Aromatherapy & Safety Considerations of Essential Oils

Ever want to learn more about a subject but not have the research time? About all I know about essential oils is that yours soaps, shampoos, etc should be scented with them instead of synthetic fragrance oils.  But aromatherapy is becoming more and more popular so here is one perspective in a guest post from author, Laura, who makes Comfrey Lotions at Genuinely Simple (see below for more information).    Thanks Laura!

The information presented here is offered for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice.

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skin infograph

Even though the term Aromatherapy is in the vocabulary of the average household, the application of essential oils has correlated into some major safety concerns. Stacy Moranville, a certified aroma therapist, explains the troubles saying, “there are safety precautions that people may not be aware of.” Moranville’s certification is purely clinical, rather than based on a marketing perspective. During her classes, she helps attendees gather a perspective on the concentration of essential oils, “One drop of peppermint essential oil” she says, as she lays out heaps of peppermint tea, “is the equivalent to twenty to thirty tea bags.” To truly grasp the power and concentration of essential oils, consider this: “It requires 1,400,000 handpicked rose blossoms to produce a liter of rose essential oil. A single ounce of this oil contains the essence of 40,000 rose blossoms, and sixty-seven roses give only one drop of essential oil” [1]. 

Valerie Gennari Cooksley, R.N., Co-founder of Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy writes in her book Aromatherapy Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate, and Heal – “Most essential oils you must dilute to use. Essential oils do not exist in nature in large quantities; they are tiny, microscopic droplets, unseen by the naked eye within the plant’s structure in miniscule quantity. So when you embark on your experiential study of nature’s gifts start by using highly diluted essential oils.”

When essential oils are used properly they are safe and highly beneficial; however, these are highly concentrated botanical substances and when improperly used they can cause injury [1]. The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy states, “Our mission is to help show the industry that adverse effects happen and the more we know about them the more we can help prevent them.  The goal is to be able to self-regulate our field before our practices become more regulated by governmental authorities, limiting the scope and range of our use of essential oils for healing”. This Institute quoted above has also compiled an injury report of various individual harmed by the improper use of essential oils noting that “this report is a summary of the experiences from individuals who were directly impacted, or had direct observation of the adverse effects upon an individual who used the essential oil/blend. Reports were completed by those individuals” [2]. Since most essential oils are being sold to an individual by a family member or friend, most information about essential oil injury is not being reported to prevent further legal action against the distributor. 

This article’s intention is to inform of the potency of essential oils and also to encourage education. Treat these oils with the same respect as medicine and remember less is more. Essential oils are wonderful natural tools and if used correctly can help aid in the body to heal. They can become an amazing blessing within a holistic lifestyle. Please help continue this discussion by researching aromatherapy further.

lavender1. Do not use essential oils internally, unless under the guidance of a practitioner

As previously stated, an essential oil is a highly concentrated and hydrophobic liquid taken from a single botanical source [3]. Although essential oils are naturally compounded, they may still contain up to several hundred chemical components nonetheless. Remember that a plant as a whole differs from the concentrated oil it produces. Unless one is under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, harm can result from the internal application of any essential oil. This is not always due to impurities or adulterations, but rather due to the various constituents in the oils themselves. Each chemical component of the oil will affect the body and studies have shown that essential oils taken internally can have side effects on the liver. These risk increase for those on pharmaceutical mediations, when dealing with young children, the elderly and pregnant women. For example, even as little as 4ml of the purest Eucalyptus oil can still be fatal to a child. This is due to potency of the salicylate content found in the wintergreen essential oil [4]. This is why some suggest not to personally medicate oneself or family members by ingesting essential oils. Recommendations regarding the internal application of essential oils should to be taken into consideration by the education that can be found under the supervision of a medical doctor or an aromatherapy practitioner. This is so that the safety of our beloved essential oils can be preserved and harm can be avoided [3].

This guideline is a common practice in aromatherapy, herbalism and alternative medicine, states Giselle Batmay as “it’s in just about every aromatherapy respected book written by experts in the industry…  It’s in all of the well-known educational programs for aromatherapy and herbalism. They agree with each other on this. However, the only place it differs (not including personal blogs and such) is these multi-level marketing companies …” [7].

make essential oil2. Do not apply directly to the skin, but rather dilute with carrier oil:

Diluting essential oils before applying them to the skin can prevent skin reactivity and also save money. One can dilute them in fatty oils (vegetable-based), or in water when used on a compress. Although there are two exceptions to the rule, the first being the use of attars as natural perfumes. The name attar is given to fragrant oils made from the extracts of flowers or herbs and is composed with a non-alcoholic base. Typically the floral essences are distilled into a base of sandalwood oil, which acts as a carrier to dilute the potency of the essential oil. The second is the reasonable assumption based on well-documented historical uses. The best example is of lavender; however, even this oil can be problematic as skin reactivity is becoming more problematic due to the problem of synthetic aroma chemicals. A general rule of thumb is to never apply more than one to two drops of undiluted oil to the skin. For people with sensitive skin, patch testing is always advisable [1].

Skin reactions are dependent on the type of oil, the concentration of the oil and the condition of the skin. Although, the pure essential oil will be far less dangerous than chemical fragrances or aromas, it is still important to check with the said person to determine any prior history of skin reactions before using oils. Remember that old and oxidized oils are more prone to cause reactions, especially rashes, noting that citrus oils are most prone to degradation and should be used within one year. David Crow, from Floracopeia states that “the best practice is to use proper dilutions, avoid direct exposure to UV rays after application, and avoid the use of citrus oils if exposure will be occurring after treatment”. [1]

Genuinely Simple chooses to dilute essential oils in olive oil [the prominent base oil in comfrey cream] because of the high vitamin quality and because olive oil is a stable oil that can hold a shelf life of one year. We also use a 2% dilution ratio with our Peppermint Comfrey Cream and Lavender Comfrey Cream, as it can be used for most adults in most situations. This dilution is appropriate for basic skin care issues and for daily use [5]. 

Comfrey3. Only use pure essential oils and avoid synthetic fragrances.

The term “pure” has no legal bearing and often applied to for marketing purposes. Do not rely on this term when shopping for essential oils. It is best to do through research on any essential oil company before purchasing their essential oils. The industry has many levels of buyers and suppliers, since the majority of oils sold in the United States are imported. The reason is due to the fact that the certain botanicals cannot be grown within the bounds of our countries agriculture. For this reason, many different essential oil companies will source their oils from the same distillery. What differentiates one company from another is the relationship one has with the trustworthy distiller. 

As the cost of an oil increases, so does the risk of adulteration. Melissa (lemon balm), rose and sandal wood are all commonly adulterated, while oils such as bitch are usually substituted with wintergreen (a less expensive, similar oil). False advertising is rampant in aromatherapy. Also, certain oils do not exist in a natural state. These are known as “bouqueted” fragrances, which are combinations of essential oils, absolutes and synthetics. These include honeysuckle, linden, gardenia and frangipani. Beware if a line of essential oils are all priced the same, as it is good to suspect that these oils are in fact synthetic, since essential oils range in cost. Some essential oil brands use synthetic or natural solvents to extend the quantity. In some cases, a company will extend an oil to make them more pourable for common use [1]. Stacy Moranville notes that “a good rule of thumb to ensure an extender has not been added is to drop alleged essential oils onto a piece of paper. Quality oils should not have an oily ring remaining when evaporated”. She continues to express that the best way to acquire quality oils, “a [essential oil company’s] relationship [with the botanical source] is of key importance to assure that the quality of essential oils being sold.” Moranville hesitated when presented a question of which company’s oils are the purest, “It’s hard to say, as there are many companies that produce quality oils. I base my choice in essential oils off the integrity and education the company offers.” calendula

Bibliography: 

[1] Crow, David. Aromatic Intelligence: The Healing Power of Essential Oils. Copyright 2014: Floracopeia.

[2] The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy. “Injury Report, 2014”. Atlantic Institute. 2014.

[3] Plant Therapy. Can Essential Oils Be Ingested? Essential Oil Blogging. Published: January 2014. 

[4] Laryngeal Oedema caused by accidental ingestion of Oil of Wintergreen. PubMed. Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, UK. 2001.

[5] Harris, Lea. Essential Oil Dilution Chart, Dilution Guidelines, and Measurement Equivalents. Nourishing Treasures. 2013. 

[6] Cooksley, Valerie Gennari. Aromatherapy Soothing Remedies to Restore, Rejuvenate, and Heal. 2001.

[7] Batmay, Geiselle. Why I don’t use doTerra, Young Living or other Multi-Level-Marketing brands of essential oils. Granola Living. 2013. http://www.granolaliving.com/2012/07/why-we-dont-offer-doterra-young-living-or-other-multi-marketing-brands-of-essential-oils/

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Laura is an active vegan and manages Genuinely Simple, a company she founded on the grounds of spreading the health message. When not working or rescuing animals you could find her hanging out with her husband, hiking or organizing her collection of books.

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4 thoughts on “Aromatherapy & Safety Considerations of Essential Oils

  1. Louise

    Good info here you two. My daughter is a firm believer of the benefits of essential oils. This information is a reminder of how potent they really can be. I’ll pass it along…

    Thanks for sharing, Inger and please thank Laura too:)

  2. Choc Chip Uru

    There is some solid information here, my mum always tells me about how important essential oils are but we do treat them with no worry.
    Thanks for a great post!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  3. lena

    i think at times we do have bit difficulty trying to find out if the essential oil is 100% pure. Thanks for the tip given up there and thx for this informative post!

    1. Elise Taggard

      Hi lena,

      One of the best things you can do to ensure essential oil purity is to buy from a trusted source with a good reputation. Other indicators of dilution can be:

      1) A weaker aroma compared to other bottles of the same essential oil
      2) Increased frequency of drop, or less viscous compared to other bottles of the same essential oil

      Some claims also exclude water such as organic claims (where content less water need to be greater than 70% organic). The FDA regulates these claims. You can learn more about claims, regulation, and purity here https://essentialoilexperts.com/organic-essential-oils/

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