Essential oils can be an amazing help with many health conditions, even when all other therapies have failed. What’s more, they can often improve health without causing unwanted side effects, something that common pharmaceuticals can rarely claim.
However, this does not mean that essential oils can be used carelessly. While the safety concerns associated with essential oils are much milder than those of pharmaceuticals, you will still need to follow a few simple safety guidelines when using essential oils. That’s why I’ve put together the following 7 tips for using essential oils safely.
1. Get high quality essential oils
The first and possibly most important step is to get essential oils that are high quality. By this, I mean that the oils contain no adulterants, synthetic ingredients, other, cheaper essential oils; and also that the oils have neither been redistilled or rectified. In short, when you buy essential oils, you should be getting what you think you are — a pure extract from a specific plant, and nothing else.
How can you tell whether the essential oil is high quality? At a minimum level, make sure the label for the oil you are buying contains information like the Latin name of the plant, the country where the plant was grown, and the method of extraction. It’s also a good idea to seek out companies that are run by people who are aware of the common practice of adulterating essential oils, who know how to source the safest and most therapeutic essential oils and who make their customers’ wellbeing their first priority.
Beyond that, if you aren’t sure which supplier to trust, you can take this essential oil chemistry course, which will help refine your sense of smell so that you can detect real essential oils verses synthetic fragrances, plus you will be very informed about what essential oils to use for any particular issue.
2. Begin with gentle essential oils
There are some essential oils that have more of a potential for adverse effects than others, so it’s a good idea to begin with the gentlest essential oils. First, you can check if the oil is on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list. This is simply a list of essential oils that the FDA considers to be safe for consumption as flavoring.
However, please note that there are some oils on the FDA’s GRAS list that have been found in aromatherapy to be toxic, carcinogenic, or dermal sensitizers/ irritants, and a list of those essential oils can be found Here. These are oils that should not be used on children, pregnant women, elderly or people who might be sensitive or reactive to essential oils – except according to the advise of a qualified aromatherapist.
If the essential oil is not found on either list, you can do additional research or consult an aromatherapist for advice regarding safety.
3. Start off slowly
Essential oils are complex substances, and every person’s body is different. As a result, if you are using an essential oil for the first time, allow yourself time to take it slow, and observe how your body reacts.
If you are inhaling the essential oil, make sure to have access to fresh air. If you are applying the oil topically, use a weaker dilution (more on this below) and apply the oil to a small patch of skin that’s less likely to be sensitive (for example, your arm).
Once you’ve determined that you do not have any kind of unwanted reaction to an essential oil, you can increase the amount you are using. If you do experience any unpleasant effects, simply stop using the essential oil.
4. Dilute essential oils properly
I’ve mentioned above that you should start off using essential oils in a weak dilution when applying essential oils topically. This is part of a general rule — you will need to dilute most essential oils to prevent irritating your skin, and to prevent skin sensitization over time.
The table below lists the number of drops of essential oils you will need to achieve different dilutions. For example, to achieve a 2% dilution in an ounce of carrier oil, you will need to use 12 drops of essential oils. Similarly, to achieve a 5% dilution in an ounce of carrier oil, you will need to use 30 drops of essential oil.
So which dilution do you need?
A 1% dilution is used for anyone with sensitive skin, including children, pregnant women, elderly adults, and anyone who reacts strongly to essential oils.
A 2% dilution is appropriate for most situations and for most people, and typically won’t irritate the skin even after prolonged exposure.
A higher dilution (5%-20%) can be appropriate for short-term therapeutic use, such as for relieving muscle or joint pain.
5. Avoid applying photosensitizing oils before going out into the sun
A few essential oils react when exposed to UV light and can end up irritating your skin in a similar way to a sunburn. Applying these oils topically in places where your skin will be exposed to sunlight in the next 12-18 hours is not recommended. (Inhaling these oils is fine whether or not you’ll be out in the sun.)
The most common oils that are photosensitizing are cold-pressed citrus oils, such as grapefruit, lemon, and bergamot. Angelica and Tagetes are also known as photosensitizing essential oils.
6. Get informed before you ingest essential oils
We all commonly ingest small quantities of essential oils in whole foods or as added flavoring. However, when it comes to therapeutic ingestion of essential oils, the picture quickly becomes complicated. Some people are very much against the practice, while others support it.
If you do decide to ingest essential oils for therapeutic reasons, there are a few guidelines that are important to follow.
First, if you are considering ingesting a non-gentle essential oil (See item 2. above), it would be a good idea to do additional research or consult an aromatherapist before you decide to ingest the oil. As an example, eucalyptus oil, can be toxic if ingested even at low quantities.
Second, make sure you dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil (such as olive oil or cold pressed moringa seed oil) or a fatty substance (such as yoghurt or melted ghee). Essential oils do not dilute in water or juice, and ingesting undiluted oils can irritate your mouth or your stomach pretty badly.
Third, as I suggested above, start off slowly. Ingesting essential oils will get a much higher quantity of those oils into to your bloodstream when compared with inhalation and topical application. While this might be exactly what you are looking for in some cases, it also means you have to be additionally careful.
7. Take special care when using essential oils with kids
Compared to adults, kids are more sensitive, their immune system is not as developed, and their skin is more permeable. This means that you should exercise more caution when using essential oils with children.
I’ve written a detailed post about essential oils and kids. Check it out to find out which oils are safe to use on kids, which dilutions to use, and what other safety points you need to know about.
And that’s it. Like I said, essential oils can be a real boon when it comes to improving your health, and by following the simple safety guidelines above, you’ll be able to maximize the benefits of aromatherapy while avoiding any potential side-effects.
Do you have questions about using essential oils safely? write me at [email protected] and I’ll do my best to help.