Essential Oil Safety

Essential Oils are a great way to take care of your family. They come from natural sources. They can help you reduce toxins in your home. They are truly amazing plant allies! Just like with everything, there are some basic safety guidelines that should be observed when using essential oils. While generally considered safe, it is important to have some basic knowledge about the oil being used, safe application techniques and who you are using it on.

Dilution

While some essential oils may be safe to use topically undiluted, I recommend using a carrier oil to dilute your essential oils for a few reasons. First, some oils are known to be irritating to the skin. Bay, Cinnamon, Clove, Cumin, Lemongrass, Oregano, Thyme, and even Peppermint can all be classified as “hot” oils. Their application undiluted is likely to cause some level of discomfort to the skin, ranging from mild burning to extreme discomfort, although none are likely to cause serious or permanent damage. In case of accidental exposure and discomfort, application of a carrier oil can act as a diluting agent to reduce the effect of the irritating oil. Read more about Carrier Oils and Dispursants. Second, dilution of the essential oil does not dilute the effect of the essential oil. On the contrary, it can actually enhance the effect of the oil by spreading it over a larger surface area for greater absorption and prevents “flashing” or evaporation of oil into the air before it can be absorbed. So, it actually prevents waste due to excessive application.  Third, greater dilution is necessary with infants and children as well as the elderly and anyone known to have sensitive skin. Dilutions for healthy adult use should be in the range of 1-10%, for elderly adults, and pregnant women 1%, for children 0.5%-1% and for infants 0.25%-0.5%.

The following chart shows amounts of essential oil and carrier oil to reach the various dilution rates.

Dilution Drops of Essential Oil Carrier Oil
0.25% 3 ½ oz.
0.5% 3 1 oz.*
1% 6 1 oz.*
3% 20 1 oz.*
5% 30 1 oz.*
10% 60 1 oz.*

*1 fl. Oz = 6 tsp. = 2 TBSP.

Internal

Internal application, usually by ingestion, of essential oils is controversial. It is never recommended by some western schools of aromatherapy, but it has been endorsed in the French Model of aromatherapy and some schools of Ayurvedic healing. The most important considerations when taking essential oils internally are the safety of the particular oil for internal use, the purity of the oil being used, and the dosage or amount being used. Oils that have been adulterated have increased risk of adverse reactions, so the need for pure, authentic, and genuine essential oils is especially important. Oils that are not recommended for internal use include Arborvitae, Birch, Cedarwood, Cypress, Eucalyptus, White Fir, and Wintergreen. They are best used aromatically or topically. Remember, essential oils are extremely concentrated and potent, so only very small amounts, 1-2 drops should be used, and usually only once or twice a day.

Photosensitivity

Certain oils are known to increase photosensitivity after application to the skin. The Citrus oils, lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and bergamot are the most common photosensitizers. Angelica, cumin, and rue have also been known to cause photosensitivity. Reactions can range from slight discoloration to severe burns. It is best to avoid exposure to the sun for 24 hours after application of photosensizing oils.

Pregnancy

While the use of essential oils can be helpful with some of the common discomforts of pregnancy, it is prudent to use them with caution due to theoretical risks of harm to the fetus. Even though there are no known cases of unintentional harm to fetuses, essential oils have been shown to  cross the placenta so it is wise to use modest dilution guidelines (see above section on dilution), and to avoid internal use of essential oils during pregnancy. In addition, the following essential oils are to be avoided during pregnancy:

Pregnancy oils to avoid

Children and Infants

Remember, children and babies are much smaller and their absorption and metabolism of substances is different than adults. Use essential oils with extra care in these precious little people. In general, oils like lavender, chamomile, orange, lemon and frankincense are considered safe for topical (diluted) or aromatic (diffused) use on children (see dilution rates above). Internal use of essential oils is NOT recommended for infants and children. Applying diluted essential oils on the soles of the feet or the back is a safe way of using essential oils with infants or children. Certain oils carry additional risks for children and should not be used. Peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus and wintergreen should not be used around young children or babies. These herbs contain menthol and 1.8-cineole. These compounds can slow breathing (or even stop it completely) in very young children or those with respiratory problems

Pets

Like children, pets are usually smaller in size and have different metabolism that their human parents. It is important to heavily dilute essential oils for pets and watch to see how they react to essential oils. Diffusing essential oils and using them on yourself are good ways to introduce essential oils to your pets. Once your pet is used to an essential oil, applying it to your own hands and then petting them is a good way to apply the oil to your pet. For dogs and cats, the paws are a good place to apply essential oils. Do not apply oils to animal’s muzzle area, inside nostrils, ears or mouth, and genital areas. When diffusing essential oils around pets, it’s a good idea to have an escape route if they don’t like the aroma. Internal use of essential oils is not recommended for your pets. Some oils that are generally considered safe for use with pets are:

Copy of Autumn

High phenol oils like cinnamon, oregano, clove, wintergreen, thyme, and birch should be avoided, especially with cats. Melaleuca (tea tree) should also be avoided. Most pets will be adverse to citrus oils as well. Cats use a different system in their liver to detoxify and are particularly sensitive to essential oils that contain polyphenolic compounds. Other small animals like birds, reptiles, rodents, and fish all have specific sensitivities and should be researched before using essential oils with these types of pets.

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