In this post, I am taking a look at whether or not Essential Oils are safe to use, specifically, topically, and through ingestion.
When I began using essential oils, I started out using them mostly for cleaning and diffusing. Then I discovered Tea Tree Oil and it's remarkable ability to heal my children's ear infections, and finely began learning about ingesting oils for both maintaining good health and healing disease. (Take that FDA!)
"Oils are safe to use topically undiluted."
"Oils should always be diluted."
"Never use oils when pregnant."
"Oils are great for pregnancy!"
"Ingesting oils is a great way to use them medicinally."
"Oils should never be ingested."
"Oils are completely safe."
"Oils are not regulated, unstudied, and should only be use for aroma therapy."
Whoa! With all of that, I didn't know who to trust or what to believe. Are you just as confused as I was? If it sounds confusing, that's because, well, it is.
Are Essential Oils, which are not regulated by the FDA Safe?
Essential oils are highly concentrated. In fact the chemicals that give herbs their medicinal effects are 50 to 70 more times more concentrated in essential oils than in the herb in it's natural form. On average, it takes 1 ounce of plant life to make 1 drop of essential oil. Wow! That is potent!
Does this mean essential oils are not safe? No, but it does mean that essential oils should be treated like the medicine they are. Would you give a child an adult extra-strength Tylenol? Would you drink an entire bottle of cough syrup in one day?
Of course not! Over-the-counter drugs are generally considered safe, but how many people die every year from accidental over-the-counter and prescription drug overdoses? In 2014, approximately 25,000 people died from accidental overdoses of prescription medication. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that every year in the US, there are "450,000 preventable, medication-related adverse events." By comparison, I could find no examples of death caused by essential oils, although adverse reactions--occasionally serious--were reported through improper use of essential oils, specifically, over-ingestion, undiluted use on children and use of certain oils during pregnancy.
Whatever the FDA says, Essential oils can be medicinal drugs. God given, natural, drugs, but drugs just the same. (We talked about the supporting research in part 4 of this series.) Just as with pharmaceutical drugs, more is not better. So, are essential oils safe? Absolutely! When use properly, essential oils are much safer than pharmaceutical drugs.
I suppose that's the real question. How do you use essential oils properly? By treating them like the therapeutic medicine they really are. Most of us can't simply call up our doctor however to get advice on how to use the oils for our specific conditions, so if you want to use oils medicinally, I recommend getting a good reference book that gives safety and usage information.
I use Young Living's oils for medicinal use and love the Reference Guide for Essential Oils book I got from Amazon. If you use DoTerra, the Essential Oil Usage Guide A-Z would be great. Of course, there are other, more general books available that would also be great, like Essential Oils: Natural Remedies: The Complete A-Reference of Essential Oils for Health and Healing.
Click on the Amazon link below to learn more about these books.
Most people know that essential oils are safe to use topically. This is so well-known that people often don't think they need to worry about how to use them safely. Topical use is generally considered safe as long as the following guidelines are followed.
- Know your source. Low-quality, oils could contain additives or pollutants that could cause an adverse reaction.
- Follow Proper dilution recommendations. Many oils should be diluted to 5%. That's one drop EO to 20 drops carrier oil (olive oil, coconut oil, etc). Some oils can occasionally be used full strength, like Lavender on a burned hand. Oil blends are often already diluted.
- Always dilute oils to 1/2 the adult dilution for children
- Always check a trusted source for counter indications. Some oils cause sensitivity to the sun. Some are not safe for children or for pregnant women. While most oils are safe for long term use, Some oils should be used short term only.
Can Essential Oils Be Ingested?
Of course! Many people believe that essential oils should never be consumed simply because they are so highly concentrated. However, under that logic, we should never use maple syrup, real sugar, flour, olive oil or coconut oil, just to name a few.
Essential oils can be safely ingested as long as you follow certain guidelines.
- Only ingest high-quality, unadulterated essential oils. Lower quality oils may contain pesticides and /or chemical additives used in the distillation process and may not be safe to consume.
- Ingest only the amount recommended by a knowledgeable and trustworthy source. More is not more!
- Some oils are not safe for consumption. Ingest only oils labeled safe for ingestion!
- Stop ingesting and consult a qualified expert if you notice any ill side effects.
- It's always a good idea to dilute the oil before ingesting,
For more general safety information, visit the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy safety information page. If you haven't read the rest of the posts in this series, be sure to check them out as well.
Concerns Over Essential Oils-Part 1: Introduction
Concerns Over Essential Oils-Part 2: Essential Oils and the FDA
Concerns Over Essential Oils--Part 3: Do Essential Oils Really Work?
Concerns Over Essential Oils--Part 4: Does Quality Matter?