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Part 4: Safe Use of Essential Oils – Guide for Beginners

Essential Oil Safety

Welcome to Part 4 of the 4-part series ‘Essential Oils : A Guide for Beginners.’

In this post, I’ll share with you the basics of essential oil safety and general cautions to be aware off.

This is quite a big subject as well as being a hugely important one and there are other areas I would love to explain further. 

For example, dilution guidelines, pregnancy and children are all subjects that really deserve a post of their own.  So, I will cover these topics at a later date.

 

It’s not hard to realise that my passion is essential oils and natural health.

Essential oils can play a positive role in your general well-being.  Their aromas can support you emotionally whether it be to help you relax and unwind or to uplift and inspire more feel good emotions.

Also, physically, essential oils can play a natural healing role whether it be fighting colds and flu, relieving muscle and joint pain or healing skin irritations or inflammation.

Even on a spiritual level they can support reconnecting with yourself, keeping you grounded and enhancing your meditation and yoga practice.

 

These amazing plant essences have constituents that are very alluring, special and powerful.

But because essential oils are deemed ‘natural’ and can be used to make toiletries smell nice there is a tendency to over-look what they actually are.

 

Understanding that essential oils are concentrated, powerful and therapeutically active is really important.  They can cause a physiological response in your body and so care must be taken with their use.

In saying that, most people will never experience a negative reaction to essential oils, but it does happen and so it’s always best to play it safe.

 

Here’s a few guidelines to remember.

Basic Safety Tips:

  • Do not use essential oils internally.
  • Keep essential oils out of the reach of children and pets. They can be poisonous if swallowed!
  • If a large amount of undiluted essential oil is accidentally ingested, drink milk or another fatty substance, and contact your local poison centre for advice.
  • Essential oils are highly flammable, please keep them away from a naked flame.
  • Do not apply directly to the skin. Essential oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after using diluted and undiluted essential oils.
  • Avoid all contact with eyes and mucous membranes. If essential oil accidently gets into the eye, immediately wash the eye and seek medical attention.
  • Some essential oils are phototoxic e.g. most citrus oils. Sunlight and tanning bed rays must be avoided at least 12-18 hours after application.  (More info below).
  • Do not use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly or those with a serious medical condition without advice from a qualified aromatherapist.
  • If you are allergic or suspect an allergy to an oil, a skin patch test is recommended before use (How do you do this? See below).
  • If you have sensitive skin or prone to allergies there are essentials oils that are recommended not to be used. More info below.
  • If you are epileptic there are essentials oils that are recommended not to use. (More info below).
  • The use of essential oils directly on the skin or fur of animals is not recommended. Small animals can have a toxic reaction.

And last but not least,

  • Store oils and blends in tightly lidded dark, glass bottles away from heat and light.

 

To help clarify, I’ve gone into further detail on a few of these for you.

 

Firstly,

Can I take essential oils orally?

Here’s my advice. 

Please don’t ingest essential oils unless advised by a practitioner who has been specifically trained to prescribe essential oils this way.

This is so important!

Even in my diploma training as an aromatherapist I am not able to dispense essential oils for oral use.  Internal use of essential oils is such a specialised area and generally you need to be at a medical doctorate level of training to be qualified to do so.

There are companies that are endorsing taking essential oils internally.  But, please be aware, that many of their sales people are not trained to give this advice and this is quite dangerous.

Taking essential oils orally engages many areas of risk with the potential of serious consequences if the wrong advice and dosage is given.

I’m not saying taking essential oils internally is wrong and shouldn’t be done.  There are definitely certain conditions that can benefit from this method.  They just need to be prescribed by a specifically qualified practitioner.

 

 

~ Direct Inhalation of Essential Oils

It’s best not to directly and intensively inhale essential oils for longer than 15-30 minutes1.  This is referring to prolonged inhalation of concentrated essential oil vapours.  For example, steam inhalation or directly smelling from the bottle.

Doing this for an extensive period of time without a break can lead to headaches, vertigo, nausea and lethargy.  For children under 5 years old direct inhalation should be avoided.

You can relax, this does not apply to indirect inhalation which is the burning of oils in an oil burner or diffuser, or any method that vaporises essential oils in the air.  It is just for direct inhalation only.

Whenever you’re using essential oils, having some fresh air circulating is recommended.

 

 

~ Epilepsy

If you are epileptic it is best to avoid the following essential oils.  This is due to their powerful action on the nervous system:

Essential Oil Botanical Name of Plant
Fennel  Foeniculum vulgare
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis
Sage Salvia officinalis

 

 

~ Cardiac Fibrillation

As a cautionary measure peppermint (Mentha x piperita) essential oil is best avoided if you suffer with cardiac fibrillation.

This is because of the menthol component in the oil that has been associated with destabilization of heart rhythm2.

 

 

~ Asthma

Although perfumes have been known to exacerbate asthma, this has never been recorded for an essential oil.

However, anecdotal accounts suggest that individuals with asthma may find that certain essential oils trigger an attack.1

 

 

~ Sensitive skin / Skin Irritation

Some essential oils do have the potential to cause a skin reaction if you have sensitive skin or you’re susceptible to allergic reaction to skin products and fragrances.

If you do have sensitive skin, the following essential oils may cause irritation and so it is best to either avoid these oils or do a skin test patch before using.

To help clarify the exact essential oil I have also provided the botanical plant name.

 

Essential Oil Botanical Name of Plant
Aniseed Pimpinella anisum
Basil Ocimum basilicum
Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis
Bay West Pimenta racemosa
Benzoin Styrax benzoin
Black Pepper Piper nigrum
Camphor (White) Cinnamomum camphora
Caraway Carum carvi
Cassia Cinnamomum cassia
Cinnamon (Bark + Leaf) Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Citronella Cymbopogon nardus
Clove Bud Syzygium aromaticum
Geranium Pelargonium graveolens
Gingergrass Cymbopogon martinii
Ginger Lily Hedychium spicatum
Lemon Citrus limon
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus
Lemon Myrtle Backhouse citriodora
May Chang Litsea cubeba
Melissa Melissa officinalis
Oregano Origanum vulgare
Peppermint Mentha piperita
Pine (Dwarf) Pinus mugo
Sage Salvia officinalis
Savory Satureia hortensis (summer) + Satureia montana (winter)
Spruce Picea abies
Spruce (Black) Picea mariana
Tagetes Tagetes minuta
Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
Thyme Thymus vulgaris
Verbena (Lemon) Lippia citriodora
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Yarrow Achillea millefolium

 

If you have sensitive skin or are uncertain about using essential oils on your skin it is recommended that you do a patch test first.

 

Skin Patch Test?  Here’s how …
  • In 5-mls (1 tsp) of carrier oil dilute 2 drops of essential oil.
  • Gently massage this blend on to the inside of your forearm and cover with a bandage.
  • Leave for 1-hour and check for signs of irritation.
  • If no irritation has occurred leave covered for up to 24 hours.
  • A second assessment can be made 48 hours later and if no irritation has occurred it should be safe for you to begin using the essential oil diluted in a blend on your skin.
  • If there is a reaction to the essential oil, wash off straight away with cool soapy water and stop use of that particular oil immediately.
Signs of irritation are redness, inflammation burning or itching.

It is important to remember, even after doing a skin patch test, there is no guarantee that you won’t develop sensitisation, irritation or allergy to the oil over time.  So, it’s a good idea to retest if you’re ever concerned.

 

Tips on skin patch testing:
  • Never use essential oils undiluted on the skin.
  • Avoid using essential oils that are hazardous.
  • Avoid essential oils that are known to cause sensitization/dermal irritation.

 

 

~ Allergies

Some carrier oils are also known to cause allergic reactions.  If you have a nut or wheat allergy it is best to avoid the following oils:

  • Sweet Almond
  • Hazelnut
  • Macadamia
  • Peanut
  • Walnut
  • Wheatgerm

 

 

~ Phototoxicity

Phototoxicity is known as an increased skin reaction (strong potential to burn) to ultraviolet rays of sunlight.

There are some essential oils that contain chemical components that can cause phototoxicity if applied to the skin before being exposed to direct sunlight or tanning beds.

Generally, most citrus oils are phototoxic but here’s a list of the more common essential oils that are phototoxic:

  • Angelica root
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter orange (expressed only)
  • Fig Leaf (absolute)
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon (expressed only)
  • Lime (expressed only)
  • Mandarin leaf

If you are ever in doubt about a particular oil it’s always good to do your research first before using.

 

 

~ Pregnancy

Essential oils can be really supportive during pregnancy, however it is important to use essential oils in a low dilution because of the sensitivity of the mother and growing baby.

There are oils that are contraindicated during pregnancy especially during the 1st trimester and if there is a history or risk of miscarriage.  It is important to remember to avoid aromatherapy home use during this time unless directed by a qualified aromatherapist or practitioner.

This is a big topic on its own which I will go into depth in another post along with information on which essential oils are safe for children.

But please, when in doubt, always consult with a trained aromatherapist first.

 

 

~ Essential oils to avoid completely

The following essential oils are considered extremely hazardous and have high toxicity levels and should not be used in aromatherapy.

To help clarify the exact essential oil I have also provided the botanical plant name.

 

Essential Oil Botanical Name of Plant
Almond (bitter) Prunus amygdalus var amara
*Birch (sweet) Betula lenta
Boldo leaf Peumus boldus
Buchu (B crenulate) Agathosma crenulata
Cade (unrectified) Juniperus oxycedrus
Camphor (brown + yellow) Cinnamomum camphora
*Cassia Cinnamomum cassia
*Cinnamon bark Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Costus Saussurea costus
Elecampane Inula helenium
Fig leaf Ficus carica
Horseradish Cochlearia armoracia
*Mugwort Artemisia Vulgaris
Mustard Brassica nigra
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
Pine (huon) Dacrydium franklinii
Rue Ruta graveolens
*Sage Salvia officinalis
Sassafras Sassafras albidum
Savin Juniperus sabina
Snakeroot Asarum canadense
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tea Tree (black) Melaleuca bracteate
Thuja Thuja occidentalis
*Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Wormseed Chenopodium ambrosioides
*Wormwood Artemisia absinthium

 

* These oils can be used with extreme caution in consultation with a qualified aromatherapist or practitioner.

 

 

~ General Contraindications

Generally, if you have a skin condition, are pregnant, have epilepsy or asthma, are on a course of treatment with prescribed medication, or are in any doubt about any condition you may have, you are advised to seek the advice of a doctor or suitable practitioner before using essential oils.1

 

Wow, you can see how big this topic is and I know there are still some areas I haven’t touched on. 
I will definitely do these at a later date for you.  But for now I hope this information is helpful to you.

And please know, this post isn’t meant to scare you about using essential oils.  It is my intention to give you a bit of knowledge so you know how to use them safely and appreciate how amazing these essences are.

 

Essential oils can play such a special positive role in keeping us well, enhancing our well-being and reconnecting with nature.  As well as creating a beautiful ambiance in our home where we can escape and recharge.

 

Remember, essential oils are natural and when chosen and used correctly, they are perfectly safe. 

 

It’s just a matter of being respectful of what these oils are and doing your homework before using.

 

If you have any questions or would like further clarification on any of these topics, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note at melanie@quiescent.co.nz

 

This is A LOT of information to remember I know!  Would you like all this info in one handy handout?  Then sign up HERE (or below) and a copy will be on its way to your in-box.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this 4-part series on ‘Essential Oils : A Guide for Beginners‘.  

If you have any feedback I would really love to hear it!  Or, if there are other essential oil topics you would like me to cover, please don’t be shy, drop me a note HERE and let me know.  It is my focus to bring you posts that are interesting, inspiring and as informative as possible. 😃

 

Wishing you a life full of beautiful, healthy aromatic adventures.

Mel xo
Quiescent – pure plant oils

 

Oh! PS – We (other half and I), are establishing (trying to 😉) an aromatic + medicinal garden in our own backyard.  We’re beginners at gardening but we LOVE it.  We have a beautiful copper alembic still and we hope to distill most of our plants to produce our own gentle and natural hydrosols (aromatic waters).  If you’re interested in following our journey, I’ll be showing snippets and insights on Instagram here and in my monthly newsletters (you can sign up here) 😍

 

PPS – If you missed the other posts in this series you can catch them here …

:: Part 1: What are essential oils and how are they produced?

:: Part 2: Ways to use essential oils

:: Part 3: Ways to use essential oils around your  home

 

One last thing …

The information, products and descriptions in this blog post series, ‘Essential Oils : A Guide for Beginners’ is for general interest and educational purposes only.  It is not intended to or implied to substitute professional medical advice, or diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  The use of essential oils is not meant to substitute for professional medical care or treatment.  If you have health concerns, please consult with a medical professional.  You should also talk to your doctor before beginning to use essential oils, especially if you’re on any medications or have individual healthcare needs.

 

Reference + Sources
  1. Tisserand, Robert. Handout: Tisserand Institute Safety Guidelines. 2016.
  2. Tisserand, Robert & Young, Rodney. Essential Oil Safety, (second edition). Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Edinburgh, London, New York, Oxford, Philadelphia, St Louis, Sydney, Toronto, 2014.

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Published on August 14, 2017