How to Use Essential Oils Safely
Lately, it appears that essential oils are all the "rage" with a few companies’ representatives declaring theirs to be the only ones safe for topical/neat application and even safe for ingestion. What is even scarier, is that many of these companies have even more representatives that promote all of the essential oils to be safe in any application for any person.
Unfortunately, many representatives have not had any formal training in aromatherapy at all and are only citing what they have heard from their sales person or “up line.” Untrained individuals selling oils without formal or in depth training can be dangerous.
Why? The answer is simple. Not all essential oils, even in their purest forms, are safe for topical/neat use, much less digestion. Nor should they be used on every person, child, or infant. Even Robert Tisserand makes this comment regarding essential oil usage, “the most responsible course of action for those, such as ourselves, who have information about known, or suspected toxicity, is to make it public. Both those who sell, and those who use essential oils, will then be in a better position to make informed decisions about which oils are safe to use, and in which circumstances.” With that being stated, there are many ways that essential oils can be used safely.
To fully understand the importance of using essential oils safely, it is even more important to understand what they are as well as what aromatherapy is. Aromatherapy can be described as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind, and spirit. It seeks to unify physiological, psychological, and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s natural healing process.
Essential oils are highly concentrated hydrophobic liquids containing aroma compounds from plants. To understand just how concentrated a pure essential oil is, think about the sensations you feel from drinking a peppermint tea. It is stimulating, cooling, and at times can feel very good for sinuses that are slightly inflamed. Peppermint essential oil has those same properties magnified 1,000 times. It takes approximately one pound of peppermint leaves to produce about 120 drops of peppermint essential oil and only a couple leaves to make peppermint tea.
That is a whole lot of peppermint leaves to make such a small amount of oil! Just think, if you can get all those properties in your tea from a couple leaves, image what one drop of peppermint essential oil can do! With this in mind, it is easy to see why caution should be utilized when using essential oils regardless of how pure they are or what the researched and proven benefits of oils are.
Essential oils can contain just over 500 different naturally occurring chemical constituents. Through scientific research, these chemical constituents have proven therapeutic properties. Historic documented use of essential oils reflects what the ancient healers knew to be true about the plants and their essential oils before modern day research was available. (A small mental note for you to keep in the back of your mind throughout this, is that not every chemical constituent has been studied enough to know their complete effects.) Because of what we do know, many oils can be classified into chemical families such as monoterpenes, monoterpenols, sesquiterpenes, esters, aldehydes, phenols, ketones, sesquiterpenols, ethers, and oxides. Knowing an essential oil’s chemical family, can help an aromatherapist to determine how best to utilize an essential oil safely with maximum benefits.
Formal aromatherapy training doesn’t give anyone a license to practice medicine, although it provides in depth knowledge of essential oils. For example, not all essential oils are safe for topical use at high dilutions or neat. In fact, certain essential oils that have high percentages of aldehydes that are very skin irritating.
Don't get me wrong they have some amazing benefits and are truly wonderful oils when used in a safe and respectable manner! Unfortunately, not every individual selling essential oils has knowledge of this information or has gained enough training to know this.
In fact, someone recently had a reaction due to an untrained individual giving them advice from an essential oil class they attended. In her class, like many others, she was told she would be able to use the oils from that company without any dilution necessary from a new representative for a specific company. Once she got her oils, she started using them "neat" as she remembered she was told she could. She said, "I used to XYZ Blend straight. I was not told to use a carrier oil and even the catalog says apply directly. I contacted the consultant to let her know that I had an initial reaction on my face..."
She then had another reaction after using a different essential oil from the same company shown in the photo below. Again, the essential oil was applied without dilution.
"This was the second breakout and much worse. She told me to put various other oils on it and that my body was detoxing." The individual's concern after her second reaction then became safety. Any trained aromatherapist will tell you that not every essential oil is safe for topical application when the oil is undiluted.
In fact, even those that are generally known to be skin safe are not recommended for neat application over a prolonged period of time. She also had this to say, "My problem is that that advice could have killed me. Anyone with training knows that an allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis. She is certainly not qualified to distinguish between allergic reaction and detoxing."
The reaction that was discussed here could have been avoided all together, had the representative had any real training. Unfortunately, they did not and the end result was a serious injury to someone trusting. I cannot stress how important it is to speak with someone who is trained or qualified when it comes to using the oils for this reason.
There are a number of injury reports filed each year from unsafe essential oil usage. Why? The reason this happens is because of the lack of formal training that many individuals need when selling essential oils, and ingestion is on that list. While essential oils can be ingested, it certainly does not mean they should be without the careful instruction of medical professional who is properly trained in aromatherapy medicine.
It is common to see representatives of several essential oil companies telling others (on social media platforms) about ingestion, how they do it, how it makes them feel, etc. There are often public Facebook events where improperly trained representatives teach online classes about essential oils.
With so many enthusiastic individuals wanting to share their passion for essential oils through promoting a product of their company and so much information available that may not be completely accurate, there lies many safety concerns. A few concerns are level of training and where are they getting information from in order to teach classes?
For example, I recently saw an individual saying this in a class they were teaching, "Third way to use essential oils is ingestion. Many 'Company B' Oils can be used internally, either by adding a drop or two to a glass of water or by putting the oil in a veggie capsule that can be purchased through 'Company B.'"
The concern that is raised here is that of one for public safety. Do not assume that ingestion cannot be used safely, as it can. However, it should be reserved for very rare cases and under the supervision of a medical professional that has training in advanced aromatherapy.
In 1995 there was a study performed to determine the frequency of essential oil ingestion among children with 251 children cited as taking essential oils. Take a look at the title: "Unintentional exposure of young children to camphor and eucalyptus oils." Can you imagine the damage that an infant can sustain from essential oils with improper use?
Use of essential oils on children under two years old is not practiced or promoted by aromatherapists. As of February 2010, the AIA has had a statement in regards to ingestion. "AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level.
An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route…" If a large, well known, and well trusted group of trained professionals within the industry would say this, it raises the concern for proper education in regards to the safe use of essential oils from any individual.
So how can essential oils be used safely? There are several safe ways to enjoy the natural benefits of essential oils. Some of these methods include diffusing, steam inhalation, topical application, and on the rare occasion, using a medically trained professional with advanced aromatherapy training, ingestion. Because of the level of safety concerns with oral dosing, for the purpose of this paper, it will not be discussed any further.
The safest way to use essential oils is through diffusing. In diffusing the essential oils, you are still getting the therapeutic benefits from them and in smaller safer doses. Many diffusers that are atomizing require just a few drops for general dispersal. The general guide for diffusing is to run your diffuser for about thirty to sixty minutes.
This amount of time is sufficient for safely using your diffuser. For young children over 2 years of age, diffuse for about 30 minutes and then turn the diffuser off for a while. Again, make sure you know what oils are safe for you to have in your diffuser as well as for young children. High concentrations of essential oils in the air do not mean you are getting more benefits. It is the same principle in regards to the length of time you diffuse. Remember, essential oils are highly concentrated, so less is always more with essential oils.
Another method is through topical application. No matter what the intended use for any essential oil, the safest way to use them topically if you feel inclined to do so on your own is through proper dilution. Robert Tisserand in general says this about topical application of essential oils, "Essential oil dilution is important for two safety reasons. One, to avoid skin reactions: irritation, sensitization and photo toxicity. Two, to avoid systemic toxicity, such as fetotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, carcinogenicity and neurotoxicity.
Adverse skin reactions are obvious when they happen, but systemic toxicities may not be." With this in mind, young children should not be introduced so eagerly to essential oils. I have been told several times by many individuals that they were told a certain company's oils were safe to put directly onto children's skin. Even more concerning is that they were told they were "safe for infants."
One individual told me that they put an essential oil on their child's skin undiluted several different times and each time their child would say "owwww!" It took that many times for the individual to then question the oil and what they were told. They then tried it on themselves and found they had a similar reaction. The child recognizing that something didn't feel good was an easy to notice indicator.
Should you or a friend want to use oils topically, please do your research first, ask a qualified aromatherapist, but never assume a skin irritation is your body's way of "detoxing." Some skin reactions occur from pure essential oils because they are high in specific chemical components that are known to cause skin irritations.
An example of one of these chemical components is bergapten found in the citrus oils that is known to be phototoxic. Other skin reactions can occur from prolonged use of even skin safe essential oils that are applied neat also known as sensitization.
It is important to note that once skin sensitization occurs, an individual can no longer use that essential oil again without risking further reactions that can include anaphylactic reactions. The chart below has detailed information with safe dilution ratios. Keep in mind, pure essential oils can be very potent and a little can go a long way.
For example, the highest dilution rate I would use as a professionally trained aromatherapist is 3% for acute purposes (pain, inflammation, etc.). For daily care, I recommend .5% to 1% dilution because you can still get the same therapeutic benefits of the essential oils you are using topically without over exposing yourself and risking sensitization.
Very rarely would I recommend for “neat” application of any essential oil. If I were to ever recommend neat application, it would only be using a drop or two in a first aid situation with only a very small number of essential oils that have been proven to be skin safe for short term neat application. Again, using topical applications of essential oils, you should always, dilute, dilute, dilute! It does not matter how pure the essential oils are or if you can prove GC/MS testing!
A higher method of concentration via inhalation that can be utilized is steam inhalation. In this application, only 1-2 drops are utilized in a steaming bowl of hot water. The individual should then close their eyes and lean over the bowl while covering their head with a towel for a few minutes at a time.
Steam inhalation is primarily used for respiratory, sinus, and cold concerns using essential oils that are often obtained from the leaves, stems, and needles of plant life. This method allows for the essential oils to permeate the respiratory tract, sinuses, and other sensitive mucous membranes within the body.
Since this method introduces a higher dosage of essential oils into the respiratory system, it may not be safe for children. There are also other personal factors to consider when attempting this method. For example, does the person have asthma or any other bronchial concerns? There are some essential oils that contain the chemical component 1,8 cineole that can actually trigger asthmatic reactions.
As one can assume, not all pure essential oils are safe for everyone or for mucous membranes as mentioned previously. With the concerns mentioned here, when utilizing this method you will want to make sure you are seeking a trained professional to help in creating a specific blend for you to use to safely receive the benefits of steam inhalation.
Additionally, one more great way to use essential oils is through the use of an inhaler. These can be made to order by most aromatherapists to assist the body in its natural functions of relaxing, fighting colds, and more. Should you choose to make your own, keep in mind, you only need a total of 15 drops of essential oils. Again, you should use caution with some essential oils as they can irritate mucous membranes or avoid their use.
With so much information out there, it can be difficult to find truths versus myths. It is true that there are several bloggers, MLM representatives, aromatherapy clients, as well as trained aromatherapists have experienced some very positive and real effects of using essential oils. Many of these individuals are so passionate about what they are telling you in regards to essential oils, it may all sound like fact.
So how do you discern fact from fiction? You can ask where they received their training from. You can also ask if they are registered with the Aromatherapy Registration Council. Either and both of these questions will help you decide if the person giving you information truly has the in depth knowledge to help you on your journey to use essential oils. After all, essential oil usage without proper instruction through real research or the right guidance can have negative consequences.
When it comes to essential oils, it is always best to follow the do no harm approach when utilizing them. They can be fantastic for enhancing our natural systems functions when used properly with the help a trained aromatherapist.
If you are interested in finding scientifically backed research about essential oils or would like to find a trained aromatherapist near you, I highly recommend browsing through the links attached for AIA aromatherapists, Aromatherapy Registration Council for an RA, Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy injury reports, and of course Tisserand Institute.
Tisserand, Robert and Young, Rodney. Essential Oil Safety. 2nd Edition. Edinburgh, London, New York, Oxford, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Sydney, Toronto: Churchill Livingstone, 2014. Print.
Robert Tisserand. “Why is Essential Oil Dilution Important?” Robert Tisserand. May 9, 2014. Web. May 5, 2015.
Zorina Flaman, Sandra Pellechia-Clarke, Benoit Bailey, and Michael McGuigan. “Unintentional exposure of young children to camphor and eucalyptus oils.” Pediatric Child Health. 2001 Feb; 6(2): 80–83.
Aromatherapy United. “Injury Reports 2015.” Aromatherapy United. February 2015. Web. May 5, 2015.
Eadmin. “AIA Internal Use Statement.” Aromatherapy Registration Council. January 11, 2011. Web. May 5, 2015.
Tracy Jacobs. “Fwd: unhappy customer –remaining text will come in additional email.” Message to Lola King. March 27, 2015. Email.
Tracy Jacobs. “Fwd:” Message to Lola King. March 27, 2015. Email(s).
Tracy Jacobs. “Permission.” March 26, 2015 9:20am. Facebook Messenger. May 5, 2015.
Tracy Jacobs. “Stop deleting this pic-don't you want to know my story.” March 26, 2015 7:38am. Facebook. May 5, 2015.
Tracy Jacobs. “Re: Topical reaction to essential oils.” May 6, 2015. Email.
King, Lola. Dilution Guidelines for Essential Oils. Digital image. Be Kind Botanicals. Be Kind Botanicals, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 May 2015.
Jacobs, Tracy. Skin irritation from neat application of essential oils. Digital image. N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 5 May 2015.
King, Lola. Steam Inhalation Image. Digital image. Be Kind Botanicals. Be Kind Botanicals, 5 May 2015. Web. 5 May 2015.
King, Lola. Essential Oil Safety. Digital image. N.p., 5 May 2015. Web. 5 May 2015.