Do you ever get confused with all the information that is available on essential oil safety and find yourself wondering what the real dangers are… toxicity if swallowed? Rashes and skin reactions if applied neat to the skin or irritation and adverse reaction from repeated use? How do you know which essential oil is right for you and your loved ones and how do you use it? Just because it is natural, it doesn’t mean an essential oil is totally safe. It is produced in certain plants to protect the plant and ensure its survival. It doesn’t just smell pretty!
Whether you want to treat insomnia, reduce stress levels or hydrate your skin, there’s sure to be an essential oil that will suit your needs. When used as directed and with some basic knowledge, essential oils offer long term and pleasurable ways to improve your general health. Although many oils are safe to use and are considered nontoxic and non-irritant in general, an individual reaction or allergy to an oil is possible.
According to Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young, in Essential Oil Safety (second edition), the safety guidelines are intended to help minimise the possibility of risks while optimising the benefits! Like any manufactured medicine, essential oils can carry risks if over used or used incorrectly. Essential oils are highly concentrated, volatile liquids that must be used with care. Always familiarise yourself with the information and safety guidelines on the label and packaging for each oil, before you commence use.
General safety guidelines
Do your background checks before you settle on your preferred brand of essential oils. A reputable company not only sources the finest authentic essential oils, it offers customer service feedback and ongoing education of its products. A reputable company is key to safety in aromatherapy. Remember, your blends will only be as effective and as safe as the quality and purity of the oils you select.
Keep essential oils well away from children. Children should not dispense or administer aromatherapy without the supervision of an adult. To prevent accidental ingestion which could prove hazardous, ensure you purchase oils in air tight, dark glass bottles with dropper insert and tamper-evident seals. It is advisable to store your oils in a cupboard out of arms reach and under lock and key!
Do not apply oils to the skin undiluted. Although you can apply a few drops of lavender or tea tree via a cotton tip onto a blemish or cold sore, in general essential oils should not touch the skin. Dilute essential oils in carrier oil such as sweet almond or jojoba before applying to the skin or adding to bath water. Do not apply to red or inflamed skin conditions such as rosacea and eczema.
Avoid using essential oils on ear, eyes and nose, and mucous membrane.
Do not take essential oils internally without the guidance of a qualified aromatherapist. Ingesting undiluted oils carry potential risks. Some oils that are perfectly safe to use in a diffuser and on the skin are highly toxic when ingested. Swallowing essential oils can cause mouth and stomach irritation, stomach pain or even liver damage.
Do not exceed the recommended dosage and avoid prolonged use of the same oil. Using essential oil inappropriately and in excess amounts is what usually leads to most safety issues and long-term toxicity. For instance, don’t increase the number of drops in a massage blend and apply indefinitely.
Avoid direct exposure to UV rays after applying citrus oils to the skin. They can cause photosensitisation on the skin when exposed to UV radiation such as when outdoors gardening, playing tennis or sunbaking.
If you suffer from any diagnosed condition or allergy or are on prescription medication you need to check with your doctor before using essential oils.
Do not commence use while pregnant, breastfeeding or with infants and children without professional advice. Certain oils are contraindicated during pregnancy as they are too stimulating, while some even affect hormones and must be avoided during the full term of pregnancy. Similarly, extreme care needs to be exercised when using essential oils on infants. Their skin is sensitive and they are still developing. Only a few oils are suitable and dilution and dosage are critical. A Scented Life has a dedicated baby section for beginners.
Keep away from naked flame.
Wipe up any spills with a damp cloth. Essential oils are volatile liquids and can damage furniture and strip varnish, stain fabrics and break down plastic over time.
Make sure your oils are fresh. All your oils should be stored in dark, tightly sealed glass bottles to prevent oxidisation once exposed to air, heat and light. As an oil oxidises the less safe it is in terms of skin reaction. When there is more air than essential oil in a bottle, oxidation speeds up, especially with top notes and citrus oils. In most cases an essential oil should be used within 12 months of first opening or before the expiry date.
Where to begin: Start by diffusing a few drops of your favourite oil(s) in open plan areas of the home for 2-3 hour intervals at most. This will give you a good indication of the impact of that oil or blend on yourself and your family, including pets. And check the safety data on the label and packaging before you commence use.
Patch Test: In A Scented Life, I recommend that if you are using an oil for the first time and have sensitive or allergy prone skin, that you do a patch test on a small area. Combine 1 drop with a teaspoon of sweet almond and apply to your inner arm and wait 12 hours. If any irritation occurs, stop use immediately.
Quality is paramount: Remember to choose authentic, quality oils from a trusted supplier. Avoid using aroma chemicals, they are not pure extracts and are certain to give you a headache. They do not have the same therapeutic value as a true essential oil.
Where to turn: Today’s growing interest in essential oils has witnessed a rise in practising aromatherapists. Just as you would seek medical advice, I recommend you seek a qualified therapist in your area for serious or long-term conditions.
In A Scented Life, I offer cautionary statements regarding dilution and safe usage throughout each section of the book, including motherhood and first year with baby. The Quick reference chart, features 43 of the most widely used essential oils along with safety guidelines.
All the best,