I was in the beginning process of writing this blog post when a compelling article came across my Twitter feed on this very subject.
We all love essential oils, right? and use them in various ways every day. As essential oils have grown in popularity to the point where you can even purchase them in drugstores, the reports of adverse reactions have gone up in tandem. It is not that essential oils are inherently unsafe, but there are safety precautions for every essential oil and a potential risk for adverse reactions -- even from something as innocuous as Lavender.
There is a popular myth that if someone has a dermal reaction to an essential oil or blend that their body is just "detoxing" and that the reaction is the bodies way of saying that "you need this oil" or to continue using the oil or blend even if it is causing dermal irritation or sensitization. This information gets passed down a lot on websites, blogs, YouTube, and in essential oil related Facebook groups and it is categorical misinformation -- regardless of the purity of the oils that you are using. Purity does not equate to safety. Adverse reactions don't only happen when using cheap, adulterated oils, and this is an unfortunate fact. I am not intending to scare anyone, but you should be aware of essential oil safety before using oils yourself or making products or recommendations to family and friends.
If you have an adverse reaction to an oil - you may never be able to use that oil again for years or for the rest of your life. There are several factors that can lead to such reactions: incorrect dosing, frequency of use, longevity of use, type of application (especially "neat" undiluted applications), and your own personal bodily constituency. If you or someone you know has an adverse reaction, it is recommended to stop using the oil and seek medical attention. Not everyone will have skin reactions and most might be very minor.
Types of Skin Reactions
My recommendation for burgeoning aromatherapists and essential oil distributors is to research and educate yourself on essential oils in general and their safety precautions -- and most importantly to do so through reputable resources because anyone can publish a blog or post to a forum or Facebook group inaccurate information. Many aromatherapy schools have free online courses about essential oil basics as well as advanced certification courses.
Recommended reading and resources:
For my aromatherapy certifications, I had to do many consultations and preparation of different sample products to be used by the client and reviewed by the course instructors. Much to my seeming shock, the feedback across the board was that in many cases I was using too much oil -- especially in rollers and/or too many different oils at the same time. As they said, “sometimes more oil is just more oil” meaning that it does not amplify the efficacy of a blend and in some cases - some oils you need more of and some oils you need less of and some oils need to be considered based upon safety information. A typical blend or synergy is made up of 3 to 5 essential oils. More can be used in certain situations, but again, we have to consider that “sometimes more oil is just more oil.”
Dilution ratios for 10ml rollers:
When I first started making rollers, I just added 5-15 drops of each oil without considering why. I found recipes on Pinterest and through Google searches as well as essential oils Facebook groups. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was wasting soooooo much oil. In most rollers I was using upwards of 30 drops of oil! In some cases, that is fine for sleep and emotional support rollers, but for most rollers that was too much oil!!
What are dilution ratios?
They are based upon the number of drops needed factoring in the dilution ratio of 0.5% to 10% and above while also factoring in the amount of carrier oil used for 10ml rollers and containers from ½ an ounce to four ounces. Typically, the dilution ratio of 1-3% is pretty standard for non-acute considerations. It turns out that my 30 drops of oil in a roller bottle was way over 10% when in most cases it did not need to be.
It is recommended to start on a lower dilution ratio and adjust from there if the efficacy of the application isn’t producing the desired results.
The chart that I use comes from Tisserand & Young’s Essential Oil Safety book, which I highly recommend though it is a little pricey and sometimes over my head with science, but overall a great resource to have on hand.
There are many factors to consider regarding the dilution ratio selected for each roller. For infants over 6 months old and elderly individuals you may only need a few drops of oil total in a blend. Whereas for acute situations such as wound healing you may need to go anywhere from 10% - 50% of oil.
Please note that while most aromatherapists and schools do not recommend using essential oils on infants under 6 months old, many people do this safely for their children.
I have a chart that I keep updated located here:
Blending factors are judged on a scale from 1-10 and indicate how much of each oil to use in a blend. One being that the oil is more potent and you need less of it aromatically and ten meaning that it is less potent and you will need more of that oil. For example, if you are blending something with Lavender (blending factor 7) you may need to use 10 drops or more and if you are blending something with Cinnamon (blending factor 1) you may only need a couple drops.
This can be challenging to ascertain when using a pre-made blend with numerous oils in it. For instance a proprietary blend may contain Wintergreen (2), Peppermint (1), Helichrysum (5) and Clove (2). I would probably clock this one as having a blending factor of 3.
There is also a mathematical way to blend a synergy using blending factors as a basis for the blend.
I am going to use Lavender (7), Lemon(6), and Peppermint (1) for 30 drops at a 5% dilution for a 1 ounce container. If you were making a roller, they are about ⅓ of an ounce.
Carrier oils also need to be factored into the equation as some are indicated for different purposes. For instance, if you were making an undereye roller, you would want to use argan or jojoba oil as opposed to fractionated coconut oil because they both have stronger benefits for the skin. If you are making a general purpose wellness roller, then FCO would be fine. Here is a link to some basic carrier oil information on my website: http://www.restorativearomatics.com/carrier-oil-information.html
Usage of the same oils for prolonged periods of time can cause you to either become immune to their therapeutic benefits or they can cause dermal irritation or sensitization.
PS. Think about the cost per drop: Essential oils are expensive and one should reflect upon overusing oils in a recipe and what that recipe costs you in wasted oils.
The simple answer is YES... even if a company claims they won't due to their purity, BUT, here is what you need to know...
Essential oils shouldn't go rancid, unless they are mixed with carrier oils or other synthetic or adulterated substances. However, they can oxidize. Three things come into play with oxidation: light, heat, and oxygen.
Oxidation is a process in which a chemical substance changes due to heat, light, and oxygen. What happens is that it is going to change or degrade the composition of the oil. Citrus oils are high in d-limonene, what will happen is that after the bottle is open, it will begin to oxidize over time meaning that the d-limonene levels will go down. You may not notice this as it will smell the same, but the therapeutics can decrease, and the risk for a dermal reaction may occur. Citrus oils can become cloudy if oxidized.
Some oils, especially citrus oils should actually be stored in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation to protect them from heat exposure.
Most essential oils come in dark amber or blue bottles, which helps to protect them from light, but once we use them in homemade products they will be exposed to light and oxidation can occur. Most oils last between 2-3 years, some more, some less.
When you are using your oils and you have oxygen in the bottles is that you can transfer them to smaller bottles. You can also date the bottles with the month and year of when you opened the bottle. Unopened bottles will be fine as long as they are stored properly.
When it comes to light exposure, you want to avoid direct contact with sunlight. May of us keep our oils on display, but there are things that can be done to avoid sun exposure. I keep my oils in a case that has foam enclosures in which the oils sit.
If your oils become oxidized, it is recommended to not diffuse them or use them dermally, but you can use them in your cleaning products without any issues.
The oils most prone to oxidation are: Angelica Root, Bergamot Mint, Cannabis, Cilantro, Elemi, Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Manuka, Melissa, Neroli, Orange (all types), Palo Santo, Rhododendron, Taget, Tangerine, and Yuzu. [Source: The Tisserand Institute]
I recently did a Facebook Live in the Restorative Aromatics group on the low down on choosing essential oils brands and the importance of purity mostly because there are hundreds of oils and no one place seems to carry them all. Frustrating, isn't it?
It can be a challenge finding brands of essential oils when it comes to purchasing high quality, pure, unadulterated essential oils. As an aromatherapist, I often need to find different essential oils to experiment with for my certification classes and sometimes they are out of stock at your preferred company or they do not carry them at all. Most companies claim to be 100% pure... therapeutic grade... etc. Some of this is just marketing speak pure and simple since there is no official governing body that certifies essential oils as "pure" or "therapeutic grade." So anyone can use these terms. Cost doesn't always equate to quality, but it is a good indicator when price matching between companies - roughly the oil should be in the same price range.
We all have our brand loyalty and sometimes it is hard to move to using multiple brands for your oil collection. A lot of companies will get their oils from the same brokers and distilleries, so there may not be a huge difference in some oils from company to company. There are some companies that own their own farms, but many including those, partner with other brokers to provide their products. Most essential oil companies carry upwards of 100 or more different essential oils - so it would not be feasible to own farms all over the world or it would be cost prohibitive.
One of the key things I look for with essential oil companies is that if they release their GC/MS (Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry) reports on their website which gives you the range of chemical constituents in each oil as well as the range of percentages of those chemical constituents according to ISO standards. For instance, Lavender has a high linalool content and it should be within the range of 25-38%. More or less is out of range and may effect its therapeutic quality.
I've used dozens of different essential oil brands over the years and have had to research many companies and oils and found several that I really like. I purchased a lot of essential oils through Young Living, and while I do love their oils, I recognize that MLM companies are not for everyone. Here are some of the companies that I like the most. They all post their GC/MS reports on their websites, which is important and have relevant information about the essential oils on their websites as well. I recently looked up an essential oil on a company website and all it literally said was that "this oil can be used topically." No other information was provided!
What is a chemotype?
Chemotypes are variances of the chemical composition of certain essential oils extracted from one botanical species yet they vary in chemical compositions. They are not different species of the oil. Chemotypes occur when a plant produces a particular chemical in a higher than normal amount because of many environmental factors such as light, soil, temperature, moisture, climatic influence, altitude, insect activity, and geographic area.
Plants with different chemotypes: Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Hyssop, and Niaouli. I will mostly be talking about Rosemary and Thyme for this blog post.
The three main chemotypes of Rosemary are camphor, cineole, and verbenone. Each has its own distinct aroma and therapeutic applications and safety.
Thyme has five chemotypes: linalool, gerianol, borneol, thymol, and thujanol-4. Each has its own distinct aroma and therapeutic applications and safety.
So what's the deal with ingesting essential oils? Is it safe? A friend linked me to a post in Eden's Gardens Facebook page about this topic and I thought to share my response on the subject matter and perhaps expound upon it further. I am a certified aromatherapist and have completed my coursework in French Aromatherapy. I also completed the Essential Oil Safety Masterclass through the Tisserand Institute and we covered safety concerns with ingestion as well.
Outside of French Aromatherapy, which includes ingestion, inhalation, and dermal application of essential oils and herbs, the practice of ingesting essential oils is fraught with many differing opinions within the aromatherapy field and many are adamantly against it. In France, some essential oils for ingestion are only available by prescription only.
That said, my advice is that you should not ingest essential oils without knowing the particular safety precautions and contraindications for each oil as some like Cinnamon Bark can interact with diabetes medication and others should not be used if you are on anticoagulant medication. It is also crucial to know the daily maximum doses for each oil as some are fine to ingest, but only in very small doses. There are some oils that should never be ingested as well. In addition, the dosage should be based on body weight while also factoring age and any internal health conditions that may be present. Everyone is different, and just arbitrarily taking X drops of a combination of oils in a capsule or water (see below for more information on water and oils in particular) because someone shared a recipe that they got from somewhere is not advised.
The primary safety concern with ingestion is that you could have an internal reaction without knowing whereas in dermal application you can tell if your skin becomes irritated or inflamed. Most reactions to internal use of essential oils will probably involve nausea and vomiting, but some can have neurotoxic or hepatotoxic effects, which may be harder to ascertain.
As a matter of information sharing when it comes to interactions with prescription medication is that oils high in Citral, Methyl salicylate, and alpha-Bisabolol and Chamazulene provide the highest risk factors. This includes, for example:
The main problem I see coming from people ingesting essential oils is that a lot of people do not know the proper methodology in using excipients* to disperse the oils because essential oils by themselves are not water soluble. For instance, putting a couple drops of lemon oil in your water is pointless because it is just going to float at the top of the surface and never disperse fully throughout the water. It doesn't necessarily pose a safety concern though it could burn your throat. The same thing goes for tea, in which case, it is recommended to first blend the oils with honey or syrup and then add it to the tea. There are many substances that work as dispersants for essential oils. I have a product called Solubol which works well for this. The French also use neutral tablets moreso than gel capsules, but unfortunately the tablets aren't available in the US. Though, you could use the homeopathic blank tablets instead.
*Excipients include: solubol, honey, alcohol, gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, neutral tablets, sugar cube, honey, fatty oil capsules, charcoal, tincture/s, bread, rice flour capsules, syrups, dried powdered herb capsules.
[Source: The New York Institute of Aromatic Studies, French Aromatherapy Certification Course]
I have personally experimented with making recipes suited for ingestion, but I have to tell you, some oils taste horrible, I made some herbal pastilles and geranium tastes quite awful. Another method, I have been experimenting with is making herbal tinctures which can be used with oils since the tinctures are made in vodka, which acts as a dispersant.
There are many things to take into consideration when considering ingesting essential oils, and I do not, officially, advise against it. BUT, I cannot express this enough that you really need to know and do the following:
To that end, I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young's Essential Oil Safety book for reference.
What do you do when someone posts/responds something negative or controversial about essential oils or aromatherapy?
I have seen this come up a number of times and I have to say that I disagree with ignoring it or deleting the post/comment and/or removing the person from the group.
I think the best thing that we can do is to address the issue and research a response to the situation. I will use my experience with the "OMG essential oils are killing your cats" hoopla from earlier this year.
I received numerous comments, posts to my personal Facebook profile and in groups and personal messages. I didn't know all the facts at first, so I decided to do some research, well actually a lot of research. And I thoroughly addressed the problem so that, when it comes up again, and you know it will, that I will be able to address the issue with FACTS. I responded to every post and comment and even wrote a series of blog posts about it, which continue to be the highest visited pages on my website.
I know its not always easy to respond to things like "essential oils suck" but to be honest unless they give a reason, it is hard to respond, but I would respond anyway with something to the extent of "I'm sorry that you feel that way, what happened to make you feel like that?" People like to feel like they are being heard.
I've worked professionally and personally in social media for over 10 years and one of the most common things businesses are afraid of is "What do I do if someone posts something negative?"
The worst thing you can do is ignore it or delete it. People will have negative things to say, but deleting comments you don't agree with can harm your business or brand. Also, it makes it look as if you either don't know the answer or can't be bothered to refute their claims. By all means, this should be thought about case by case and if someone is threatening harm or promoting hate speech - you may not only have to remove the comment, but sometimes report to Facebook or other social media platform.
I urge you to think about this. We all have immense resources at our fingertips and the expertise of many professionals with decades of experience to speak from on any given issue. I know when I have questions about something, I have my aromatherapy groups that I can talk to from my certification programs - and I always get responses even from the teachers as well as other colleagues. Sometimes, there is a wide array of opinions, but nonetheless, I find answers to everything that I am looking for.
My advice is to be patient with people who challenge you and also to know that sometimes you do in fact have to agree to disagree and walk away, but don't walk away before the conversation has even begun!
Owner, Restorative Aromatics and NAHA Certified Aromatherapist Level One. This blog focuses on aromatherapy education and other essential oil related topics.