Essential oils have been used for their healing abilities throughout history. There are records of essential oils being used in ancient manuscripts and even in scripture to promote physical, mental, and spiritual health.
In recent years essential oils have begun making a “comeback” and are becoming quite popular in many countries as a natural source of health and healing.
Essential oils are very safe when used with some knowledge (and common sense).
Lately, I have been receiving a lot of questions regarding how to safely use essential oils, as well as seeing a lot of articles circulating the internet regarding essential oil safety. Some of these articles are well-written and informative, some contain good information but it is mixed in with exaggeration and incorrect information, and sadly there are a few that are just downright false.
So…how are folks who are just starting out with essential oils supposed to sort through all the information and determine fact versus fiction versus exaggeration? Well, as an herbalist and aromatherapist, I spend many hours studying such things, and I have committed a great deal of time to putting together this comprehensive guide to essential oil safety.
Now, it is not as complicated as that may make it sound. As I said, essential oils are extremely safe, but there are a few guidelines you need to know, as well as special precautions depending on age, physical conditions/illnesses, pregnancy, etc. I am going to lay those out for you in an easy-to-understand format here so that you can quickly reference this guide to get the information you need.
Because every individual is different, there is no list in the world that can adequately cover every situation. However, the following guide is quite comprehensive.
Essential Oil Safety Guide
First, let’s start with the basics:
- Use only pure and authentic oils.
It is important to use only pure and authentic essential oils, and to know your source. Many companies dilute their oils with synthetic substances or use other undesirable practices in order to keep their prices low, but this negatively impacts the consumer. Do a little research and know your brand.
- Have a carrier oil nearby.
It is a good idea, especially when starting out, to have a carrier oil nearby when using essential oils. When using a pure and authentic oil, you can often use the oil neat (which simply means not diluted), especially if you are not using it on a sensitive area. However, some oils are “hot” and may cause a burning sensation if used neat.
If you ever feel a burning sensation after applying an essential oil, always rub a carrier oil on the area immediately to dilute it and calm the irritation. (Do not use water – this will only make the situation worse.)
- Dilution is strongly encouraged for infants, children, new users, the elderly, those taking medications, individuals with food or seasonal allergies, those with an autoimmune or auto-inflammatory condition, and individuals with chronic skin disorders.
It’s always better to err on the side of caution. As you get more used to using essential oils and begin developing your own intuition and knowledge base, you may be able to use more oils neat if desired. But when starting out it never hurts to dilute with a carrier oil. This will not decrease your essential oil’s effectiveness.
- Never allow essential oils to come in contact with the eyes or other sensitive areas.
You can rub oils into the palm of your hand and cup over your eye to allow their healing benefits to penetrate your tissues, or apply keeping a wide berth around the eye area. The general recommendation is to follow the orbit/socket around the eye area and be sure to keep oils outside of this area. You should also avoid using oils in membranous areas.
- Never use essential oils inside the ears.
Oils can be very effective when rubbed around the outside of the ear, the fleshy part of the ear, and down along the Eustachian tube (externally).
You can also place one drop of oil on a cotton ball and place that in the ear.
- Exercise precautions when using essential oils during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
(More detailed information is outlined below.)
- Avoid photosensitive oils when spending time outdoors.
Some essential oils are photosensitive, meaning that if they are applied to the skin, and then that same area is exposed to direct sunlight, it can cause skin discoloration or sunburn. It is best to avoid these oils at least 12-48 hours before spending time outdoors…or simply apply them in areas “where the sun don’t shine.”
(This is outlined in more detail below.)
- Consult with your physician or pharmacist
before using essential oils alongside medications. While reactions are extremely rare, exercising precaution is wise.
- Have a reliable and trusted essential oil reference guide on-hand
to guide you in your use of essential oils and to answer any questions that may arise. There is tons of information available on the internet, but it is always wise to check that information against a good reference guide to make sure it is accurate.
- Keep essential oils out of reach of children.
Curious little minds are often drawn to the lovely smell of essential oils. Be sure to keep your little ones safe by keeping the oils out of reach so that they must have your approval before using an oil.
Safety During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
photo courtesy of Lovelies by Leanna, http://loveliesbyleanna.wix.com/loveliesbyleanna
- Focus on mild oils during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- The main concern is for the baby in utero…and especially during the first trimester, when the baby is most at risk.
Molecules under 500 Daltons cross the placenta and enter the blood stream, and most essential oils are way under 500 Daltons. This means that they will cross the placenta and expose your baby to the oil.
While essential oils are generally safe, there has been very little research done on using essential oils during pregnancy, and most of the research has been performed on animals. (Because really, who wants to be part of a study during pregnancy when you don’t know the possible outcome for your baby.)
Oils are safe to use, but one needs to use common sense. Follow the directions in your reference guide and dilute with a carrier oil until you become familiar and experienced in the use of essential oils.
Many pregnant women report a positive response from their unborn child when essential oils are applied topically, but those results may vary from person to person.
Preferred Essential Oils During Pregnancy
It is always best to consult your medical practitioner before using essential oils or any supplements during pregnancy. However, very few doctors receive training in naturopathic medicine, so consulting your physician regarding this can be a bit tricky. If possible, seek out a physician who uses natural methods in addition to their modern medical practices, and/or seek out a midwife who is trained in essential oils/herbalism.
It is best to focus on using the mildest oils during pregnancy.
Preferred Essential Oils During the First Trimester
- Balsam Fir
- Black Pepper
- Chamomile (German, Roman)
- Melaleuca (Tea Tree)
- Ylang Ylang
Preferred Essential Oils During the Second and Third Trimesters
- Balsam Fir
- Black Pepper
- Chamomile (German, Roman)
- Clary Sage
- Melaleuca (Tea Tree)
- Thyme (Linaloool CT)
- Ylang Ylang
Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy
- Aniseed (Anise)
- Blue Cypress
- Carrot Seed
- Parsley Seed and Leaf
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Essential Oils to Use Cautiously During Pregnancy
- Bay Laurel
- Lemon Myrtle
- Lemon Verbena
- Spanish Sage
- Spike Lavender
For the essential oils in the “use cautiously” category – some of these oils may have one potentially harmful compound, but have other compounds that balance it out and make it safe. However, if you are unsure, it is always best to err on the side of caution.
It should also be noted that during pregnancy it is safer to diffuse your essential oils than to use them topically or internally.
Many essential oils can be beneficial during labor and delivery. It is recommended to consult and experienced midwife for more information.
For additional information regarding essential oils during pregnancy, please click on the following link from Abundant Health: Pregnancy Safety Data
Essential Oils Safety for Infants and Children
- Essential oils high in eucalyptol (1,8-cineole), camphor, thujone, and menthol should be avoided in children under 3 – especially near the face. Use these oils cautiously on or near children under age 5.
This is especially important with children who were born prematurely. Some essential oils interact with lung cell receptors and can lower breathing rate. This is actually very rare and unlikely, but since it can occur in some children, safety is the best policy.
Myrtle essential oil is a good substitute for oils high in eucalyptol.
- Essential oils high in menthol (such as peppermint) should not be used on the throat or neck area of children under 18 months of age.
Many sources recommend using such oils only on the feet of children under age 3.
- Avoid wintergreen and birch on children under age 12.
- Do not administer essential oils internally/orally to children under age 3. In children under the age of 6, oral administration of essential oils should be limited to only the mildest essential oils and only in very small doses, if at all.
Since topical administration (and diffusing) essential oils is extremely effective, oral administration really is not necessary to receive benefits from essential oils.
- For infants, the recommended dosage is 1 drop of essential oil per 2-3 teaspoons of carrier oil.
Safety for Topical Administration of Essential Oils
Many pure and authentic essential oils are gentle enough to use neat (undiluted). However, if you are just starting out, you may want to use a carrier oil with all topical administration of oils until you become a little more familiar and comfortable with applying essential oils. There is never any harm in using a carrier oil and doing so will not weaken the benefits of the oils.
A few essential oils may cause skin irritation, especially in sensitive individuals, and these oils should always be used with a carrier oil. If you experience an oil as an irritant, you can simply avoid it or use it only for diffusing. Many times the irritation will diminish if you simply use a carrier oil with it.
Additionally, if you ever apply an essential oil topically and feel a “burning” or “irritation” effect from the oil, immediately apply a carrier oil over the essential oil to relieve the effect. Do not use water, as this will only make the situation worse.
Do not handle contact lenses or rub your eyes when you have essential oils on your hands.
For topical applications, please remember to never place essential oils directly in the eyes, ears, membranous areas, or severe cuts/wounds. Some oils can be safely applied to minor cuts and wounds to soothe and help heal; however, for larger wounds it is recommended to apply the oils around the perimeter of the area rather than directly on the wound.
Bandages: Never place a bandage over a strong or “hot” oil, such as Oregano. Doing so could cause a burning sensation.
When using essential oils in the bath, they should first be placed in a dispersing agent to prevent them from floating undiluted on the top of the water. One of the best ways to do this is by adding a few drops of essential oil to a handful of Epsom salt, and then add it to the bath water. No more than 10 drops of essential oils should be added to bath water. Normally 2-3 drops is sufficient.
The following essential oils should always be diluted with a carrier oil when used topically:
Additionally, “hot” oils should be applied to the bottom of the feet to avoid or reduce irritation.
If you find that your skin is sensitive to a particular oil, you may be able to still reap benefits of the oil by diffusing it.
Some oils (mostly citrus oils) are photosensitive, which means they are sensitive to light. Using these oils and then spending the day outdoors could result in a rash or dark pigmentation on the skin. It is best to avoid using these oils on any part of your skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight for at least 12-48 hours before being outdoors. These oils can safely be applied to areas that will be covered and protected from UV rays.
Photosensitive oils include:
- Other Citrus Oils
Aromatic Use of Essential Oils
Diffusing or directly inhaling essential oils is a great way to benefit from them…especially during times of illness or for providing relief from respiratory conditions. However, it is important to note that this method should not be used more than 10-15 times per day without consulting a health professional.
In addition, most reference guides recommend that those with asthmatic conditions should not inhale essential oils.
Start by diffusing essential oils 15-30 minutes a day. As you become more familiar with the oils and accustomed to their effects, you can increase this amount to 1-2 hours per day.
Use approximately 4-5 drops of essential oil in your diffuser at a time.
Oral Administration of Essential Oils
Many essential oils can be administered orally quite safely. Oral usage is seldom necessary, as great benefits can be derived from topical administration and inhalation of essential oils (which is true “aromatherapy”); however, sometimes the internal use of essential oils can be very beneficial.
When consuming essential oils, it is best to stick to the mildest essential oils, and to use them in small doses. It is also recommended to take them with an oil-soluble liquid such as olive oil, coconut oil, or rice milk.
It is also extremely important to use only pure and authentic essential oils, and to read the label on your oil bottle, and consult a trusted reference guide.
Not all essential oils are safe or beneficial for internal use, so take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the oil you are using and read the recommended dosage and usage guidelines for the oil before starting.
The following essential oils are certified as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA:
- Celery Seed
- Cinnamon Bark & Leaf
- Citrus Rinds
- Clary Sage
- Eucalyptus Globulus
- German Chamomile
- Laurus Nobilis
- Roman Chamomile
- Ylang Ylang
- Citrus Fresh
- Christmas Spirit
- Relieve It
- Sacred Mountain
- White Angelica
How Much Essential Oil is Safe to Use?
Usage amounts are based on body size/weight. Here is a good general guideline, but remember, less is more. Don’t start out with a large dose, if a small one will do. Small, frequent doses are generally more effective than large doses.
- For a large body – up to 15 drops per application
- For adolescents and teenagers – up to 10 drops per application
- For small children – up to 5 drops per application
- For infants – use a dilution of 0.3% to 1% (Approximately 1 drop of essential oil per 2-3 Tablespoons of carrier oil)
Also, be sure to consult your reference guide for suggested dosage amounts.
Additional Information Regarding Essential Oil Safety
It is recommended to avoid use of essential oils for approximately 48 hours prior to surgery, and up to one week following surgery.
There is not enough information available as to possible interactions between essential oils and medications/anesthesia. While many essential oils would likely be extremely safe to use, exercising caution is always the best course of action.
In addition, a few essential oils may affect your body’s ability to stop bleeding/clot. You don’t want to have unexpected bleeding or excessive bleeding during surgery. Most essential oils do not typically affect clotting ability, but again, safety is the best course of action. You can always strengthen your body with essential oils before and after surgery as long as you follow the safety usage guidelines.
People with allergies are recommended to test a small amount of essential oil on the inside of the upper arm to test for possible reactions. Wait at least 30 minutes before using on other areas of the body when testing for reactions. It is extremely rare for someone to have an “allergic” reaction to an essential oil – however, sensitive individuals would be wise to take this precaution.
Safety for Individuals with Epilepsy and Other Seizure Disorders
Those with epilepsy and taking anti-seizure medications should be very cautious with or avoid essential oils containing camphor, methyl salicylate, pinocamphone, cineole, sabinylacetate, fenchone, pulegone, and thujone. Please consult with your physician or pharmacist if you are in doubt. The following oils should be avoided.
- Spike lavender
- Ho leaf
- Western red cedar
Essential Oil Safety for Individuals with Kidney Disorders
Those with kidney disorders should use caution for oral and topical administration of essential oils, and should significantly reduce normal dosages – especially orally – to reduce the risk of nephrotoxicity.
Essential Oil Safety for Individuals with High Blood Pressure
Individuals with high blood pressure or on medication for high blood pressure should consult their physician before using essential oils, and should avoid the use of oils high in ketones, such as Basil, Rosemary, Sage, and Tansy oils. Many people with high blood pressure can benefit from essential oils, but it is wise to discuss this with your health care practitioner.
Some essential oils contain components called ketones, which can be toxic, and some essential oils contain nontoxic ketones. It is recommended to avoid using these oils, or using them only when properly trained in their proper use. In addition, these oils should never be ingested, and would be best used in a diffuser in small amounts.
There are only a few essential oils that contain ketones. The following should be avoided or used sparingly. Consult your reference guide for more information.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Mugwort (Artemesia herbe alba)
- Thuja (Thuja occidentais)
- Hyssop officinalis
- Lavandula stoechas
For additional information on this topic, please see the book The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils by Kurt Schnaubelt.
Less Is More
As I previously mentioned, essential oils are extremely safe. With just a little bit of knowledge and a good dose of common sense, almost anyone can safely use and benefit from essential oils.
It is important to note that when it comes to using essential oils, less is more.
Essential oils are very concentrated, and very potent. Often, the user can derive great benefits from a single drop of essential oil per application.
Recent studies have shown that individuals who use larger doses of essential oils do not receive any greater benefit than those using the recommended dosage. This is because our bodies are only equipped to handle so much at a time, and the rest will simply be filtered out by our body.
You will receive far greater benefit from using small, frequent doses than using larger doses of essential oils. This will also save you money by not using more oils than your body can adequately process at once.
If you find that the dosage you are using is not giving you the desired benefit, you can always increase your dosage as needed.
Although essential oils are very safe, I feel that it is prudent to start with a smaller dose and then increase if needed. It just makes sense.
Essential Oil Safety for Pet Care
It is important to note that the information contained in this document pertains to using essential oils for humans. Our pets are different creatures, and some animals metabolize things differently than we do, so different safety precautions will come into play for them. I am currently working on a document regarding essential oil safety for pet care which I will be posting soon to help answer your questions on this topic.
For additional information regarding Essential Oil Safety, please visit Young Living’s Essential Oil Safety Page.
The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). Our products are not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or health care provider.
The information provided by this website or company is not a substitute for face-to-face consultation with a health care provider, and should not be construed as individual medical advice. The testimonials on this website are from individuals and do not guarantee or imply the same results.