I’ve had a long journey with essential oils now with over a decade of personal use. And the more I learn about them, the more I realize how complicated and complex the wonderful world of essential oils are, and how much more I need to learn. My personal belief is that these very concentrated forms of herbs, spices, and plants are a powerful tool to use in pursuit of better health. But like all tools, it’s not one without risks.
I find this wonderful tool to be a fascinating resource for further research and personal use, but it’s so important to know how to use them properly!
Essential Oil Safety
Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use proper caution in its use. Essential oil use is exploding, especially because of the efforts of distributors of two large companies who sell them. I’m so glad that the wonderful world of essential oils are reaching more people, but it is also alarming to see so much advice flying around about the use of essential oils when that advice doesn’t often take into consideration basic essential oil safety.
This isn’t to blame those whose enthusiasm for the healing power of essential oils leads them to give bad advice about usage. You will find no judgment from me as I’ve become aware of many of these safety issues myself only recently. The reason I became more aware of safety issues was because I was doing research on essential oil brands. I have been quietly using essential oils for years, but with so many people recently asking me about brands, or joining an essential oil distributor team, I knew I needed to gain a little more knowledge before jumping on board to anything. More on brands in a second, but first, here are some thoughts and resources on essential oil safety for you to consider. (This is in no way going over all of the safety issues – I’m simply trying to wet your appetite to gain more knowledge.)
Today’s post isn’t going over the healing power of essential oils, but don’t let my caution discourage you from discovering that side! We’ve had great results using them in our family.
If you are pregnant or have young children, use extra caution
I know that I have a lot of parents, and pregnant woman who read this blog. You need to know that what is perfectly safe for an adult to use, may not be safe for a child, especially a young child.
One example: Peppermint essential oil safety
One very common (and wonderful) essential oil is peppermint, and it’s often used liberally by essential oil advocates. However, there are some serious concerns about peppermint essential oils and infants and young children. It shouldn’t be used with children under the age of thirty months; it shouldn’t be directly applied to the chest or nasal area, or undiluted on the feet of children. Why? It could cause apnea (that is, it could cause your child to stop breathing) or glottal constriction. That’s scary.
Even for adults, large amounts of inhaled peppermint essential oil could cause nausea, dizziness, confusion, and muscle weakness.
Peppermint oil is the perfect example of how much more powerful the essential oil form is from the herb. Peppermint in its fresh form is not something we need to worry about (as long as we don’t have an allergy to it). Pregnant women and children can enjoy it in foods and beverages without a worry. However, it becomes a whole different story when in a more potent form.
Our scary experience with peppermint
I personally feel passionate about this issue after my then three year old daughter had trouble breathing after we lightly applied a “kid safe” commercial bug deterrent in her bedroom (one of the main essential oils used in the spray was peppermint) during a flea issue we were having. Despite being safe for “kids of all ages” she told us it made her have a hard time breathing, and we felt horrified! Thankfully, it just caused her discomfort, but we also had a newborn infant who could have suffered severe consequences if we had also used it in her room unwittingly.
So please friends, if you have young children, please, please, be cautious in the use of essential oils – even the ones that you have used for yourself for years successfully. Look at the end of this post for resources for child and pregnancy safety
Follow guidelines for diffusing essential oils
Before I became a complete crunchy mama, I loved lighting scented candles in our house to make our house warm and inviting. The crunchy mama’s alternative to toxic scented candles is often diffusing essential oils (which I find wonderful). However, note two things: Only use baby and child safe oils in your diffuser if they are around, and don’t diffuse too long. Generally, my understanding is that you should never diffuse more than an hour long of any essential oil, but some more potent oils or blends should only be diffused for 20 minutes!
Another issue with diffusing essential oils is pet safety. All animals can have severe reactions to certain essential oils, and I know that cats especially don’t have the capability to process many of the same oils we can safely use.
Be aware of a wide range of possible reactions
I also know that many of my readers are much more sensitive to foods (and herbs and spices) than the average consumer. So while this is important for everyone, it’s even more important for those more sensitive. You can have allergies and intolerances to any essential oil, just like you could do any food, herb, or spice. However, since essential oils are so potent, your reaction has the potential to be more severe.
If you think an oil is safe for you personally, but react more often to new products, I’d recommend using only a very small, very diluted amount to start with to test yourself.
Other reactions include skin irritation (in many different forms), and photosensitivity after using certain essential oils (most notably citrus-based oils), which can lead to very bad sunburns.
Personally, I found that even using the oils that were supposedly “safe” to use undiluted made me sensitized to them (that is, I started to react to them over time). Sadly, this may not have happened if I had diluted them properly. That’s another example of “bad essential oil advice” that I’ve seen. Often essential oils are not properly diluted and used in much too strong of doses. I’ve seen a wide variety of essential oils dropped neat into open mouths and used neat on skin when it never should have been. One should fully understand that this could lead to harm, not healing.
Another possible negative effect of essential oils are the fact that many are mucous membrane irritants – that is they can have a drying and irritating effect on your eyes, nose, mouth, and private parts. Another reason to be cautious taking them orally, and even putting them in your bath. Some should never be used in the bath, and all should first be diluted with milk or a type of regular oil before being added (and to be extra cautious, you should add after you’ve gotten into the bath).
The good news
But there is good news in all of this. Most of the “best practices” for essential oils mean that you use a lot less of the oil! This can help stretch your essential oils out to last much longer (and save you a lot of money).
Quality does matter (and why that doesn’t mean we should war over brands)
Over and over again, when reading about essential oil safety, it became apparent that essential oil quality is important for safety. And here’s where it becomes easy to enter the “essential oil brand wars”. Everyone seems to have a favorite and is convinced that their brand is superior. I’ve spent so many countless hours researching brands, going in circles, and even came this close to signing up with a certain company. But in the end, with new information, I decided not too (I’m not comfortable sharing that information at this time, but it was enough to make me back down from that decision for now, despite still being willing to buy certain oils from both companies for personal use).
I see two extremes of misinformation about this online. One being that only their company can be trusted over all of the others. The truth of the matter is, there are many wonderful essential oil companies. Brand loyalty can ignore that reality, and ignore the value of excellent oils available for less expense.
On the other side, you see people saying “all brands are pretty much the same.” It is very true that many brands (yes, even the biggest brands) are all buying some of their essential oils from the same source, but selling at widely different prices. It’s also true that some independent tests done on single bottles of oils from a wide variety of brands showed similar purity, once again despite a wide variety of prices on the bottles. The problem with this view is that it appears that most essential oil experts not affiliated with any company specifically say that there are issues of purity, which lead to safety concerns with essential oil use. It’s over-simplifying the issue to make claims of all brands being equal.
I’m not ready to throw my weight behind any specific essential oil company as of yet, but I do try to buy from companies that work hard to properly test each and every batch of oil before they sell it.
Meanwhile, the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself on how to use them properly, as even the best brands can cause harm if improperly used. I think reading some of this basic information should be required before anyone uses essential oils! I know I would have benefited.
- Essential Oil Safety from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
- Safe use of essential oils during Pregnancy (PDF file)
- Essential Oil Safety: This book is for the serious essential oil user, and is very expensive. However, it’s considered the best resource on the topic. I don’t own it yet, but do own this more reasonably priced, user friendly book that covers at least the basics.
COMMENT POLICY ON THIS POST: I am not interested in starting a comment led essential oil brand war on this post talking about why I don’t want to be part of that war. 😉 I know that many people are passionate about their favorite brand, but let’s focus on our passion for essential oils and safely using them! Comments may be deleted if they are too inflammatory, or are wanting to try to sell/promote a certain brand (it’s fine to say what brands you like to use, just avoid saying things like “brand X is the only good company”).
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I just found this . I think I just used to much peppermint oil . I am scared to go to sleep. i am burning all over my body and my breathing is slow . feels like pins and needles in my head . I have been keeping myself awake for hours now don’t want to go to hospital. really scared after reading this I just started using the oils here’s the lavender ran out on that use the peppermint for first time tonight. I wish I knew what to do don’t think I will use oils again didn’t know this would happen. night
Are you ok now I am in the same situation.
Try a very small amount at your hand. if that makes you discomfort than stop using it. Maybe you have allergic to that oil. The most safe place to put essential oils is on our feet. I gain much benefit for my health using essential oil. But I using it low and slow, but in regular basis. (I mean, I use it only small amount, diluted with carrier oil and using it at least twice a day.
If you put the oil on neat try putting a carrier oil on to slow the process of going into your system. If diffusing turn it off and open a few windows or go outside. I hope these tips can help.
So I’m pretty new to EO, I’m now lying in my bed panicking with a severe dry mouth & throat after been told it’s safe to ingest Peppermint oil in water.
This has slowly got worse over last two nights, obviously I won’t ever be ingesting EO again as this is pretty scary, going to head to the pharmacy for advice. Be very careful please.
Can you burn/melt tarts you make with essential oil with infants in the house ?
I use essential oils at home and at work. My husband loves it, as its calming especially bergomot, chamomile and mandarin. At work I use 1 drop of lemon and 1 drop of orange of a tissue, that way I benefit especially when concentrating on work and others get to enjoy the nice aroma that softly sweeps thru the office, and it wont affect others because I dont know others health condition. So far, the office loves it. I sleep with the diffuser on using Lavendar or any calming blend. But, I have noticed that when I use too much peppermint, my husbands allergies comes on with dizziness and sickly feeling, so I have learn’t to use only 1 drop blended with eucalyptus and tea tree of 1 drop each. I use these for massaging especially with people who have arthritis. Im not sure how true this is, but Ive noticed if I use Neroli too much, it brings on my period. I love using both the diffuser and the candle with the burner. Thanks for the tip of using the carrier oil to slow the process of going into your system, I will try that.
Thankyou for the information you have provided, I only wish I had known this before. I had mice invade my home almost 2 years ago and went on line to find a way to get rid of them humanely. I found out that mice hate peppermint oil and the advice was to dab some on cotton balls and leave them all over the house, which I did. There were no warnings about using EO/peppermint oil on the sites and I had never used EO’s before, I only bought the peppermint oil for the purpose of getting rid of the mice. However, about 30 minutes later I was feeling nauseous and had a terrible headache. I thought it was because I too hate the smell of peppermint oil. I refreshed the cotton balls every 2 days and the mice cleared out in just over a week!! Alas they have returned so an hour ago I repeated the process from 2 years ago knowing that’s I was probably going to feel nauseous and end up with a headache for the next week and sure enough, that’s exactly what has occurred, which is why I went on line looking to see if the oil in this amount is making me feel sick. So now I know, thanks again. I won’t be using peppermint oil for this purpose and in this way again.
I started Clary Sage 3 days ago to hopefully cut down on terrible PMS. That 1st night I had stomach pain, chills, and diarrhea. I woke up fine the next morning, re-applied and symptoms came on again, plus I started my period 9 days early. I applied it to my lower abdomen and soles of feet neat. I really don’t get the miraculous results everyone claims to have. I really don’t trust anyone or anything right now.
I do as much research as I can, and if I find something like a supplement, I start with a half dose to see how it will affect me. People are so different. We have different blood types, different diets, different environments, different allergies…what works great for one person could have no effect on another and could actually harm someone else. Be careful.
has anyone ever had issues with citrus oil? I was told to put a citrus blend on my chest for a lingering cough. It smelled wonderful. this morning when i got up, i felt woozy. Not hungover, not drunk per se. but, like i had taken a sleeping pill to close to waking back up.
Thank-you for a wonderful article on E.O’s. I have been doing so much research and find your article sort of balanced out everything I have been reading.
Thank-you for the hard work. It is appreciated
I’m trying to figure out if I can let my 10-year old wear a diffuser necklace to school from 8-5. It would have lavender, cedarwood, and vetiver on it. He’s autistic and having trouble focusing in class. Is it safe to have on a diffuser necklace this long? Also, are these particular oils safe for him? If not this blend but it is safe, what blend would you suggest?
I would think even 1 drop of each would be a lot of oil at once. Meaning at first the smell would be strong using 3 drops total I would pre-blend it (for example 5 drops of each in a bottle) and then use 1 drop on the necklace to start. See how that works and go from there.
So super helpful. Thank you. I’m shocked at the “Dr.” sites touting any and all essential oils for diffusers — lavender is SUCH A STRONG phyto estrogen, even minimal exposure to it makes my hormones go wild… imagine what it can do to small bodies! Much like peppermint!
Thanks for the helpful article. Before using or buying new essential oils, I am very careful to minimize the risk. I always find out user’s ratings before buying. The ones that have bad ratings are always ignored. If there is any store near my home, I will try it first. Always use small doses to see if anything is wrong.
Hi, thx u for the article. I have 2 cats. What would you suggest to use as an alternative to essential oils?
Hi I sprayed peppermint oil diluted in water in my room where my toddler sleeps. How long after can he go in there. I did it too kill spiders then read all the dangers too children. How long does it take to go away? Please help
Has anyone experienced side-effects from diffusing (inhaling) EO Rosemary? … Immediately after starting Rosemary in a diffusor, my wife and I both became very nauseous with highly acidic indigestion. In addition, we both felt like someone had punched us in the stomach right at the solo plexus. (I added the Rosemary accidently (not wearing my glasses) thinking it was Peppermint because both labels are blue). This was the first time we had used Rosemary in a diffusor.. and will be the last.
Adults ,,How long of a time?? should you Difuss oil peppermint in your bedroom,,mind or hours?? At a time
I have been using straight undiluted peppemint oil on the window seals at our restaraunt to get rid of flies and man does it work but mine and my husbands tongue gets really weird feeling and it’s like you cannot get the smell out of your nose? Anyone else experienced this weirdness?
I recently purchased a bottle of shampoo that is loaded with essential oils. It has peppermint oil, Cedarwood, and lavender to name only a few. While I was laying in bed reading the label on the bottle, I had laid it down on my blanket not realizing the cap was open. The smell was overwhelming as it was about 2 feet away from my face. I did not realize about half of the shampoo had oozed out. At one point I suddenly became severely nauseous and dizzy with strong heart palpitations. Eventually my lips started to tingle and my throat became irritated. Suspecting the shampoo, I removed the blanket and the shampoo to another room I am gradually feeling better but it is taking close to an hour. I suspect that this shampoo was making me sick. I’m glad to have come across this article and the need to be cautious. Thank you very much.