Essential Oils: Not A One Size Fits All

Lately Pinterest is making me a bit crazy. I am certain that I am not the only Aromatherapist who is adding extra wrinkles to their faces just by scanning scads of essential oil pins and making the “cringe” face. From the amounts of oils used in blends, the suggested uses, the claims of what they can cure or prevent, to suggested methods of using oils with children/babies. CRINGE!! I am also certain that the people posting have the best of intentions, but, clearly, there is a lack of education, and that, my friends, can be dangerous. Don’t get me wrong here, essential oils can improve one’s life immensely. They can be life changing! I wouldn’t have become an Aromatherapist, and started a company, if I didn’t believe that wholeheartedly. But essential oils use is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of deal. There are numerous safety considerations with their use. They are potent little buggers!

*FUN FACT: It take about 30lbs of Lavender flowers to make one 15ml bottle of essential oil. (Just to give you an idea how concentrated essential oils are.)

Let’s start with the safe use of essential oils on the skin. When applying essential oils to the skin you need to consider the integrity of the skin. Is it inflamed, damaged, or diseased? Applying essential oils on damaged skin, especially undiluted, can increase the risk of worsening the condition, causing sensitization, and absorbing larger amounts than is normal. (A bug bite/sting is one situation where a single drop of an oil, like Blue Tansy, would be appropriate.) Even on healthy skin a patch test should be done on the inside of the arm, for 15mns, to ensure you won’t have a reaction to a new oil, or blend, you would like to use. Diluted, of course. Oils that are high in Phenols or Aldehydes (chemical components found in essential oils), like Oregano, Thyme ct thymol, Clove, Bay, Melissa, Lemongrass, etc., to name a few, can be very irritating to the skin. Babies, children, and elderly folk are even more susceptible to skin irritation. Developing allergies to oils is a very real possibility with misuse.

Phototoxicity is another safety concern. Cold-pressed Bergamot, Lime, Bitter Orange, Lemon, and Grapefruit are the common citrus essential oils that are phototoxic. Distilled lime and lemon, and cold-pressed Sweet Orange, are not considered phototoxic. Bergaptene-free, or FCF free, Bergamot is not phototoxic. Using oils that are phototoxic, on skin exposed to direct sunlight, can cause serious burns and/or permanent change in the pigment of the skin.

Many essential oils can irritate the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, and mouth. Really, everything on the inside of us has a mucous membrane lining. (Internal use of essential oils is a whole other blog. No time for that today!) There will always be a risk of irritation and/or inflammation to the GI tract when using essential oils internally. Especially with repeated use. The wee ones are even higher risk. Some essential oils can irritate them just by being diffused near them. (Each oil we sell clearly states, in the safety section, which oils should not be used near the faces of children.)

Pregnancy is another, very serious, area of concern with essential oil use. There is a lack of solid, clear information on toxicity during pregnancy. That being said, sticking to ALL safety guidelines set by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association), which I will add the link for at the end of this blog, is, hands down, the safest decision. Seriously, why risk it? Don’t!! A good essential oils company will state these risks in their descriptions, we do!

Robert Tisserand states clearly, in his book Essential Oil Safety, that no essential oils should be given orally to children. In Table 15.3, of his book, he has an extensive list of known, or probable, essential oils that pose a risk of acute toxicity if ingested by children. I have added a list of the more common essential oils in his list at the end of this post.

Here’s a little DO NOT list for use with children:
DO NOT have children ingest essential oils.
DO NOT apply essential oils to children undiluted.
If you want to learn more about the use of essential oils with children you can check out this fabulous blog post from, The Hippy Homemaker, Christina Anthis.

The last safety concern, for today’s post, is safe use of essential oils when taking medications. Essential oils are strong, and drug interactions are a very real possibility whether applied to the skin or taken orally. Some oils can reduce, or enhance, the effectiveness of certain drugs. They can, potentially, interact with key liver enzymes, slowing the process time that a person’s body needs to rid itself of a drug. There are possible contraindications with some oils when taking anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, anti-diabetic meds, antipsychotics, chemo meds, sedatives, and some stimulants. These, most certainly, are not the end of the list of possible drugs a person may need to be concerned with. If you are taking a medication please, please talk to your doctor about the oils you would like to use, before you use them, of course.

The safety concerns I wrote about today are just a handful of the areas of concern. (Each one could be a post all by itself.) There is a plethora of advice and ideas out there on the web that you should be wary of. Like I said before, one-size-fits-all does not apply to essential oils. What’s good for the goose could be catastrophic for the gander!

*Educating yourself and/or talking to an Aromatherapist, like myself, if you have questions or concerns, is the best way to keep yourself and your family safe. Essential oils are so very amazing when used wisely!

List of known, or probable, essential oils that pose a risk of acute toxicity if ingested by children: (This is not the full list of oils. Only the more commonly used oils. You can find the full list in Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand.)

Basil Ocimum gratissimum, Ocimum tenuiflorum
Cinnamon Bark Cinnamomum verum
Cornmint Mentha arvensis
Eucalyptus (various species)
Ho Leaf (Ravintsara) Cinnamomum camphora
Oregano Origanum vulgare
Peppermint Mentha piperita
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis
Sage Salvia officinalis
Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia
Thyme Thymus vulgaris and zygis
Wintergreen Gaultheria fragrantissima wall and Gaultheria procumbens

Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2e 2nd Edition
by Robert Tisserand (Author), Rodney Young (Author)