Understanding essential oil safety is part of the foundation of Aromatherapy. The following guidelines will help you to become a competent essential oil user, and if you abide by them, you can feel confident that you are making the best choice for your health and those of whom you serve.
Essential oil safety is more than just choosing the “best” brand, of which there are many. (To see a list of my recommended essential oil brands, please read my article, Essential Oil Brands: https://www.sacredwellness.co/essential-oil-brands). Aromatherapy is a serious practice that can yield amazing results, and must be respected as such. Far from being restrictive, the following guidelines will allow you the flexibility to create aromatherapy blends that will support your healing and overall wellness.
While some of these safety guidelines are based on the best assessment we have at this time given our current understanding, most of the guidelines are based on Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young’s book, Essential Oil Safety.
Essential Oil Safety Guidelines
1. Some essential oils are potentially convulsant for anyone who might be vulnerable to epileptic seizures. (Tisserand and Young p.134, table 10.2)
2. Essential oils should be used very cautiously during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. During these times, you’ll probably want to keep your concentration low (1% is good). It’s wise for pregnant women to use essential oils under the guidance of an Aromatherapist or medical professional knowledgeable about essential oils. There are approximately 50 essential oils that are contraindicated during pregnancy, and another 15 that should be restricted during pregnancy and lactation. (Tisserand and Young charts p.152–153 and p.156)
3. Dilute essential oils in carrier oils before applying them to the skin. For general use, a total of 5–18 drops of essential oil in 1 oz (30 ml) of carrier oil is good. If an essential oil or blend causes irritation on your skin, immediately wash it off with soap and water, and then apply carrier oil to the affected area.
4. For children who are 5–12 years old, elders on multiple medications, pregnant women, and those with serious health conditions, it makes sense to begin with a low concentration. Essential oils can be diluted at 1% (a total of 5–6 drops of essential oil for every 1 oz/30 ml of carrier oil).
There are various opinions about the best age to start using oils for babies and kids. Babies and young children tend to be very sensitive. In most cases, rather than using essential oil, you can use hydrosols, aloe vera gel, butters, and carrier oils for kids under five years old (when doing a topical application).
Hydrosols, carriers, and carrier oils can often give a child the necessary nudge toward rebalancing their health. Diffusing gentle essential oils around babies and younger children is a good option. Ambient inhalation (inhaling oils that are diffused into the air and away from their face) is generally safe. You can diffuse intermittently 10–15 minutes, then stop for an hour, making sure the room is well ventilated.
5. Do not use essential oils directly on the fur or skin of small animals. Small animals can have toxic reactions to essential oils being applied to their fur or skin.
6. Phototoxicity is a light-induced reaction to a photoactive substance. You won’t have a phototoxic reaction unless you’re exposed to a photoactive substance and sunlight (or UV light). In simpler terms, phototoxicity is a reaction to sunlight, which can cause burning, blistering, and discoloration (abnormally dark patches and red areas) on the skin. Some essential oils are termed “phototoxic,” since they increase the likelihood of a phototoxic reaction. Phototoxic reactions can occur up to 18 hours after the oil is applied to the skin.
7. Do not put essential oils in or around the eyes, the ears, or other orifices. If essential oil does contact your eye, immediately wash your hands with soap and water and then put some carrier oil on a paper towel and gently wipe your eye. You may need to do this a few times. You can also flush with saline solution. If irritation persists, seek medical advice.
8. People with asthma and seasonal or skin allergies should proceed cautiously with essential oils.
9. People with multiple chemical sensitivities or who have had allergic reactions to perfumes should proceed cautiously with essential oils. (Tisserand and Young p.658)
10. Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children. They can be poisonous if swallowed.
11. Do not ingest essential oils without the direction of a healthcare professional or Aromatherapy practitioner. Casual and careless ingestion of essential oils can result in weight gain, internal scarring, ulcers, kidney and/or liver damage, and cancer. Only certain essential oils are appropriate for internal use. These oils are heavily diluted in a carrier oil, and taken only for a short period of time, for acute conditions only, where internal consumption is actually warranted.
* Special thanks to Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young’s book, Essential Oil Safety (second edition).
Remember, use your common sense, ask questions, and if something doesn’t feel right – don’t do it!
To your health,