Essential oils are highly concentrated powerful substances. They have many wonderful qualities, but they needed to be treated with respect and caution. Here are some general rules to follow to ensure the safe use of essential oils in any aromatherapy application.
- Always thoroughly research the essential oil or oils you are working with. There are many books available on aromatherapy and essential oils, as well as many online resources with helpful information. Some essential oils should not be taken internally, while others should never be put on the skin “neat” (i.e., undiluted). Some essential oils could hurt those with high blood pressure, epilepsy, and other medical conditions. There are also essential oils that should only be used for a short period, and others should not be used in a diffuser and/or nebulizer.
- Keep essential oils away from children and pets. Treat their essential oils as if they were prescription medicines — helpful in the right circumstances, but potentially harmful in others.
- Do not put essential oils on your skin and go into sunlight unless you are certain it is safe to do so. Some essential oils, such as bergamot (citrus bergamia), angelica (Angelica archangelica), lemon (citrus Limon), tangerine (citrus reticulate), and others may cause a rash or dark pigmentation after sun exposure. Avoid tanning booths as well when using these photo-sensitive essential oils.
- Essential oils can interact with prescription medications. If you are on any prescription medication, you must research the potential interactions of your medication(s) and the essential oil(s) you choose to use. Remember that you do not have to take an essential oil internally for it to have effects on your whole body. Essential oils applied externally may also affect your entire body.
- If you are pregnant, consult with a qualified aromatherapist and/or medical professional before using any essential oils.
- Never put an essential oil undiluted on your skin unless you are certain that it is safe to do so. For example, lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) essential oil and tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil is generally considered to be safe to be applied neat to the skin, but many others are not safe to use this way. And remember that “skin” is not the same thing as “mucosal skin”. Mucosal skin is the skin inside your mouth, nose, and rectum. Mucosal skin is usually too sensitive for neat/undiluted application of even the safest essential oils.
- Before putting an essential oil, neat or diluted, on a large area of your skin, put a tiny amount on a sensitive area, such as your inner arm, as a test. Wait 30 minutes or more to ensure there is no burning or irritation. Some aromatherapy professionals advocate waiting 24 hours before trying the oil on a larger area of skin. This is often referred to as a “skin patch test”.
- Never put essential oil anywhere near your eyes! It will burn horribly and could damage sensitive eye surfaces. Avoid touching your eyes until you have washed your hands following essential oil handling.
- Avoid putting undiluted essential oils near your lips, as they will burn terribly. If you are taking essential oils internally, place them in an empty vegetable or gelatin capsule with an eyedropper. Remember to read about any essential oil before taking it internally. It is always better to err on the side of caution and not take an oil internally if you are not 100% certain the essential oil is safe to ingest.
- Never put essential oils, in any form, in the ear canal except under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.
- Wear gloves when handling undiluted essential oils. The oil will create holes in latex gloves, so it’s best to wear vinyl gloves.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling essential oils.
- If your skin burns from the application of a neat or diluted essential oil, DO NOT WASH THE AREA WITH WATER! Water will simply spread the oil over a larger area of skin. Use a carrier oil, such as olive oil or jojoba oil to dilute the essential oil. Gently rub some carrier oil into the irritated skin. The burning sensation should calm down within a few minutes.
- Never leave a candle diffuser unattended, and do not let nebulizing diffusers run for long periods by themselves.
- Do not add essential oils to candle wax unless you are 100% certain it is safe. Some essential oils have very low flash-points and are not safe to use around a flame.
- Keep essential oils away from any open flame or potential spark.
- Keep your bottles of essential oil in tightly closed, dark-colored containers, stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Do not expose them to sunlight.
- Do not add undiluted essential oils to bathwater. The undiluted oil will float on top of the water and can irritate sensitive skin.
This list of safe aromatherapy essential oil safety tips is not meant to be exhaustive. Consultation with a qualified aromatherapist and/or medical practitioner before using any essential oil is advisable.