Essential Oil Safety and Usage – A guest post from a Certified Aromatherapist!
I’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 www.nourishingtreasures.com and www.LearningAboutEOs.com. 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)
Many 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.
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.
For 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.
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 LearningAboutEOs.com. 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.
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.
- How to Skip the Cold and Flu Season With These 5 Essential Oils - Real Food Eater - […] why not give it a try? Essential oils smell great, they have a ton of other uses, and they…