Essential oils have been used for centuries for a variety of purposes including as sources of medicines, foods, preservatives, articles in religious and social ceremonies and remedies to modify behaviour. But there are a lot of misconceptions about safety of essential oils. You may come across claims declaring them to be completely safe or unsafe. Nothing is far from truth. Let’s discuss essential oils safety and dilution guide for safe use of oils?
Some people may think that since essential oils are natural extracts from plants, they are safe to use if the herbs and plants from which they are extracted are safe for us. However, this is not correct since essential oils are a particular extracted constituent not a whole food or plant.
The toxicity of essential oils can be entirely different to that of the plant because of high concentration and their ability to pass across membranes very efficiently.
Most of essential oils with a few exceptions are safe if used properly. It is very important to follow instructions while using essential oils, otherwise seemingly un-harmful essential oils may cause damage. We have listed a few of the general essential oils safety guidelines to follow as precaution.
As a first essential oils safety guideline, conduct a patch test before using a new essential oil.
To conduct a patch test, apply a small amount in weak dilution, usually 1%, on an area either under the arm, inside the elbow, behind the knee or on the wrist. If you notice any redness, burning or irritation, discontinue using the oil immediately and wash the area thoroughly with plain soap and water.
Dilute essential oils before applying topically. Carrier oils are a great choice for diluting essential oils. You may choose carrier oil as per you like. Use cold processed, unfiltered or naturally filtered, preferably unscented carrier oils. Vegetable carrier oils like fractionated coconut oil or jojoba are excellent choices.
For adults, essential oils are diluted in a ratio of 1, 2 or 3 percent with carrier or base oil. Following is a general essential oil safety guideline for dilution.
Children can benefit from using oils, but there are a few things to remember. Children have thinner skin than adults. They are extremely sensitive to potency, so dilute essential oils at least double what you would for an adult. Skin tests should always be done for very young children and the elderly.
Following is general essential oils safety guidelines to follow in case of use of oils on children.
Use essential oils with caution during pregnancy. It is recommended to use essential oils only under the guidance of a Certified Aromatherapist and/or medical professional with knowledge of and training in essential oils.
Do not use oils that are contraindicated during pregnancy. Use a dilution of maximum 1% during pregnancy.
There are few oils that are to be avoided during pregnancy. Some of them are Bitter almond, basil, clary sage, clove bud, hyssop, sweet fennel, juniper berry, marjoram, myrrh, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme and wintergreen. This list is not complete and is for reference only.
Mother with newborn babies should avoid using essential oils since aroma of essential oils can interfere with the mother’s natural smell and thus interfere with the all-important bonding that occurs between a mother and her child.
Some oils are photosensitive. These oils cause skin irritation or sensation when exposed to sunlight. It is recommended to stay out of the sun for a few hours after application of these oils. Or rather it is preferred to use these oils during night time.
Most of the cold pressed citrus based oils are photo-sensitiser. Some of the photosensitive essential oils are angelica root, grapefruit, orange, tangerine, mandarin, lemon, bergamot, cumin, opopanax, tagetes. This is not a comprehensive list and is for reference purposes only.
Contraindications is a condition or factor that serves as a reason to withhold a certain medical treatment due to the harm that it would cause the patient. In case of some medical conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, it is recommended to avoid certain essential oils.
Some examples of contraindications in case of essential oils are:
Again, this is not a complete list. Please research before use, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
Please note that some essential oils are simply toxic and should not be used in aromatherapy.
Some of these oils are bitter almond, buchu, camphor brown, camphor yellow, sassafras, calamus, horseradish, mugwort, mustard, pennyroyal, rue, savory, southernwood, tansy, thuja, wintergreen, wormseed and wormwood.
Keep bottles of essential oils tightly closed and store them in a cool location away from light. If stored properly and unopened, most essential oils will maintain their potency for years.
Essential oils should be used sparingly. Remember one drop of an essential oil equals about 1–4 cups (26–104 g) or more of dried plant matter.
A positive understanding of essential oils safety can be summarised as follows.