Safe Use of Essential Oils

The use of aromatic oils for health and wellbeing, as well as spiritual or religious ceremonies dates back thousands of years to 3500 BC. There appears to be no let-up in the popularity of essential oils today, with, in many cases, demand outstripping supply.


Whilst essential oils may be natural products, they are highly concentrated and need to be used carefully and considerately to avoid harmful side effects, such as allergic reactions, skin irritation and sun sensitivity. Particular care needs to be taken when using essential oils with infants and children or for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Certain essential oils are contraindicated for those with high (or low) blood pressure, or perhaps those taken certain medications.


The benefits of using essential oils can be amazing, their use just requires a little consideration, before leaping in with both feet!


How to use essential oils
Using Essential Oils

Using Essential Oils

There are a host of different ways that essential oils can be used, such as, in the bath, in a massage therapy, in cosmetic products (creams, lip balms, butters or gels) or simply used in a diffuser in the house. Here are a few tips when using essential oils:


In the Bath

Essential oils can be added to the running water in the bath to aid dispersion. To further improve dispersion readers can add essential oils to other 'carriers', such as a massage oil, carrier oil, dispersible bath oil, bubble bath or even milk.


Don't overdue the amount of essential oil added to the bath. 6 to 8 drops is all that is needed.


In Massage Therapy

Essential oils should always be blended with a carrier oil before applying to your skin. The percentage of essential oils used within the blend should be kept to a minimum to achieve the defined benefit and should never exceed the maximum amount specified.


A 1% essential oil dilution is generally considered safe for topical application, but this is dependent, on the specific oil in use.


In Cosmetic Products

As with massage oils, cosmetic products such as bath and shower products, creams, gels, butters and balms etc., the percentage of essential oil used within the finished product should be kept to a minimum and should never exceed the maximum amount specified in the IFRA Declaration.


Maximum limits of essential oil in any product can be found in IFRA Declarations for the oil.


A patch test can be used to check whether you are likely to have an allergic reaction to the finished product. Patch-tests involve applying a very small amount of the product to the inside of the elbow and waiting 24 hours to see whether any reaction occurs - if no reaction, then you can have confidence that the finished product is safe for use. The same applies to massage therapy.


If you do experience a reaction (irritation, redness, itching, or burning) to a product you could try applying a small amount of coconut oil or olive oil, or a natural vegetable based oil to the area to aid its repair.


Where cosmetic products are being produced for resale, there are strict 'legal' processes to follow, which include Product Safety Assessment, Stability Testing and Challenge Testing.


In a Diffuser

Diffusers vary in type and include electronic diffusers, steam diffusers, traditional oil burners and personal 'jewelry' diffusers, such as necklaces, broaches and bracelets. The two main things to consider when using essential oils in a diffuser are 'fire hazards' and 'over exposure'.

  • Fire hazard: Essential oils are volatile products, with many being flammable or highly flammable. Essential oils should never be applied directly to the heat source (particularly those with a low flash point). Electronic diffusers and steam diffusers are safer than traditional oil burners as they do not use a 'naked flame' as the heat source. Never leave a traditional oil burner unattended and turn off other electronic / steam diffusers when not in use or overnight.

  • Over Exposure: Using too much essential oil can lead to headaches and nausea. Always ensure there is adequate ventilation to disperse excess vapours. If you feel unwell remove yourself from exposure.

Aromatherapy Massage Oils
Aromatherapy Massage Oil

Diluting Essential Oils

Essential oils are Undiluted oils are too strong to use in their neat form, they must be diluted to use them safely. Products such as vegetable oils or creams or bath gels are used to 'carry' the essential oil onto the skin as a dilution. Exactly how essential oil can be used much can vary, but in general terms..... the higher the percentage of essential oil in the carrier, the more likely you are to have a reaction, so it’s important to mix them correctly.


Whichever dilution method you choose, the essential oil content should only account for between 0.5% to 2% of the total blend. This equates to 3 to 12 drops per ounce of finished product.


As a rule of thumb, 20 drops of essential oil equates to 1ml liquid volume. The following table (and link to the handy Dilution Calculator below) will hopefully aid you in achieving the right dilution percentage.

Dilution Ratio (%)

Healthy Adult

Comments

0.5

3 drops

3 to 6 drops for babies and children (max)

1.0

6 drops

Max during pregnancy

1.5

9 drops

-

2.5

15 drops

-

3

20 drops

-

5

30 drops

-

10

60 drops

-

You may find the following Dilution Calculator useful.


Contraindications

Certain essential oils are not recommended or should be used with caution. People with the following conditions should take care with respect to the below listed oils:


Epilepsy

Readers prone to epilepsy (or the risk of seizure) should avoid stimulating essential oils such as:

  • Sage essential oil

  • Sweet fennel essential oil

  • Hyssop essential oil

  • Eucalyptus essential oil

  • Rosemary essential oil

Some oils that are consider safe options are:

  • Lavender essential oil

  • Marjoram essential oil

High Blood Pressure

Certain essential oils will increase circulation and adrenaline and should be avoided by those readers with high blood pressure. These include such oils as:

  • Rosemary essential oil

  • Peppermint essential oil

  • Hyssop essential oil

  • Thyme essential oil

  • Eucalyptus essential oil

  • Sage essential Oil

Low Blood Pressure

Certain essential oils are overly sedating and should be avoided by those readers with low blood pressure. These include such oils as:

  • Clary sage essential oil

  • Ylang ylang essential oil

  • Lavender essential oil (in very high doses).


Safe Use of Essential Oils During Pregnancy
Safe Use of Essential Oils During Pregnancy

Pregnancy

Mothers to be can have enormous benefits from essential oils during pregnancy, however, there are some precautions that need to be taken. Dosages should be kept down to 1 percent essential oils per dilution as per the dosage chart.


The following essential oils should be avoided throughout pregnancy:

  • Aniseed essential oil

  • Basil essential oil

  • Cinnamon essential oil

  • Fennel essential oil

  • Hyssop essential oil

  • Juniper berry essential oil

  • Marjoram essential oil

  • Myrrh essential oil

  • Nutmeg essential oil

  • Oregano essential oil

  • Parsley essential oil

  • Pennyroyal essential oil

  • Rosemary essential oil

  • Sage essential oil

  • Tagetes essential oil.

Oils that are safe during entire pregnancy:

  • Bergamot essential oil

  • Grapefruit essential oil

  • Lemon essential oil

  • Lime essential oil

  • Mandarin essential oil

  • Neroli essential oil

  • Palmarosa essential oil

  • Petitgrain essential oil

  • Rosewood essential oil

  • Sandalwood essential oil

  • Spearmint essential oil

  • Orange essential oil

  • Tea tree essential oil

  • Vetiver essential oil

  • Ylang ylang essential oil

Oils that are safe after the first trimester:

  • Chamomile roman essential oil

  • Eucalyptus radiata essential oil

  • Ginger essential oil

  • Lavender essential oil

  • Jasmine essential oil

Oils that are safe for use in the third trimester or during delivery:

  • Cedarwood essential oil

  • Clary sage essential oil

  • Cypress essential oil

  • Peppermint essential oil

  • Pine essential oil

  • Rose essential oil (should not be used until ready to go into labor).

  • Rosemary essential oil

  • Spruce essential oil

Babies & Children under 5 yrs

Dosages for babies, infants and children under 5 years should be kept to a minimum with dosages maintained around 0.5% as per the dosage chart.


Avoid the following essential oils:

  • Aniseed essential oil

  • Basil essential oil

  • Camphor essential oil

  • Cinnamon bark essential oil

  • Clove bud essential oil

  • Clove leaf essential oil

  • Eucalyptus radiata essential oil

  • Fennel essential oil

  • Hyssop essential oil

  • Juniper berry essential oil

  • Lemongrass essential oil

  • Marjoram essential oil

  • Nutmeg essential oil

  • Oregano essential oil

  • Parsley seed essential oil

  • Pennyroyal essential oil

  • Sage essential oil

  • Savory essential oil

  • Tagetes essential oil

  • Thyme essential oil

Note: Peppermint essential oil should be avoided on children under the age of 12 years


Essential Oils for Babies
Essential Oils for Babies

Phototoxicity

Certain essential oils are phototoxic, if applied before sun exposure. This can cause the skin to burn or darken at a faster rate. Such oils include:

  • Angelica root essential oil

  • Bergamot essential oil

  • Lemon essential oil

  • Lime essential oil

  • Ginger essential oil

  • Mandarin essential oil

  • Orange essential oil

  • Grapefruit essential oil

Sensitivity

The symptoms of sensitisation can vary from persons to person. Mild cases could be described as a being like a skin allergy that results in a severe and/or itchy rash, whereas more severe cases can potentially lead to respiratory issues or even anaphylactic shock.


Once a person develops sensitisation to an essential oil, they are likely to remain permanently sensitised to that oil, even if they dilute it. It could also lead to the person developing a reaction to other essential oils.


Side Effects

Essential oils are supplied for topical application, that means they are to be used for skin application only, not ingested.


Essential oils are rapidly absorbed orally and symptoms can develop as quickly as 30 minutes after ingestion (some individuals experience delayed symptoms up to 4 hours after exposure). The severity of toxicity is dependent on the type of oil and the amount ingested. Symptoms of toxicity include:

  • drowsiness, slow/shallow breathing, coma (after large ingestion)

  • seizures

  • persistent cough, gagging/choking, shortness of breath, wheezing

  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea

  • skin irritation (skin exposure)

  • eye redness, irritation or pain (eye exposures)

First Aid

It is important that essential oils are handled safely so as to avoid injury. Every essential oil sold on the market place will have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). These are available from the manufacturer or supplier. You can find Oils4life SDS in our Resource Centre.


Section 2.0 of the SDS details the hazards of the essential oil (the things that can cause you harm). SDS also include first aid information, relating to ingestion, inhalation or skin or eye contact during use. In most cases this information is generic and looks like this.

Ingestion:

  • rinse out the mouth

  • do not induce vomiting

  • do not give oral fluids until it is advised safe to do so by the Poisons Information Centre. This can increase of risk of vomiting and aspiration of fluid into the lungs.

Eye exposures:

  • Immediately rinse the eye(s) under running water, allowing the water to flow from the corner of the eye closest to the nose over the eye and outwards. This should be continued for 15 minutes. Persistent eye symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor.

Skin:

  • Remove contaminated clothing and wash the skin with soap and water.

  • See a doctor if symptoms do not resolve.

Inhalation:

  • Affected patients should be taken to fresh air.

  • If symptoms do not settle phone the Poisons Information Centre.


Using Essential Oils Safely
Using Essential Oils Safely

Safe Storage of Essential Oils

Storing your essential oils correctly can help extend the shelf life and prevent the oil from degrading, which can not only be expensive but can increase the oils harmful affects.


When considering a 'safe place' for your essential oils, take the following in to account:

  • Keep the oils away from excessive light or heat, because this can alter the chemical properties of the essential oil significantly.

  • Make sure to store your essential oils out of the reach of children. This will help prevent accidental ingestion.

Always use dark glass (amber is great), stainless steel, or PET plastic when using oils.


If in doubt!

If you're considering aromatherapy, consult your doctor and a trained aromatherapist about the possible risks and benefits


Disclaimer:

The information provided here has been provided in good faith to assist you making the right choices when considering the use of essential oils, or formulations including essential oils. They are not intended to replace medical guidance and reader should always seek the advice of a qualified professional. It is the responsibility of the up to the reader to ensure that any essential oils they use (whether in pure form or formulations) are safe to use, and if relevant, compliant under current cosmetic regulations.

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