Essential oils. You’ve heard of them, right? They’re being used all over the place, these days. Yet, they’re not always being used safely.
Recently, Aroma Foundry invited me to sample some of their essential oils and share my thoughts. I’m really looking forward to trying them out (they smell absolutely delicious!), but I thought that even before I share my experience with them, I’d better go over some essential oil basics.
So, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? I mean, what are essential oils?
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Essential oils are made by plants and stored either internally or on the plant’s surface. They serve a number of purposes: to attract pollinators, to help plants compete with other plants (e.g. by limiting or preventing the growth of other, nearby plants–“allelopathy”), to deter would-be predators, and to maintain plant health, through the oils’ antifungal and antibacterial properties. (Information summarized from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA).)
The essential oils are collected from the plant, either through steam distillation or cold pressing. During the distillation process, plant materials (leaves, flowers, etc.) are suspended over boiling water; the steam pulls out the plant’s essential oils as it rises, and then it is gathered, via a tube, carrying the essential oils with it. During cold pressing, essential oils are collected from applying pressure to plant material, to express the oils (e.g. citrus oils are pressed from the skin of citrus fruit).
Image via Unsplash/Jonathan Pielmayer
A very large quantity of plant material must be used to obtain essential oils. For instance, Mountain Rose Herbs says that 60 whole roses are used to produce only one drop of its rose essential oil. It is this factor that makes essential oils anywhere from 50 to 100 times more concentrated than those oils in the plant (Tisserand).
It is because of this high concentration that essential oils must be respected and treated with care.
It may help to think of it this way: if you drink a cup of tea for health benefits, it is made from only about a teaspoon of dried leaves, diluted in water. You’re only consuming a very small amount of plant constituents. However, if you add even just a few drops of an essential oil to a drink, you’re getting a very, very strong dose of that plant’s components. Furthermore, essential oils don’t dilute in water, so you are likely to be receiving a fully concentrated dose, which has the potential to be very dangerous.
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Since essential oil safety is so important, I’d like to share some Basic Essential Oil Safety Guidelines:
(*There are literally books upon books published on this subject and I am in no way an expert on essential oils, so I can’t go into any real depth here. Please consult a professional aromatherapist, herbalist, and/or doctor before using essential oils; also, please refer to the resources at the end of this post for additional information.)
*Don’t ingest, unless you really, really know what you’re doing (*most people don’t have this level of knowledge about essential oils, so I would strongly recommend against ingesting any essential oils. I do not ingest them.)
*Don’t apply to mucus membranes, which, as Robert Tisserand (one of world’s leading experts in aromatherapy) says, is another way of saying don’t put them in your mouth
*Don’t apply to skin “neat” (undiluted)–always dilute with a carrier oil, before applying to skin. (*Some examples of carrier oils are avocado oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, hemp oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, sweet almond oil, etc.)
*There is a risk of allergic reactions with essential oils, which increases with use, especially if ingested or applied neat
*Even when properly diluted, you must always be careful about the types of essential oils you apply to skin (some oils are phototoxic, which means they react to sunlight and can give you a very, very bad burn–even if diluted properly; some oils can cause allergic reactions; some can cause irritations)
*Essential oils do NOT dilute in water, so drinking them or using them in a bath exposes you to the full concentrate of the oil and can be very dangerous; essential oils must be diluted in carrier oils (such as jojoba oil, olive oil, etc., as mentioned above)
*Don’t inhale directly for an extended time (15 minutes or longer); diffused oils are safer to inhale, but exposure still should be limited and only used intermittently
*Essential oils are flammable; do NOT use near an open flame
*Keep in a safe, secure place, away from children
*Don’t use with babies or young children unless very, very diluted and even then, with extreme caution. (I would not use on or near babies or young children, personally.) Always do your research and err on the side of caution when using with older children, as well. (*Also, never use on or near children who aren’t your own, without first obtaining parent/guardian consent–I’ve heard many stories of people being furious with nannies or daycare providers for exposing children to essential oils when it wasn’t approved)
*Be extra cautious about essential oil use during pregnancy or while nursing (consult with a professional first and do your research)
*Be very wary of applying to pets (consult with your veterinarian beforehand; take precautions as you would with a child)
*Be careful of using around people with allergies
*Be respectful of the fact that not everyone will enjoy your essential oils as much as you do
*Essential oils, like many other natural products, are not regulated and therefore, you may receive something other than what you’re expecting. Essential oils that are not pure (mixed with unknown substances) elevate the risks listed above. Do your research and choose a reputable company as your source for EOs.
*Tisserand and others offer reference charts for essential oil dilutions, etc.
Image via Unsplash/Katherine Hanlon
Whew! Now that we’ve gone through the worrisome stuff, here’s a little intro to the fun part…Some Essential Oil Uses:
*Homemade personal care products (things like soaps, body butters, sugar scrubs)
*Homemade cleaning products, to boost cleaning power
*Pest deterrent (e.g. ants don’t like cinnamon or peppermint, etc.)
*Diffusers, including wearable clay diffusers (here’s mine: I put a drop of oil on the side of the clay pendant that doesn’t touch my skin)
I’ll be revisiting essential oils soon, with more of the fun stuff to share!
For now, here are some great resources for more information:
Some good sources for learning more about essential oil safety: Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young, Tisserand Institute Safety Guidelines
plantalkemie.com–Li is a qualified aromatherapist and herbalist, and she gave me some great recommendations while writing this blog (Thank you, Li! :)) She just relocated to this new website, and plans to offer online classes soon!