What Is An Essential Oil? Essential Oil Safety – Basic Guidelines.

An essential oil is a highly concentrated compound, extracted from a herb, which gives the herb its characteristic fragrance. It is volatile, which means that it is easily dispersed in the air {think fragrance!} and can be distilled off and captured to produce a concentrated oil. It takes a large amount of herb to yield a small amount of oil, which accounts for the high price of commercially available essential oils. They are extremely concentrated – so strong that some are toxic – and should never be taken internally without professional advice. For external use, you should dilute an essential oil with a fixed oil, such as olive oil or almond, in order to avoid irritating your skin. When used safely and sparingly, essential oils add a delightful aroma and flavor to herbal preparations such as dried teas, tinctures, and salves.

Safety First – Using Essential Oils

  • Never use any essential oils of the citrus variety before sunbathing, for they are considered to be photosensitive oils, especially Bergamot.   See table 3 for a list of essential oils to avoid before going into the sun
  • Do not use essential oils before the 18th week of pregnancy and then the essential oils should only be blends which have been formulated by a professional health care provider and Certified Clinical Aromatherapist and always in low dilution.  Essential oils that appear to be safe include Cardamon, German and Roman Chamomile, Frankincense, Geranium, Ginger, Neroli, Patchouli, Petitgrain, Rosewood, Rose, Sandalwood, and other non-toxic essential oils.16 Before using any essential oils during pregnancy, check with your doctor first.  It would also be prudent to avoid the internal or undiluted application of essential oils throughout pregnancy.  See table 6 for essential oils to avoid during pregnancy
  • Keep aromatherapy products away from children under 12 and pets unless they have been approved for the correct application and usage by their health care provider or veterinarian.
  • Never take essential oils internally unless advised by a healthcare practitioner and Certified Clinical Aromatherapist.
  • All essential oils should be diluted with the exception of Tea Tree and Lavender which in most cases can be used directly on the skin (neat), but never on children under 12 or pets.
  • Avoid using essential oils when taking homeopathic remedies.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol after aromatherapy massage.
  • With high blood pressure, avoid Rosemary, Peppermint, Black Pepper, Clove, Thyme, Hyssop, Sage
  • Low blood pressure – avoid excessive use of Lavender oil.
  • Epilepsy – avoid Fennel, Hyssop, and Rosemary.

Essential Oil Application Therapy on the Skin

General safety guidelines include: avoid application of known dermal irritant essential oils on any inflammatory or allergic skin condition; avoid undiluted application; avoid application on the open or damaged skin; and dilute known dermal irritants with appropriate vegetable oil or another carrier. If you suspect your or a client has sensitive skin, perform a skin patch test. Table 1 lists some, but not all, common essential oils considered to be dermal irritants.

Dermal Irritants (Table 1)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Bay Pimento racemosa
Cinnamon bark or leaf Cinnamomum zeylanicum*
Clove bud Syzygium aromaticum
Citronella Cymbopogon nardus
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus
Lemon verbena Lippia citriodora
Oregano Origanum vulgare
Tagetes Tagetes minuta
Thyme ct. thymol Thymus vulgaris

*bark is more irritating than leaf

Dermal sensitization

Dermal sensitization is a type of allergic reaction. It occurs on first exposure to a substance, but on this occasion, the noticeable effect on the skin will be slight or absent. However, subsequent exposure to the same material, or to a similar one with which there is cross-sensitization, produces a severe inflammatory reaction brought about by cells of the immune system (T-lymphocytes). The reaction will be represented on the skin as blotchy or redness, which may be painful to some individuals.

The best way to prevent sensitization is to avoid known dermal sensitizers and avoid applying the same essential oils every day for lengthy periods of time. Sensitization is, to an extent, unpredictable, as some individuals will be sensitive to a potential allergen and some will not.

According to Burfield (2004), the following oils listed in Table 2 are considered to be dermal sensitizers and are not recommended for use in aromatherapy massage.

Dermal Sensitizers (Table 2)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Cassia Cinnamomum cassia
Cinnamon bark Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Peru balsam Myroxylon pereirae
Verbena absolute Lippia citriodora
Tea absolute Camellia sinensis
Turpentine oil Pinus spp.
Backhousia Backhousia citriodora
Inula Inula graveolens
Oxidized (rancid) oils from Pinaceae family (e.g., Pinus and Cupressus species) and Rutaceae family (e.g., citrus oils)

Photosensitization

An essential oil that exhibits this quality will cause burning or skin pigmentation changes, such as tanning, on exposure to the sun or similar light (ultraviolet rays). Reactions can range from a mild color change through to deep weeping burns.

Do not use or recommend the use of photosensitizing essential oils prior to going into a sun tanning booth or the sun. Recommend that the client stays out of the sun or sun tanning booth for at least twenty-four hours after treatment if photosensitizing essential oils were applied to the skin. Certain drugs, such as tetracycline, increase the photosensitivity of the skin, thus increasing the harmful effects of photosensitizing essential oils under the necessary conditions. Table 3 lists some, but not all, common essential oils considered to be photosensitizers.

Photosensitizers (Table 3)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Angelica root Angelica archangelica
Bergamot unless bergaptene free Citrus bergamia
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk) Citrus paradisi
Expressed lemon Citrus limon
Expressed lime Citrus medica
Orange, bitter (expressed) Citrus aurantium
Rue Ruta graveolens

Non-phototoxic citrus oils (Table 4)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Bergamot: Bergapteneless
(FCF: Furanocoumarin Free)
Citrus bergamia
Distilled lemon Citrus limon
Distilled lime Citrus medica
Mandarin – Tangerine Citrus reticulata
Sweet orange Citrus sinensis
Expressed tangerine Citrus reticulata
Yuzu oil (expressed or distilled) Citrus juno

Mucous membrane irritant

A mucous membrane irritant will produce a heating or dry effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, nose, and reproductive organs. It is recommended that mucous membrane irritating essential oils not be used in a full body bath unless placed in a dispersant first (e.g., milk, vegetable oil). It would also be wise to put the dispersed essential oils into the water after you have gotten into the bath. Bay, clove, cinnamon bark, lemongrass, and thyme. Thymol essential oils should be avoided in baths completely. Table 5 lists some, but not all, common essential oils considered to be mucous membrane irritants.

Mucous membrane irritants (Table 5)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Bay Pimento racemosa
Caraway Carum carvi
Cinnamon bark or leaf Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Clove bud or leaf Syzygium aromaticum
Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus
Peppermint Mentha x piperita
Thyme ct. thymol Thymus vulgaris

Pregnancy

The use of essential oils during pregnancy is a controversial topic and one that is yet to be fully understood. The main concern during pregnancy appears to be the risk of essential oil constituents crossing over into the placenta. According to Tisserand and Balacs, crossing the placenta does not necessarily mean that there is a risk of toxicity to the fetus; this will depend on the toxicity and the plasma concentration of the compound. It is probable that essential oil metabolites cross the placenta due to the intimate (but not direct) contact between maternal and embryonic or fetal blood. Tony Burfield goes on to say, “to my thinking the responsible attitude is to discourage the use of essential oils completely during the first few months of pregnancy”.

Due to the lack of clear information regarding the toxicity of essential oils during pregnancy, it would be best to adhere to general safety guidelines. According to Tisserand and Balacs, the following essential oils should not be used during pregnancy: wormwood, rue, oak moss, Lavandula stoechas, camphor, parsley seed, sage, and hyssop.

Essential oils that appear to be safe include cardamon, German and Roman chamomile, frankincense, geranium, ginger, neroli, patchouli, petitgrain, rosewood, rose, sandalwood, and other non-toxic essential oils. It would also be prudent to avoid the internal or undiluted application of essential oils throughout pregnancy.

Essential oils to Avoid throughout Pregnancy, Labor, and while Breastfeeding (Table 6)

Essential Oil Latin Name
Aniseed Pimpinella anisum
Basil ct. estragole Ocimum basilicum
Birch Betula lenta
Camphor Cinnamomum camphora
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Parsley seed or leaf Petroselinum sativum
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
Sage Salvia officinalis
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
Thuja Thuja occidentalis
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium

General Safety Precautions & Guidelines

  1. Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets.
  2. Do not use or recommend the use of photosensitizing essential oils prior to going into a sun tanning booth or the sun. Recommend that the client stays out of the sun or sun tanning booth for at least twenty-four hours after treatment if photosensitizing essential oils were applied to the skin.
  3. Avoid prolonged use of the same essential oils.
  4. Avoid the use of essential oils you know nothing about on yourself or your clients. Research and get to know the oil prior to using it.
  5. Avoid the use of undiluted essential oils on the skin, unless otherwise indicated.
  6. If you suspect you or your client may be sensitive to specific essential oils or if your or your client has known allergies or sensitivities, it may be wise to perform a skin patch test.
  7. Know the safety data on each essential oil and place into the context of use and knowledge.
  8. Use caution when treating a female client who suspects she is pregnant or has been trying to become pregnant.
  9. Keep essential oils away from the eyes.
  10. Essential oils are highly flammable substances and should be kept away from direct contact with flames, such as candles, fire, matches, cigarettes, and gas cookers.
  11. Make sure your treatment room has good ventilation.
  12. Do not use essential oils internally or advise on the use of essential oils internally unless you have been properly trained in one of NAHA’s approved schools and you have met the required hours of training to do so.  At this point, only those who have graduated and become a Clinical Aromatherapist have the training to prescribe essential oils.  If you advise on the use of essential oils for internal use and are not a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, you are practicing medicine without a license and it is illegal.

Safety Measures

  1. If essential oil droplets accidentally get into the eye (or eyes) a cotton cloth or similar should be imbued with a fatty oil, such as olive or sesame, and carefully wiped over the closed lid. And / Or, Immediately flush the eyes with cool water.
  2. If an essential oil causes dermal irritation, apply a small amount of vegetable oil or cream to the area affected and discontinue use of essential oil or product that has caused dermal irritation.
  3. If a child or animal appears to have drunk several spoonfuls of essential oil, contact the nearest poison control unit (often listed on the front of a telephone directory). Keep the bottle for identification and encourage the child to drink whole or 2% milk. Do not try to induce vomiting.

Used with permission by NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy)

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4 thoughts on “What Is An Essential Oil? Essential Oil Safety – Basic Guidelines.

    • Crooked Bear Creek Organic Herbs says:

      Your very welcome! Lavender has it’s downfalls as well. Thank you for reading the article. Namaste

      Like

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