Essential Oil Safety and Usage – A guest post from a Certified Aromatherapist!

Health & Wellness | October 2, 2013 | By

essential oilsI’ve invited Lea Harris, Certified Aromatherapist to answer a few questions I have about Essential oils. I hope you’ll find it as helpful and informative as I did! Lea blogs at both and Note: I am new to Essential Oils (I get mine from HERE) so I wanted you to learn from someone who is knowledgeable!!! Enjoy!

Thank you, Melissa, for inviting me to guest post. My passion for safe essential oil use led to my enrollment and graduation from Aromahead Institute as a Certified Aromatherapist. There are so many opinions out there, many of them coming from company reps with no aromatherapy training at all. I hope this post will both encourage you to consider essential oils for health and home, and give you a sense of respect for them and use them safely.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are concentrated components extracted from various forms of plant matter: leaves, flowers, fruit, resin, bark, twigs, seeds, roots, etc.

There are several different extraction methods which are used to separate the volatile compounds from the plant matter: steam distillation, CO2 extraction, cold pressing, and solvent.

Steam distillation is the most common extraction method, and involves steaming the plant matter of choice for a certain amount of time, under a specific amount of pressure, and a certain temperature. This releases the oil-soluble compounds, which is now an essential oil, and the water-soluble compounds are collected and sold as hydrosols.

You can read more about extraction methods here: Essential Oil Extraction Methods.

How do they work in/with our bodies?

Great question! This is a complicated one to answer, though, as different essential oils work differently depending on the constituents that make up the essential oil.

Estragole, for example, is a constituent found in high percentages in the essential oils of Ravensara, Tarragon, some species of Basil and others. Estragole is not safe to use orally, and should be limited to .12% when diluted on the skin.

Linalool, the primary constituent found in Ho Wood, Ho Leaf, Rosewood, Coriander Seed, Thyme, and other essential oils, “seems incapable of eliciting any allergic reactions in healthy individuals, and even when tested at 20% in dermatitis patients elicited reactions in either 0% or .17% of those tested.” (source)

basilMany people are under the impression all essential oils are without negative consequences due to their being a “natural” product. What many people do not realize is the concentration of the essential oil is 100 times or more potent than its herbal counterpart.

Likewise, Basil the herb and Basil the essential oil are not to be treated the same. Although they both contain estragole, the herb contains two or more constituents which counteract the negative effects of estragole. The essential oil does not contain these constituents, however, due to the distillation. Eat your pesto in peace, but use Basil essential oil with caution.

Latin/Botanical names are important!

When you purchase an essential oil, it’s absolutely vital that you check to see what the Latin/botanical name is. Why is it important? Because a bottle labeled “Lavender” could be one of several species – each having different therapeutic effects due to the constituents it contains. You might think Lavender will ease your headache, but if you have the wrong type, it just may not do the trick.

Some companies also mis-name essential oils, which you would only know if you checked the Latin name. For example, I have come across “Cormint” bearing the name “Peppermint” – and I knew that only because I observed the Latin name was Mentha arvensis (Cornmint), and not Mentha piperita, which is Peppermint. Cormint and Peppermint have different therapeutic properties.

Not only will you see if it’s a different essential oil altogether, but you can also find out the species that it is, and what that means therapeutically. Some high are estragole. The high estragole Basil should never be used internally, and very limited use dermally (.1% dilution). Basil that is high in linalool would be a safer choice.

So next time you grab a bottle of essential oil, make sure you know the Latin name, and what the Latin name means as far as safety.

Read more here: Latin Names Do Matter, and The Importance of Knowing Chemotypes.

concentrated oilWhy do essential oils need carriers?

Since essential oils are concentrated, they need dilution via a “carrier.” Because water and oil do not mix, we use oils, lotions, and butters as carriers to dilute essential oils before applying them to our skin. These carriers can have therapeutic properties of their own.

I personally like to use arnica oil as a base for an essential oil blend intended to relieve achy muscles.

Trauma oil, a combination of Arnica, Calendula, and St. John’s Wort, is wonderful on its own to relieve the pain of bumps and bruises. Adding essential oils with similar therapeutic properties will make it a knock-out analgesic blend.

Read more: What Carriers to Use.

What are the dangers of using them “undiluted”?

There is really no reason not to dilute essential oils – once you think of them as concentrated, it’s easy to understand that they need dilution. We don’t use concentrated cleaning products as-is, do we? No, we dilute them first. Not only would it be over-kill and squandering a concentrated product, but it’s also more economical to dilute.

When you use an essential oil “neat” (undiluted), you increase your chances of irritation, sensitization, phototoxicity (when exposed to sunlight), or an allergic reaction. Although irritation is visible right away, sensitization may not be apparent right away. Many vintage aromatherapists, who believed Lavender essential oil was safe to use undiluted, are now sensitized due to long-term neat use. Just like food allergies, allergies and sensitization can develop over time. Just because you don’t react right away to using essential oils neat, does not mean you will get away with it forever. You risk not being able to use the essential oil at all.

Keep in mind that the more you dilute an oil, the less chance of you ever having negative effects.

I also want to point out that short-term use and long-term use are two different things. To nip an infection in the bud, less dilution – or even neat use – may be appropriate. It pays to educate yourself on the essential oils you have and use, or to seek the help of a certified/clinical aromatherapist who can help guide you.

For dilution guidelines and charts, read: Properly Diluting Essential Oils.

What are your favorite essential oils?

Oh, now this is a tough one! Personally, I love the citrus essential oils: Orange, Tangerine, Lime, Grapefruit. I love diffusing them, as they help me feel more energetic.

lemons - bestFor cleaning, Lemon is my go-to choice. Strips grease out of my oven, and makes my fridge and tub shine. But in my water? Not a chance. Remember, oil and water do not mix. The Lemon essential oil will sit on the surface of your water, and hit your mucous membranes at full concentration. Over time this can lead to burns, scarring, ulcers, or cancer. (Note from Melissa: I’m SO glad she shared this as I have been using essential lemon oil in my water…and started noticing it was reacting with my drinking cup (a BPA-free plastic cup with a straw) and wondered what it was doing to MY insides. I think I’ll use it to clean instead!!!)

As for therapeutic use, it would totally depend on the need.

Read: Ingesting Essential Oils, and Inhaling Essential Oils.

If you have any questions for Lea, please leave a comment and she’ll do her best to answer them!


Lea Harris is a Certified Aromatherapist who blogs about essential oil safety at Get her FREE book, “Using Essential Oils Safely” buy subscribing to the newsletter. You can “like” LAEO on Facebook, or register for the forum where you can chat with experts and others about essential oils.


Mountain Rose Herbs

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This post contains affiliate links which, when clicked, could earn me a small commission. This also contains suggestions for natural, healthy living. Please do not substitute that for advice from a licensed practitioner.


This post is shared at: Wellness Wednesday, Tasty Traditions


  1. Leave a Reply

    July 21, 2017

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  2. Leave a Reply

    October 3, 2016

    Thank you!Very informative,I enjoy reading your post. Will glad to see some more!

  3. Leave a Reply

    April 19, 2016

    Good of you to talk about the need for carrier oils in many cases. Essential oils are strong and using them neat, especially with children and pets around, could spell disaster! It’s all situational. Be informed!

  4. Leave a Reply

    June 9, 2015

    Can I put lemon essential oil as a blend with lavender in body butter and store it in a BPA plastic container?  I have heard that citrus can break down plastic…if this is true then how long would it last in a BPA free container?

  5. Leave a Reply

    Nancy Garth
    March 23, 2014

    Hi Mellissa,

    I enjoyed reading your post. Most essential oils are safe and free of adverse side effects when used properly. However, as with any substance you are introducing into your body, it is important to use them intelligently. I recommend that you never eat or drink essential oils. You should pay attention to the following factors. If you have time kindly visit my page for more information.


  6. Leave a Reply

    January 20, 2014

    Attracted to essential oil! It is very effective in reducing itching and irritation. This makes it good when dealing with lesions, rashes, eczema and insect bites. This promotes hair growth and improves the condition of the hair.

  7. Leave a Reply

    October 30, 2013

    I’m featuring this post in tomorrow’s Wellness Wednesday link-up. 🙂

  8. Leave a Reply

    October 15, 2013

    How do EO’s cause cancer?

  9. Leave a Reply

    October 8, 2013

    Hi Lea, I am learning more about how NOT to use essential oils. I keep hearing good things about doTerra, even claims that other companies do not compare. so I have 2 questions…..1) do you think doTerra has a lead on their oils? and 2) I’ve been using Oil of Oregano on my own feet and children’s feet for illness, as well as behind their ears, nape of their neck, etc. I’ve even taken Oil of oregano internally to help with candida. What are the dangers of oil of oregano?

    • Leave a Reply

      Lea Harris, Learning About EOs
      October 20, 2013

      I can’t say whether or not they have lead, but their Peppermint EO does contain a synthetic additive, ethyl vanillin. You can read more about it here:

      As for Oil of Oregano, that is not the same thing as Oregano Essential Oil, although both need to be diluted well. My concern would be skin irritation over the long-term. Diluting it will be effective, and lower the risk of long-term negative effects.

  10. Leave a Reply

    October 2, 2013

    What brands of essential oils do you feel are a good value? What is your opinion on Aura Cacia?

      • Leave a Reply

        October 16, 2013

        Aura Cacia oils smell horrid! If you smell them at the health food store, they smell completely different than when you get a new bottle home. That tells me that in time, the smell fades. Not a quality I want in my oils. And they may very well be pure, but who knows if their constituents are high enough quality to promote any type of healing.

        • Leave a Reply

          October 16, 2013

          Interesting you would say this. I have one of their oils and it smells just fine….

  11. Leave a Reply

    October 2, 2013

    This is great info! One thing I’ve always wondered is whether there’s a difference between essential oils used for cleaning and ones used in personal care products like toothpaste and deodorant. I found a mouthwash recipe recently that calls for peppermint essential oil, which I have on hand, but I have no idea whether it’s also safe to use in a product I would be putting in my mouth (though not swallowing!).

    • Leave a Reply

      Lea Harris, Learning About EOs
      October 2, 2013

      Great question! Companies don’t sell essential oils for cleaning and others for therapeutic benefits. Peppermint essential oil is fine to use in a mouthwash 🙂

      The quality of brands can vary, though. I wouldn’t be as picky if I was using them for cleaning, but I would be sure I had a quality oil if I was applying it to my skin. You can find our test results here: which shows which samples passed and which did not. Although this is a sampling, and does not speak for all oils from the company, it is useful when determining where to purchase essential oils.

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