Essential oils are very safe. But only when they’re used as directed.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad advice on the Internet. Especially on social media. That’s where you’ll see untrained people telling other people to ingest essential oils.
However, you should know that professional aromatherapists are aghast at this idea. (There’s also a notable exception, which I cover later in this post.)
Essential oils are incredibly strong. They can cause potentially dangerous reactions, if you misuse them. Also, everyone is different. What doesn’t cause a problem in one person may in another. That means someone can possibly misuse them with no obvious problems. Someone else may not be so lucky. In addition, certain essential oils can be toxic when taken internally.
I once heard from someone who had an extreme reaction to a few drops of essential oil placed in her bath water. I think she might have been unusually sensitive. Maybe this wouldn’t happen to most people. But imagine what might have happened if she had swallowed the same amount she sprinkled in her bath water?
Is it Dangerous to Use Essential Oils?
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Some essential can even burn your skin. It’s also possible to develop sensitivities to these oils, especially if you don’t use them the right way.
However, essential oils are overall very safe. Especially when compared to certain over-the-counter medications. That’s why I much prefer using a little bit of peppermint oil when I have a headache, instead of ibuprofen. I dilute a drop or two of peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil and apply it to my aching forehead.
When It’s Dangerous to Use Essential Oils
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, essential oils can be used for natural pain relief. (As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of OTC pain relievers.) These medications can have side effects ranging from annoying to life threatening.
So, when I have a headache, instead of popping a pill, I put diluted peppermint essential oil on my forehead. It works like a charm.
How to Use Essential Oils the Right Way
Although I can’t claim or promise peppermint oil will banish anyone else’s headache, it’s become my “go to” headache remedy.
I’ve been using essential oils for years. The longer I use them, the more I come to appreciate their strength. I also find that less is more, simply because they’re so strong. One drop is often better than three or four. I’ve also learned the immense value of carrier oils, which you can’t do without if you use essential oils on your skin.
When To Not Use Essential Oils
Please bear in mind that I’m not a professional aromatherapist. However, you don’t need a special degree to adopt a common-sense approach to essential oils. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes myself. (Fortunately, nothing bad happened.) But I don’t want my readers to repeat these mistakes.
So I’ve compiled the following suggestions on when to not use essential oils. This is probably not a comprehensive list. But here’s a rundown on the times I’d personally never use these highly concentrated plant extracts.
- When you’re pregnant – You definitely don’t want to use essential oils during pregnancy. They are very strong, much stronger than herbs. Unfortunately, some herbal remedies could harm a developing baby, or even cause a miscarriage. Others can cause contractions. You’ll have plenty of time to use essential oils after your baby is born. So, if it were me, I’d definitely avoid them during pregnancy.
- When you’re about to go out in the sun – Some essential oils seem to offer protection from the sun. I often make homemade sunscreen with carrot seed essential oil. Citrus-based essential oils, however, can cause you to become photosensitive. So avoid putting citrus oils on your skin before going out in the sun, or going to a tanning salon.
- When you put them in your mouth – There’s a lot of controversy over whether or not it’s safe to ingest essential oils. I’m horrified when I see people telling others to do this. Essential oils are powerful medicinal agents. They need to be used the right way. Trained aromatherapists in general do not recommend ingesting essential oils. One professional group – The Alliance of International Aromatherapists – says this should be done only under the direction of a licensed and experienced medical professional well trained in this practice. Never do this on the advice of an independent essential oil distributor.
- When your essential oils are old – Essential oils have a shelf life. This varies according to the type of oil, as well as how it’s stored. Citrus oils last for only about a year. Other types of aromatics, such as cedarwood essential oil, can last up to six years. All essential oils degrade. This happens regardless of the purity of an oil. I discard my oils after I’ve had them for a certain time, even if there’s some left in the bottle. If it smells off, or the smell changes, that’s my sign that it’s no longer good.
- When you plan to use them on babies – Essential oils should not be used on babies and children under the age of two.
- When you plan to use them on children – It’s okay to use certain essential oils on children between the ages of 2 and 10. But others aren’t considered safe. This is one of the reasons I like to tell my readers about Plant Therapy Essential Oils. It has a clearly labeled KidSafe line. Anything in that line is okay for children aged two and older.
- When you put them on your skin directly – This was a big mistake I made after buying my first essential oils. I didn’t know how to use them. But I heard they were good for massage. So I rubbed several varieties into my skin, straight from the bottle. Lucky for me I didn’t develop any sensitivities, and didn’t notice any obvious reaction. But I’ll never do this again. Essential oils must be heavily diluted in a carrier oil. Like 2 or 3 drops to a teaspoon of carrier, such as fractionated coconut oil. Carrier oils are absolutely necessary if you plan to put an essential on your skin. Carriers serve several purposes. One is helping to “carry” the essential oils into your body.
- If you plan to use them on cats – Some people use essential oils very judiciously with dogs. (But you should always check with your vet before doing so, and make sure to never use them on a pregnant female dog.) Aromatherapy is not okay for cats. In fact, if I had a cat, I wouldn’t even diffuse an oil if he or she was in the room. Cats lack a liver enzyme that allows them to break down essential oils.
- If you use them near your eyes – Be very careful not to get essential oils in your eyes. Sometimes, when I have a headache, I put peppermint essential oil mixed with a carrier oil on my forehead and on my temples. But I need to leave enough space around my eyes. That’s because the oily mixture can travel, and potentially reach my eyes. Also, be very careful if you make an essential oil spray. Always point it away from your eyes.
- If you need regular medical care – I once saw a funny men’s t-shirt that showed an open bullet wound. The caption said, “Don’t worry, my wife’s got an oil for that.” Essential oils are pretty amazing. I personally use them for so many things, including natural headache relief and as a natural sleep aid. But aromatherapy also has its limitations. Don’t neglect to get proper medical care when it’s needed.
- Using fragrance oils instead of essential oils – Fragrances oils are not true essential oils. Instead, they’re made from chemicals, and created in a lab. They may smell nice. But you won’t see the same potential health benefits. The same goes for artificially scented “aromatherapy” products. For just a little bit more money, you can get the real thing.
- When someone has a sensitivity to a particular essential oil – It’s possible to become sensitized to a particular type of essential oil. Stop using it if you develop redness or itching. Potential sensitization is one of the reasons I rotate my essential oils, so I’m never using the same one too many days in a row.
- If you use the same oil too many days in a row – I’m one of those people who can’t use the same kind of essential oil for days on end. It stops working for me. Or, it loses its appeal. I simply don’t want to smell it. But even if you think you can use the same oil continuously, that may not be a good idea. That’s because you may put yourself at risk of sensivity. So make sure to rotate your aromatic oils.
- Near an open flame – Technically, essential oils aren’t oils. Instead, they’re highly concentrated plant extracts that have a volatile (ie, highly flammable) nature. So definitely keep them away from fire and flames.
- When you have an open wound – Certain essential oils have a hot nature, and can burn your skin. So wait until your wound heals over before putting a soothing essential oil (mixed well with a carrier oil) on a closed wound.
- If essential oils don’t agree with you – Some people have highly sensitive bodies. So they’re not able to use essential oils at all. They may get headaches. Or they may feel dizzy or nauseaous. So listen to your body. If essentials don’t make you feel better, just stop using them.
I’m sure there are other situations where it’s not wise to use essential oils at all. But these are the ones that came to mind. Above all, listen to your body. And heed the advice of professional aromatherapists. Next, I plan to cover the controversy over ingesting essential oils, and why I don’t recommend it on this site.
These statements have not been approved by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use essential oils unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional.