Navigating the world of essential oils is both simple and overwhelming. These six pitfalls should help avoid some of the overwhelm. At its’ core, essential oils are a basic part of nature which means that they are generally safe. For that very reason, I prefer to use oil-infused products over other products on the market that contain tons of synthetics, man-made chemical-compounds and potential toxins that haven’t been studied for their effect on the human body.
But just like anything, there are exceptions to the rule. That’s where essential oils can feel overwhelming. So here are 6 golden rules to avoid common mistakes I see people make when getting started with essential oils:
(1) Hot Oils.
Some oils are what are referred to as “hot oils” because they have a warming effect on the skin. That same element that causes heat sensitivity can cause skin irritation (just like exposure to hot water). With hot oils it is always best to dilute the oils before applying them to any skin.
Hot oils generally include any oil that would come from a plant that is spicy. For example: Cinnamon Bark, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary, Black Pepper, Clove and other oils that come from plants you would also find in your spice cupboard.
As a general rule, if you’re worried about skin sensitivity to an essential oil – it’s best to test a small amount of the oil (diluted) on a patch of skin that is less sensitive. For example, the top of our forearm is more rugged because it’s exposed to the elements more frequently than our armpit for example.
To dilute an oil, you should mix it with what is referred to as a carrier oil. A carrier oil has a larger molecular structure and therefore encapsulates the essential oil to create a barrier. The body will generally absorb the carrier oil with the essential oil inside, creating a buffer between skin and the hot oil for example.
Some oils cause our skin to be more sensitive to sun exposure, lowering our body’s natural protection against harmful UV rays. Generally, all citrus oils will do this: Lemon, Lime, and Grapefruit for example. You should refrain from applying these oils topically to your skin before heading outdoors.
(3) Special Conditions.
One of the most important cardinal rules with oils is that there are certain oils you should avoid if you are pregnant, nursing, or are someone who is prone to having seizures.
There are some oils (such as Rosemary) that studies have shown may cause a person with a seizure disorder to have a seizure. Therefore, if you are someone who has a seizure disorder, talk to your doctor to confirm what essential oils you should stay away from. But don’t worry – there are many oils that are still safe to use. Just be sure to educate yourself before diving in!
Like almost anything else, women who are pregnant or nursing should take care to know what essential oils are safe to use. Let’s be honest, nearly everything on the market has a warning for women who are pregnant or nursing, even prenatal vitamins sometimes do. The problem with that particular condition is that nobody volunteers to be a guinea pig – so there are no studies on the safety of nearly anything with pregnancy. And animal studies don’t hold a candle to the complexity of a developing human body. Therefore, caution is always advised.
Of particular importance, there are a couple oils that have been reported to induce labor and increase contractions (Clary Sage for example). For nursing moms, some oils may decrease a woman’s milk supply. The great news is that some oils help increase milk supply.
As always – just know the limits. I personally didn’t choose to ingest any essential oils while pregnant without first talking to my doctor and educating myself more. I also avoided applying certain oils topically – especially in my third trimester.
Just like any medical condition, knowledge is power and the key to using essential oils safely! I definitely am not suggesting that you completely avoid all oils during the phase of pregnancy or nursing. In fact, during that tumultuous time, women often need the emotional support that oils may provide. Enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy during that phase of life has amazing benefits.
(4) Quality Matters.
I personally believe that the importance of quality ties into many aspects of our health and wellness. I value my health and believe that investing in more expensive, organic foods is of value to our family. Likewise, I invest more in personal care products that are made with organic ingredients to avoid plastering more chemicals all over my body.
Just the same, I am careful to consider the quality of oils that I use. The essential oils I choose to use with my family are not only therapeutic grade, pure essential oils, they are sustainably sourced from known origins. In other words, if I buy a bottle of lavender oil, I am getting a bottle of oil that is pure lavender oil. There are no additives, fillers, or man-made chemicals.
It is astonishing to me to find out that some oils on the market don’t even come from a plant, but rather were created in a lab. Unfortunately, government regulations don’t prevent companies from marketing those are 100% therapeutic grade oil. In addition, some companies are selling essential oils that have been extracted from plants using chemical solvents.
Some are extracted from a plant that falls within the ‘lavender family’ but is not true lavender. That may not seem important, but if you’re using essential oils for their therapeutic value, the value varies significantly from plant to plant. The quality of the seed used to grow that plant, the growing conditions themselves, and the distillation process used all impact the quality of the end product. Which is why I only buy my oils from one source that I trust.
(5) Dilute According to Age.
One thing to be aware of are the guidelines for diluting the oils you are using. Now, the quality factor that I just explained comes into play here. The more pure and truly therapeutic the oil you’ve purchased, the less quantity the seller will tell you to use.
I chuckle when I see a bottle of lavender for sale at a local store when it recommends diffusing about 20-25 drops. I only need to diffuse about 3-4 drops to receive value from a quality oil.
Similarly, when diluting, the more pure and potent the oil, the more you will need to dilute. So there is no cookie-cutter recommendation for diluting essential oils that really fits across the board.
In fact, some oils are not pure at all or are sourced through a poor supply chain to the extent that dilution isn’t even recommended. Always read the label of the oil you’ve purchased to ensure that the company stands behind the safety of topical application before you expose your skin to the oil. And when in doubt, start slow and increase as tolerated.
The general rule though – is that you should dilute heavily for small children. Babies and children’s skin is very thin and not yet weathered from years of sun, wind and abrasive exposure. So always start slow and test the response for little ones before increasing use of oils topically.
If your little one ever experiences discomfort or skin sensitivity from applying an essential oil – it is important to know that you should ever use soap and water to try and remove the oil. Oil and water repel one another – so using water has the opposite effect you want – it drives the oil deeper into the skin. Rather, apply a lotion or carrier oil to the affected area, which will draw the essential oil molecules out of the skin.
(6) Ingesting Essential Oils.
There are two factors that impact whether an essential oil is safe for ingestion. First, some essential oils simply can never be ingested. It doesn’t matter who distills the oil or how pure – it’s a question of safety based upon how that oil interacts with the human body. Wintergreen is the one oil that I know of that should never be ingested. Ingesting wintergreen can have a similar affect on the body as overdosing on acetaminophen. Therefore, it is not an essential oil that is safe to ingest.
The other factor that impacts whether an oil is safe to ingest – yep – you guessed it – the quality of the essential oil. Some companies simply don’t know for sure how pure the oil they are selling even is. They don’t have a sufficient supply chain source to ensure that it is free of additives that are safe for ingesting. Or maybe it’s not even the oil that it appears to be based upon the label.
Therefore, you should always use caution to read the label. If an oil is safe for ingesting, it should indicate that on the label.
So there you have it – six golden rules for how to safely use essential oils. I hope this is helpful to you on your journey into the world of essential oils. Until next time – stay safe and healthy!