may cause a reaction or higher chance of sensitivity. Again, this can be seen with Peppermint essential oil as it should be used for no more than 3 consecutive weeks without a break (1).
There are some oils that interact with sunlight. Phototoxicity can cause burning, irritation, rash-like symptoms, and even skin discoloration. This is true for the majority of citrus oils. Citrus oils are gathers by means of cold pressing/ expressing the rinds to extract the essential oil. In this extraction process, oils, such as Bergamot Citrus Bergamia contain an active constituent that can cause phototoxicity.
To avoid phototoxicity, an individual should be aware of which oils shouldn’t be, when used topically, exposed to sunlight for 12 hours. The most simple way to determine this is to check the contraindications or avoid exposing all citrus oil topical use to UV light. Another way to ensure safety is to use citrus oils that are steam distilled (instead of cold pressed) topically.
What is safe for your use may not be safe for you children. It is as simple as that! Since essential oils are extremely concentrated, safety must be taken into consideration even more strongly when it comes to children. The younger the child, the more sensitive their skin is and the more likely they are to have an adverse reaction that they are unable to recover from. Oils that are considered “hot” or have more potent chemical makeups such as menthol, 1,8 cineole, phenols, or certain other active constituents come with age limits (2).
This is also true with elderly individuals whose skin may be more sensitive.
During pregnancy, extra caustion should be taken when considering the use of essential oils. When used, especially topically, oils enter the bloodstream and can be transmitted to the fetus via the placenta which poses the risk for toxicity. Again, discussing the natural chemical makeup of oils, some active constituents should be avoided during pregnancy. Some active constituents are known to cause the tightening of muscles which may induce contractions while others are known to have emmenagogue properties which may induce the onset of mentrual flow and lead to complications (2).
While there have been no reports of the use of essential oils causing abnormalities or abortions, it is best to err on the side of caution and follow the recomentations and safety precautions of using oils during pregnancy. It is also beneficial to consult an aromatherapist who is educated in pregancy and aromatherapy.
Have you ever heard the saying “just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be”? Many essential oils are deemed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA for internal use. There are also numerous wellness advocates who promote taking oils daily for “better health”. While an individual can take certain oils internally, there are extra precautions that should be taken and additional questions that should be asked before ingesting them.
- Why are you taking this oil internally?
- Have you checked the internal usage guidelines?
- Have you consulted with an educated aromatherapist?
- How will you be taking this oil internally?
Essential oils hold no nutritional value! They will not boost immunity. Internal usage probably will not prevent aches and pains. Nor will they aid in your overall wellness by taking them daily. Remember when we discussed how concentrated oils are and how strong some active constituents are? This should be addressed for internal usage.
Under the supervision of an aromatherapit educated in internal use, essential oils taken orally may assist in health concerns such as food poisoning, intestinal parasites, urinary tract infections, and things of this matter. The should only be taken for a certain duration of time as well and at a specific dosage. An example of this would be oregano. Oregano essential oil may be taken internally for specific concerns. However, it is recommended to take 1 drop twice a day. This is extremely different that taking 2 drops once a day! Taking too much of an oil can cause toxicity and sickness in the body and may cause the liver to work harder to filter the oil (1).
Lastly, many influencers and advocates promote adding essential oils to water as a method of ingestion or simply to “add flavor to water”. This is an extremely dangerous way to ingest oils! Oils and water Do Not mix. By adding and essential oil to water and drinking it will cause the oil to attach to your throat more easily. This may cause irritaion and burning (1).
Pets & Essential Oils:
With holistic modalities gaining popularity, many individuals are asking how they can incorporate aromatherapy into their pet’s lives. While some animals may benefit from certain essential oils, more caution needs to be taken with other animals, such as cats. The metabolic system of cats is incapable of breaking down the chemical components of essential oils. Due to this, it is advised to avoid aromatherapy on and around cats altogether. If the desire to use aromatherapy with animals arises, one should seek out the advice of an aromatherapist trained in animal aromatherapy as well as the guidelines of their veteranarian to ensure the safety of the pet. (3).
In order to produce a small amount of an essential oil a large amount of plant material is required. It is important to use your essential oils in a way that reduces waste and promotes sustainability of the plant material needed to create oils. This includes using essential oils for their therapeutic properties and avoiding the use of them purely for aromatic scent. Also, ensuring that the company you purchase from takes measures to conserve and replenish the native environment in which the plant species grow.
For example, Sandalwood Santalum album is considered critically endangered in some areas around the world. Where as Juniper Juniperus communis is considered critically endangered in Morocco and endangered in Albania & Belgium. Information on the list of threatened speacies can be found at the IUCN website (4).
What Oils Don’t Do:
Have you ever heard: “There’s an oil for that”? It is a phrase that circulates quite often. A clever marketing slogan wellness advocates use to promote the use of essential oils. While this saying does hold some truth, it is not 100% correct. Aromatherapy is a highly beneficial holistic modality that supports health and wellness. At the same time, aromatherapy is not a ‘cure-all’.
There are times where modern medicine is crucial. While essential oils may support the body and soothe symptoms of, let’s say, the flu such as calming a cough, reducing aches & pains, or relieving nausea, they are not an alternative to seeking proper medical treatment for severe symptoms or the actual flu. Individuals need to remember that aromatherapy is best used as an integrative medicine rather than an alternative medicine.
Remember, you know yourself best!
Finding a Reputable Company:
Purchasing quality essential oils doesn’t have to cost you a ridicluous amount of money. A reputable company will have valuable customer service with representatives who answer questions and take time to engage with their customers. Their prices will be fair; not outrageous, asking you to join a membership to gain ‘wholesale’ prices, nor will their prices be too low where it feels too good to be true.
Another way to ensure the company you choose is reputable is to scroll through their “blog”. What type of information is this company giving out? How are the advising their customers to use their oils? This can also be done by examining their social media accounts.
It is also important to look at how transparent the company is. All reputable companies will conduct third party testing on their essential oils and provide information, such as the GC/MS test results. This is important to ensure that the company is selling non-adultered essential oils.
What Should I Do First?
Before the use of any new essential oil, even a blend that contains a new oil, a Skin Patch Test should be conducted on the inner crook of the arm. This will warn of any irritation or sensitivity that may occur.
If irritation or sensitivity does occur, water should never be used to rinse as this may irritate the area even more. Remember, water and oils do not mix. Instead, any vegetable oil or milk should be used to gently wipe away the oil. This would occur if the dilution is too high, in which the blend should be reformulated at a lower dosage, or your body has a reaction to one or more of the active consitutents and the blend/oil should be avoided.
In Your Holistic Journey…
Remember that you are not alone. It is always best to reach out to qualified, well-educated individuals who can guide you on your journey, recommend quality products, and inform you of proper safety and usage.
1- Peterson, Dorene. (2018). Aromatherapy Materia Medica. American College of Healthcare Sciences. Portland, OR
2- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapists. (N.D.). Safety Information. Retrieved from: https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety
3- Azzaro, Kelly. (2013). Animal Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Sadfety. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapists. Retrieved from: https://naha.org/assets/uploads/Animal_Aromatherapy_Safety_NAHA.pdf
4- Aroma Web. (N.D.). Guide to Essential Oils and Sustainability. Retrieved from: https://www.aromaweb.com/articles/essential-oil-sustainability.asp