How to use essential oils safely

how to use essential oils safelyJust because something is natural does NOT make it safe.

As I browse online, it seems that essential oils are part of some “natural-cure-for-all” hype. We have a flurry of misinformed people recommending natural “cures” to thousands of more misinformed people, and the vicious cycle continues. I think this is very dangerous.

Since many of my recipes contain essential oils, I think it’s responsible to inform you about the risks of using essential oils improperly, and to share some basic safety guidelines. I also encourage you to consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor if you are unsure about whether it is safe for you to use a particular essential oil.

I love essential oils and use them daily. I also research every essential oil I put onto my own skin, and I’m fortunate enough to have a qualified aromatherapist as a friend. However, the same essential oils may have different reactions with other people. Hence, I encourage you to research an essential oil thoroughly from reputable sources before ingesting it, or applying it topically. I learnt a lot from this book, The Fragrant Pharmacy, and personally recommend it to anyone interested in natural DIY beauty, health, gardening etc. It’s an incredible resource.

Please don’t be scared to the point where you disregard essential oils completely, because they are great! You should just, like many things in life, apply some common sense.

What are essential oils exactly?safety of essential oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated, natural liquids obtained by distillation of the plant. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilograms of the plant are required to produce just one kilogram of its essential oil.

DID YOU KNOW?

One drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 26-28 cups of peppermint tea!

Because of the strength of essential oils, I am cautious of over-using them. Essentially (lol…excuse the pun), they should be considered the same way as you would any other medicine. They should be used carefully, with proper education and in safe amounts.

Safety guidelines & cautions

Topical use of essential oils

  1. Dilute all essential oils , because they are strong concentrations that might cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction. Generally, the rule of thumb for adults is 20 drops of essential oil per 100ml carrier liquid, or 50g cream (half of that for children). Lavender, chamomile and rose are generally considered safe to use undiluted on skin, but this may not be the case for everyone.
  2. Always do a skin patch test before using an essential oil extensively.
  3. If irritation occurs, discontinue use.
  4. Be careful not to get any essential oils into your eyes or mucus membranes. If this happens flush out with cool water, or wipe your (closed) eye with a fatty oil like olive oil.
  5. Wash your hands after using undiluted essential oils.
  6. Check for any interaction between medication and essential oils, as some may interfere with prescription medication.
  7. Diabetics should avoid using Angelica oil in any form.
  8. Epileptics should avoid nutmeg, thujone, rosemary, fennel, sage, hyssop, camphor, tansy and wormwood.
  9. Don’t use essential oils on your pets. Remember, dogs and cats have a much better sense of smell than humans, as well as other major differences. Only use essential oils on your pet under the supervision or guidance of your vet. Read more information about animal aromatherapy and safety.

Ingestion of essential oils

I do not recommend internal use of any essential oil without the care and guidance of a qualified professional. Many of the herbs used in essential oils can be found as teas, and this would be a far safer option. Essential oils may kill the important bacteria in your digestive system, including the beneficial/ necessary ones, which may lead to other serious health issues. You wouldn’t ingest twenty cups of tea in one sitting, so you shouldn’t ingest one drop of essential oil. Besides, the best method of absorption for essential oils is through the skin anyway (i.e. Topically).

Photosensitivity & phototoxicity of citrus oils

Certain oils make the skin more sensitive to UV light, and may cause blistering, discoloration or skin that is sensitive and prone to sunburn. Avoid using these oils if you will be exposed to the sun or UV light: orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot.

Essential oils suitable for children:

These are easy to remember with the acronym TLC, and can be used safely for bathing, massage, room freshening and compresses:

  • Tea tree
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile Roman

Also remember:

  • Should you use essential oils in steam inhalation, never leave the child alone or unsupervised, and keep the inhalation to 1 minute.
  • When used topically, prepare a 1% dilution for children as they are smaller and their skins are more sensitive.
  • Keep your essential oils in a safe place away from children.
  • If a child appears to have drunk significant amounts of essential oil (teaspoon or more), contact the nearest poison control unit, keep the bottle for identification and encourage the child to drink whole or 2% milk. Do not try to induce vomiting.

Essential oils to avoid during pregnancy & breast feeding

The following oils should be avoided during pregnancy and nursing:

  • Aniseed
  • Angelica
  • Basil
  • Birch
  • Black pepper
  • Boldo leaf
  • Buchu
  • Calamus
  • Camphor
  • Cassia
  • Cedarwood
  • Chamomile
  • Cinnamon
  • Clary sage
  • Clove
  • Elecampane
  • Fennel
  • Fir
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish
  • Hyssop
  • Jaborandi leaf
  • Jasmine
  • Juniper
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Marjoram
  • Melissa
  • Mugwort
  • Mustard
  • Myrrh
  • Nightshade
  • Nutmeg
  • Oregano
  • Parsley seed
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Rue
  • Sage
  • Sassafras
  • Savin
  • Savory
  • Southernwood
  • Stinging nettle
  • Tansy
  • Thuja
  • Thyme
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormseed
  • Wormwood

Banned essential oils

Name

also known as

Action

Cade oil crude

prickly juniper and juniper tar

Carcinogenic

Calamus oil

sweet flag, myrtle flag, sweet rush and sweet sedge

Carcinogenic

Costus root

kuth

Sensitizer

Elecampane oil

scabwort

Sensitizer

Fig leaf absolute

 

Sensitizer

Horseradish oil

 

Toxic and irritant

Mustard oil

black mustard

Toxic and irritant

Peru balsam

balsam of Peru, Balsamo

Sensitizer (distilled oil is allowed)

Savin oil

 

Toxic and sensitizer although Juniper phoenicea oil is allowed

Verbena oil

 

Sensitizer

Tea absolute

 

Sensitizer

Sassafras oil

 

Carcinogenic

Stryax gum

oriental sweet gum and storax

Sensitizer

Wormseed

(also called Epazote or Mexican Tea)

Toxic

Wormwood oil

 

Neurotoxin

The above information is a summary of my personal research. If you would like to read more, here are some helpful resources:

Resources:

Battaglia, S. (2002). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. Australia: International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Tisserand, R., and Balacs, T. (1995). Essential Oil Safety. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

Woorwood, VA. (1992 ). The Fragrant Pharmacy.  Bantam Books: New Ed edition.

Photo credits:

Whiteground flowers – 7 (24h later). Photographed by Xerones under creative commons license.
Thé à la menthe . Photographed by Ludovic Hirlimann via Compfight cc

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4 thoughts on “How to use essential oils safely

  1. Bijanka says:

    I would like to know can I extract vitamin A oil from some plant ? And how can it be applied to the skin ? Because my skin care range is all products with vit a but also expensive only reason I am baying them is thy work for my acny skin and the marks . If you can help me with any other way to creat a cream with vit a I would really appreciate it. Thank you .
    Bijanka

    • Natural Nerd says:

      Hi Bijanka

      Thank you for your comment/ question. The answer is yes, you can extract vitamin A from a plant, but since a plant is made up of more than just vitamin A, the extraction won’t be 100% vitamin A oil. Carrots are really high in vitamin A, and so I would recommend that you make your own carrot oil. Carrot oil contains vitamin A, C, E and beta-carotene which are all marvelous for your skin. Or you could buy carrot essential oil, and add this to coconut oil/cocoa butter/shea butter to make your own carrot cream. To make your own carrot oil:

      1) Wash carrots thoroughly, and dry them (you don’t want any water on them). Start with 2 or 3 carrots.
      2) Grate the carrots (with the skin on). Place in a slow cooker/pot, cover them with coconut oil. You want to just cover the carrots with oil, so don’t use too much.
      3) Turn the slow cooker on to the lowest heat. Let the oil warm up until it it hot, but not boiling. You don’t want the temperature to rise above 100 degrees Celsius. Keep it at this temperature for as long as possible (if you’re using the stove), or for 5 hours in a slow cooker. If you let it get too hot, you will destroy the vitamins.
      4) Remove from heat, and let it cool down and stand for the rest of the day.
      5) The next day, strain the mixture through a sieve/ cheese cloth. Keep the oil, and discard the carrots. Since coconut oil hardens when it’s cold, you may need to just warm it up so it becomes liquid again, then strain.
      6) Use this oil on your skin as you would use a cream.

      You can also try using my honey face wash for acne, it’s great at fading scars and preventing breakouts. One more tip: it also really helps to eat things high in vitamin A. Eg: carrots, sweet potato, butternut, red peppers.

      Hope that helps. Good luck, and let me know how it goes =)

      Kind regards
      Christina

      • Bijanka says:

        Thank you
        I will devenitly try this

        You honey acne face wash is very nice I’m using it every day in the morning and evening and I can see inproofment …..
        Also the coconut face cream .

        • Natural Nerd says:

          It’s a pleasure, and I’m so happy to hear that you are seeing an improvement with the honey face wash and coconut cream. Thank you for sharing.

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