Most essential oils are safe and free of adverse side effects when used properly. However, as with any substance you are introducing into your body, it is important to use them intelligently. We recommend that you never eat or drink essential oils. You should pay attention to the following factors.
Be sure to clarify the recommended application method and concentration for the essential oil and intended use. And once again, don't ingest oils without professional guidance.
Toxicity rarely occurs with appropriate use of essential oils and is primarily attributed to misuse and accidental ingestion, especially in young children. Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand and Balacs, 1995, is a valuable reference to understanding potential toxicity and lethal dosages. Again, we recommend that you never eat or drink essential oils.
As stated earlier, it is important to note that most essential oils can not be applied directly to the skin (without being diluted). Refer to the section "How do I choose and use essential oils?" for more information on dilution and carrier oils.
general, you should adjust dosages downward for children, but also use
extra caution in choosing essential oils to be used in babies and
children (or avoid use altogether). Some essential oils, such as
peppermint, should not be used with children younger than six years
old. Menthol-one of the major chemicals in peppermint oil-has caused
breathing to stop in young children, and has caused severe jaundice in
babies with G6PD deficiency (a common genetic enzyme deficiency) (Price
& Price, 1999).
You should also exercise caution with essential oils if you are pregnant, since essential oils can cross the placental barrier and there is little clinical research in this area. Very gentle essential oils, such as true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are sometimes used by midwives during and after labor and delivery with favorable effects (Burns et al., 2000).
In general, however, similar cautions during pregnancy and infancy/early childhood should be used with essential oils as with other substances. If you are in doubt, contact a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Always store essential oils out of reach of children, in bottles with single-drop dispensers. Accidental ingestion of amounts as small as a teaspoon has resulted in death.
small proportion of people may experience skin irritation, allergic
reactions, or cross-sensitivity to essential oils. Cross-sensitivity is
the potential for an allergic reaction to similar substances (for
example, if you are allergic to ragweed, you might also be allergic to
chamomile essential oils).
Irritation is characterized by a rapid onset redness and pain in the skin exposed to the essential oil. It can occur with the first exposure. The skin generally heals without long-term problems, but you probably would not want to use the essential oil that caused the irritation again.
Some problems of this sort have been caused by oils adulterated with synthetic chemicals or chemically changed by exposure to heat or light over time. Thus, if you really like the essential oil that seemed to cause the skin irritation, you might try a different brand (following the guidelines given previously for choosing essential oils).
Contact sensitivity is a type of allergic reaction. This can happen anytime after the first exposure to an essential oil, and usually presents as an itchy rash or hives. This is caused by the immune system's response to one or more of the chemicals in the essential oil. The extent of the reaction may seem out of proportion to the amount of exposure. Again, old or altered essential oils are more likely to produce skin reactions (Tisserand & Balacs, 1995).
you are someone who is taking a lot of prescription medication and/or
has a lot of allergies, you should do a patch test by following the
instructions below to check for skin irritation and sensitivity before
using each essential oil.
To do a patch test:
Phototoxicity can occur after you apply an essential oil topically and then go out into the sun. This happens most often with certain citrus oils, such as bergamot, lemon, lime, orange, and angelica.
For example, if you spray yourself with a solution of orange essential oil and then lie out in the sun or in a tanning bed, you will most likely get a sunburn or even deeper burns.
you can see, there are safety concerns associated with improper use of
essential oils. In general, however, essential oils are safe when used
externally (not ingested) in low concentrations. For skin applications,
that usually means concentrations no higher than 5%. For inhalation,
use intermittent exposure (not more than 15 minutes in an hour). There
may not be any safety information on the bottle, but usage guidelines
may be posted near sales displays, on company websites, or available
through company sales representatives.
If in doubt, always consult a healthcare provider you trust who is knowledgeable about essential oils or willing to investigate with you. There is a great deal of information about essential oils available on the internet, and it may be difficult to critically determine its integrity.
General safety recommendations include:
Abdullah, D., Ping, Q., Liu, G. (1996). Enhancing the effect of essential oils on the penetration of 5-fluorouracil through rat skin. Yao Xue Xue Bao, 31(3) 214-221.
Brandao, F. M. (1986). Occupational allergy to lavender oil. Contact Dermatitis, 249-50.
Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical aromatherapy : Essential oils in practice. New York: Churchill Livingstone.
Burns, E., Blamey C., Ersser S., et al. (2000). An investigation into the use of aromatherapy in intrapartum midwifery practice. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 6(2) 141-147.
Clark, S. M., & Wilkinson, S. M. (1998). Phototoxic contact dermatitis from 5-methoxypsoralen in aromatherapy oil. Contact Dermatitis, 38, 289-290.
Hammer, K. A., Carson, C. F., Riley, T. V., & Nielsen, J. B. (2006). A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil. Food & Chemical Toxicology, 44(5), 616-625.
Kejova K, Jorova D, Bendova H, Gajdos P & Kolarova H. (2010). Phototoxicity of essential oils intended for cosmetic use. Toxicology in Vitro, 24 (8), 2084-9.
Price, S. & Price, L. (2007). Aromatherapy for health professionals, 3rd Ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1998). Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration: Aromatherapy, March 13, 2000
Vigan M. (2010). Essential oils: Renewal of interest and toxicity. [Review]. European J of Dermatology, 20 (6), 685-92.
Williams, A. & Barry, B. (1989). Essential oils as novel human skin penetration enhancers. International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 57, R7-R9.