According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, essential oils are concentrated plant extracts made by cold-pressing various parts of a plant to capture the fragrance-producing compounds. These fragrant oils, which have been used in different cultures for thousands of years, are said to have therapeutic benefits for the mind and body when absorbed into the skin. Most notably, essential oils are used for aromatherapy purposes. When inhaled, essential oils are reported to stimulate the olfactory system and affect the amygdala or the emotional core of the brain to provide psychological benefits like stress and anxiety relief, reducing headaches, and boosting mood (via Ohio State Health & Discovery). There are also claims that essential oils possess antibacterial properties that can cure a variety of common ailments.
Despite their apparent benefits for health and well-being, essential oils are not regulated by the FDA. In addition to quality issues and misinformation this lack of regulation provides, there are a number of risks associated with using essential oils when stored or used incorrectly. Doing your due diligence when it comes to researching their usage is important to get the most out of your essential oils and avoid making harmful mistakes like those outlined below. Clary Sage Hydrosol
A common mistake essential oil users make is not storing them correctly. Proper storage is necessary to not only maximize the benefits of the oil in question but to protect the oil from degradation.
It is important to keep the essential oils out of direct sunlight and heat. According to Young Living Essential Oils, sun and heat can change the chemical composition of the oil and cause it to deteriorate. The oil can also evaporate more quickly when exposed to the elements, impacting the color and quality of the oil. Ensuring the lids are screwed on tight when not in use also helps prevent oxidation, allowing the oil to retain its fragrance and consistency longer.
The type of bottle you store your essential oils in also matters. Mountain Rose Herbs explains keeping your essential oils in amber or cobalt glass is preferred over clear glass. Amber glass protects against UV light radiation that can affect the oil quality over time. Essential oils should also never be stored in plastic bottles as their strength can have a corrosive effect on the plastic.
A high volume of concentrated plant product is necessary to make small batches of essential oil. "They require a high amount of plant material for processing, so they usually have much higher ingredient concentrations than we're used to," Dr. David Petrillo, a cosmetic chemist based in Los Angeles, explained to The New York Times. As a result, essential oils in their purest, undiluted form have the potential for hazardous effects (via New Directions Aromatics). People may experience allergic reactions, respiratory issues, headaches, and skin irritation ranging from burns to blisters.
Some essential oils, such as peppermint, lavender, and tea tree, are more important to dilute than others due to their higher concentrations. These essential oils are most often used for beauty and skincare purposes, and when applied "neat," or without dilution, can lead to sensitization. According to Aroma Web, sensitization is a type of allergic reaction that can be developed from a single drop of undiluted oil. Once you become sensitized to an essential oil, you are likely to remain permanently sensitized to it even after diluting it or using it in a blend of other oils.
It is recommended to use a 2% oil dilution for adults and a 1% oil dilution for children and the elderly, which equates to roughly 6-12 drops of essential oil per 30 ounces of a lotion or moisturizer. One drop can vary in size depending on the brand, so it is better to adopt a less-is-more philosophy when diluting.
In order to properly dilute your essential oils, you need a carrier oil to dilute them in. According to Medical News Today, carrier oils are called such because they "carry" the oils into the skin and alter the absorption rate for safe use. They also make it easier to spread the oils on your body.
The type of carrier oil used to dilute your essential oils can make a big difference in the application, potency, and effectiveness. Vegetable oils are common carrier oils, as well as oils made from nuts or seeds. Coconut oil is an effective carrier oil because it is lightweight, moisturizing, and absorbs deep into the skin or hair (via Healing Solutions). Avocado oil is a nutrient-dense oil with little to no scent, making it perfect for adding essential oils to. Argan oil is also an effective carrier oil rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamins needed for skin and hair health. Other oils you can use for your essential oils include jojoba, olive, almond, and rosehip oil, all of which carry different health benefits that can support your beauty and skincare regimen.
It is a common misconception that because essential oils are naturally derived that they are safe or pose zero health risks. However, certain essential oils can interfere with prescription drugs and common over-the-counter medications, despite their "natural" label (via National Library of Medicine). There are a number of reasons why this may occur, although more clinical research is needed to truly understand the impact of individual oils on specific drugs.
According to ThriveAP, essential oils contain a high concentration of active compounds which, when metabolized in the body, can lead to dangerous drug interactions and potentially life-threatening medical complications. Edens Garden notes that essential oils can alter the gut flora and motility, while also potentially binding to plasma proteins and tissues that medications would normally bind to. Some contain blood thinning properties that can cause issues during surgeries and don't mix well with OTC anticoagulants like aspirin or warfarin. Medicines that interfere with citrus fruits, such as hormonal birth control pills, antihistamines, immunosuppressants, and statins, should not be used simultaneously with bergamot, grapefruit, and lemon essential oils. Furthermore, people who take antipsychotics and antidepressants should use extreme caution with essential oils that contain nutmeg, clove, German chamomile, blue tansy, and yarrow.
It is always wise to talk to your pharmacist and medical care provider if you wish to use essential oils in conjunction with prescription medicines.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years for a variety of medical and therapeutic uses. Some claim to treat acne or hair loss, while others are thought to be effective anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agents. Certain essential oil blends are thought to help with memory, anxiety, stress, headaches, pain, acne, and mood, depending on whether they are ingested or applied topically.
Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest these essential oils are useful for health and beauty purposes, you may be overestimating their power. According to Scientific American, the numerous health and wellness benefits associated with essential oil usage have not been scientifically proven to cure any disease. "Essential oils are neither medicines nor drugs because the effects have not been fully assessed yet in terms of science," physiology researcher Hideki Kashiwadani explained to Discover Magazine. Most essential oils are also not regulated by the FDA, although some food and medicinal products containing oils are classified as "generally recognized as safe." Certain products that do have therapeutic doses of essential oils are clinically tested and established with stringent evaluation, per Food Network.
Due to the lack of evidence supporting their restorative, medical powers, it is important not to replace traditional medicine with essential oils. The damage they can cause, particularly when ingested, is too great of a risk to your long-term health. Generally, aromatherapy is considered the safest way to enjoy the reported psychological benefits of essential oils.
The quality of essential oils available varies greatly. Due to the fact that most essential oil products are not regulated by the FDA, product labels and their claims can also be extremely misleading. For example, some brands may note that their product is an essential oil when in reality it is a synthetic oil. Synthetic oils are not considered true essential oils, per the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. However, people new to essential oils often fall victim to subpar synthetic oils that do them more harm than good.
According to Scent Central, essential oils are obtained from completely natural compounds whereas synthetic oils are primarily made from petrochemicals that duplicate the smell of a natural plant. Approximately 95% of synthetic oils contain chemicals found in petroleum jelly and mineral oil, with additives like synthetic fragrances and other toxic chemicals and carcinogens such as benzene. Synthetic oils are considerably cheaper to produce, and therefore cheaper for the consumer to purchase. Additionally, the lack of natural plant ingredients keeps them from degrading as fast, which means they have a longer shelf life than pure oils. However, they don't contain any aromatherapy benefits and are more likely to cause allergic reactions and respiratory issues.
Although synthetic oils may look prettier, smell stronger, and cost less, they are not the high-quality essential oils you want for regular use. Take care to always purchase 100% pure essential oils from reputable sources.
Another common mistake essential oil users make is not embracing the aromatherapeutic benefits of multiple oils at one time. There are over 100 commonly used essential oils in use today, each with benefits that can be enhanced when combined with other essential oils.
Multiple essential oils together in one blend are generally intended for a specific use, per SelfCare One. Tailor-made blends, whether made by an essential oil company or at home with the oils you have, can target stress and provide anxiety relief. They are also intended to achieve a specific feeling, like serenity, to energize your home, or complement the season you're in. Blends are normally good for beginners and experienced users alike.
If you've never experimented with essential oil blends before, it can feel overwhelming. After all, you don't want to accidentally create a catastrophic chemistry lab in your kitchen. According to Edens Garden, there are no essential oils that absolutely shouldn't be combined. However, certain combinations may lose some of their potency when blended with others. When making your own blend, start with fragrances that you normally enjoy. Aim for 3-5 essential oils and be sure to dilute properly.
Certain essential oils are called "hot oils" for the warm, buzzing sensation they provide when applied to the skin (via Curing Vision). This heat doesn't refer to temperature, but instead is similar to the heat you might experience when eating a spicy meal or hot pepper, per Easy Essential Oils. Oils like clove, cinnamon bark, cassia, black pepper, ginger, oregano, thyme, wintergreen, bergamot, and lemongrass give off a warm to hot burn, especially if applied directly to the skin without diluting. Minty essential oils like spearmint and peppermint provide a cooling burn.
Hot oils are commonly used for soothing purposes. When applied to the skin they can help relax muscle tension and acute pain ranging from sore throats to menstrual cramps. Despite their benefits, the warmth they produce means they shouldn't be used in the bath. Before you begin using essential oils that may produce a hot sensation, be sure to perform a patch test using 1 to 2 drops of the oil in question. If you have a negative reaction, flush the skin with a plain carrier oil instead of water and discontinue use.
To get the most out of the aromatic and therapeutic benefits of essential oils, many people use a diffuser. Diffusers have been used for thousands of years in different cultures and religious ceremonies (via Homesick). Nowadays, they are small electric devices found in homes and offices that break down essential oils into smaller molecules. The diffuser releases the essential oil and water mixture as a mist, evenly dispersing the beneficial oils and their pleasant aroma throughout the space.
Although diffusers are a great self-care tool to have around, there are a few drawbacks to using one. Mainly that they need to be cleaned regularly. "Diffusers that use water can harbor bacteria in the liquid when it's left sitting, and this can make you very sick the next time you turn on the device," Dr. Shirin Peters told Byrdie. In addition, regular cleaning helps prolong the life of your diffuser and prevents essential oils you don't want to be blended from mixing together.
To keep your diffuser clean, unplug it, take it apart, and apply mild soap to it using a damp cloth. In between cleanings you can put a couple of drops of vinegar in the water and let the diffuser run. Be sure to rinse the insides and let dry completely when finished so it's ready the next time you want to use it.
The appropriate use of essential oils is necessary to achieve their reported benefits. Inhalation is considered the safest way to enjoy essential oils, but they can also be applied topically or used internally. If you don't have a diffuser to place your diluted essential oils in, you can place a couple of drops on a cotton ball and leave them in hidden corners around your home to let the scent disperse. According to Young Living Essential Oils, you can also place a couple of drops in the palm of your hands and take a few deep breaths before washing away with a mild soap.
Many people unfamiliar with essential oils apply them incorrectly to their bodies, leading to various health issues. According to the American College of Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), essential oils that are applied directly to the skin incorrectly can cause skin, eyes, or mucous membrane irritation. This is because the oil is localized and doesn't involve the immune system.
The ACHS recommends following dilution guidelines for both the product and the intended user, as well as performing a skin patch test. To perform a patch test, wash your hands and forearms with unscented soap. Apply a drop of oil on the clean skin. Leave the patch of skin covered in a clean, lightweight wrap or gauze for 24 hours. If you experience irritation or burning, remove the gauze and remove the product with soap and water.
According to the ASPCA, essential oils in their 100% pure form can be dangerous for your pets. Health issues can arise if they are applied to your pet's skin or coat, and if they ingest them on accident. Pets may have diarrhea, depression, vomiting, and low body temperatures. They may also experience difficulty walking and chemical burns. Essential oil diffusers can also cause difficulties for your pets, particularly if they have respiratory problems. Furthermore, their sense of smell is much stronger than ours and a strong-smelling oil can cause them to be overwhelmed. "If we can smell it, imagine 20x more for that animal. As humans, we get nose blind. We'll diffuse for longer and longer amounts of time, and it's overwhelming for the animal and can make them sick," pet groomer Melissa Conti-Diene told Outward Hound.
Certain oils are more dangerous than others. Coralville Animal Hospital notes that essential oils like cinnamon, pennyroyal, citrus, tea tree, pine, and eucalyptus are all toxic to pets. Alternatively, chamomile, lavender, rosemary, and frankincense are considered pet-safe. If you are unsure about a particular essential oil and its effect on your pet, speak to your veterinarian.
To avoid unnecessary exposure, it is best to keep your essential oils stored out of reach of your pet. If you use a diffuser, ensure that it is also kept in a place where it can't be knocked over or played with by a curious dog or cat.
Just like there are essential oils that may harm your pets, there are oils that can harm your skin if applied directly. For example, many people use essential oils like rosemary and tea tree oil to help treat acne. However, when applied directly to the skin, these oils can actually cause more harm than good. According to Dr. Deborah Longwill, they can damage different layers of the skin, causing irritation in the form of redness, swelling, sensitivity, and more breakouts.
Experts also recommend avoiding applying citrus oils like bergamot, lemon, orange, and grapefruit to your skin. They may smell fresh and energizing, but they are phototoxic oils. ACHS notes that phototoxic, or photosensitive, oils like citrus oils contain furocoumarins which can cause severe sunburns when your skin is exposed to UV light.
Peppermint Essential Oil Bulk Whether you're new to essential oils or a seasoned user, it is important to do your research to avoid making big mistakes with essential oils. Staying informed and using them appropriately will allow you to reap the amazing therapeutic benefits for years to come.