Essential oils have long been a big part of the alternative health scene and are clearly of interest to more people now than ever before (a recent report showed that Google searches for ‘Essential Oils” have tripled in the last two years).
As an advocate of essential oils for health and wellness, I couldn’t be happier. But I also feel that, as their use goes more ‘mainstream’ it’s important people are using them in a safe, well-informed way. The reason essential oils are so beneficial is because they are powerful and potent, and therefore need to be respected.
The Myth of ‘It’s Natural’
People say ‘It’s natural, ‘It’s herbal’ or ‘It’s plant-based’ all the time as though nothing natural, herbal or plant-based could ever harm them (has anyone ever heard of poison oak, poison ivy, poison berries, stinging nettles… You get the idea).
Natural, plant based remedies are still powerful and still need to be used safely and correctly to get the benefits.
How Can Essential Oils Be Dangerous?
The most worrying aspect of essential oil use is that some people are ingesting (ie adding essential oils to food and drink), without realizing how dangerous this can be. I’m an independent consultant for a UK company that produces essential oils and we are not allowed to endorse or recommend this practice. If any of my clients are interested in this practice then I strongly advise (some would use the word ‘insist’) that they consult a registered aromatherapist with a specialist qualification in ingesting essential oils for medical purposes.
As Tisserand and Young (two of the best known and respected names within the world of essential oils) put it in their book Essential Oil Safety:
“…only practitioners who are qualified to diagnose, trained to weigh risks against benefits, and have knowledge of essential oil pharmacology should prescribe essential oils for oral administration.”
There are way too many bloggers and self-styled aromatherapy ‘gurus’ suggesting you can just put a few drops of essential oil in water and drink it. NO. Don’t do it. You don’t need much science background to know oil does NOT dissolve in water so you are putting neat essential oil into your mouth and stomach. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t even put neat essential oil into your bath, never mind your stomach.
Use of neat oils
Most essential oils should never be used neat on the skin, or even put into a bath neat. They are not designed to be used like this, and can burn and damage the skin (so imagine what they can do to your mouth and stomach if ingested). Oils should always be diluted before adding to a bath or using on your skin – and no, I’m not talking about diluting in water. As we’ve just discussed, oils don’t dissolve in water.
How To Use Essential Oils Safely
You need to dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil if you want to use them for massage or to apply directly to your skin as a moisturizer (and I suggest you do - it's a great way to use them). Buy a good quality carrier oil such as this one. You only need a few drops of essential oil in a small amount of carrier oil to add to a bath or use as a massage oil/scented moisturizer.
You can also blend your own aromatherapy products using a product like this amazing Create Hair and Body Wash from Neal’s Yard (Yes, I’m an independent consultant for Neal’s Yard. If you buy through my links, I will receive a commission). I decant it into smaller bottles and add several drops of different essential oils to each for a lovely variety of scented bubble bath/shower gel (you’ll need a generous splash of the product to create a bubble bath, less if using as a shower gel).
Diffusers and Burners
Using essential oil in a diffuser is another safe and effective way to use your oils and derive health and wellness benefits from them. You can also use them in a burner, but I much prefer diffusing. Here’s a whole article I wrote recently about why this is so.
There are certain oils that can best be used by putting them in a bowl of hot water (don’t worry they don’t need to dissolve for this method) and then simply inhaling the steam. I do this with my Eucalyptus oil and my Organic Defense blend a lot in the winter. I find it aids decongestion if you have a cold, or even stops one coming on.
Ready made products
Perhaps the very safest way to get into aromatherapy is to buy ready blended skincare and beauty products. Just make sure to get high quality products that use real essential oils. Some ‘lavender scented’ products, for example, may not actually contain real lavender oil.
If you're interested in essential oils I suggest you learn to use them properly, safely and in a way that will have a real impact on your health and wellness. This is my go-to resource on the topic. I highly recommend it.