I have been wanting to write an essential oil series for quite awhile.
I have three categories in mind for this series which might equate to 3 different parts over time. 1. Safety and uses. 2. Quality and where to find them. 3. Terminology and why this is important. With so many home EO users out there it seems that there is much interest in using these wonderful plant gifts in many different capacities. I use them to add some delicious scents to my soaps and other body products, I also like to use them as room fresheners either as a spray or in a diffuser and have even added them to cleaning products for a little added scent. There are a few I will add to a carrier and use on my skin as a sort of perfume too. Through my hours and hours of reading, learning and speaking with other essential oil professionals I have chosen so not use them internally or on my animals which I can go into detail on in the safety part. This is what has worked best for me. However there is risk (and reward) in any way that essential oils are used. It depends on the person, people or animals involved and the situation in which they are being used.
Let's start at the very beginning. What is an essential oil?
es·sen·tial oil - əˈsen(t)SHəl oil/
a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.
Ok great.....vocabulary lesson out of the way....but what does that mean? What part of the plant is used and how much of it is used? Well the answer to these questions is that it depends on the plant.
First, it takes many MANY pounds of plant material to make essential oils. Let's look at lavender as an example. While the actual number can vary from resource to resource the ballpark number is about 250 lbs of plant material to make 1 pound of lavender essential oil. And that's not so bad when you compare it to say roses which needs ALOT more plant material to make a decent amount of EO. One resource stated that approximately 242,000 petals are needed to make 5ml or 1 tsp of rose essential oil, I want to know what poor soul had to count the petals! So if you think about it when you place a drop of lavender oil into something you could really be using POUNDS of that plant! This is where the risk comes in. After all, it's the dose that makes substances toxic.
Ok let's get down to business and talk about EO safety. Here are some golden rules I have picked up over the years:
1. Keep out of reach of children and animals (should be obvious).
2. Do not use photosensitizing EO's prior to going into the sun or a tanning booth for at least 24 hours. With that being said, know what essential oils are photosensitizing.
3. Avoid prolonged use of the same EO's unless under the guidance of a qualified professional.
4. Do not use EO's that you know nothing about. (this should be obvious too) I will also add do not blindly recommend EO's to someone whose health you know nothing about.
5. Avoid the use of undiluted EO's on the skin unless indicated by a certified professional.
6. If you are going to use a new EO on yourself and are unsure if you will have a reaction, do a skin patch test first.
7. Be aware of the safety data of oils you are using and storing.
8. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant be aware that many oils are contraindicated during that time. Consult your doctor.
9. Keep EO's away from mucous membranes (eyes, nasal passages, mouth, those sensitive nether regions).
10. EO's are flammable......
11. DO NOT USE INTERNALLY unless you are working with a certified professional.
12. Animals metabolize substances differently than humans and this even varies from species to species, consult a veterinary professional who is educated in this matter and can help you in making decisions of what and how to properly use these oils.
Alright, let's dive in to some of the less obvious ones. #3 for instance avoid prolonged use of the same EO's. After thinking about it I understand, I have heard accounts of people using oils as gentle as lavender in the long term then acquiring a sensitivity to it. This article touches on that as well as other safety issues.
I want to write about #5 next, avoid using EO's undiluted on skin.
I will be perfectly frank here and say that even EO's that are known to be safe for use undiluted I will dilute with a carrier oil because I use them quite frequently in my products so I do not want to develop a sensitivity to them. There are two oils that I commonly hear referred to as"safe to use neat" or undiluted which are lavender and tea tree. Perhaps they are SAFER than some other oils but they are still very concentrated oils from those plants. Tea tree oil is an extremely effective oil meaning it is extremely potent, perhaps using it neat isn't the best idea. It also does not mean that they are safe for absolutely everyone so keep that in mind if ever making a recommendation or using it on say your child or animal
Let's talk about the elephant in the room- #11. Do not use EO's internally.
I did this google search: taking essential oils internally
Without any prompting about safety or anything the first article that came up were all about why you SHOULDN'T take EO's internally. It's a huge hint to not do it. Here is the link for that post, she lays the information out very well.
Of course the ones following this post are.....a little all over the place/comical/misleading in my opinion.
One tidbit that I was reminded of and find very valuable was that
essential OILS do not mix with water, they are oils after all, which makes them hydrophobic. So if you are the type of person who likes putting a drop of lemon EO in your water just remember that the lemon is floating right on top and will be gone in a single gulp (and is very concentrated). If you like lemon put a slice of lemon in your water, it will be delicious and fresh and good for you. Also if you do decide to ingest EO's please let your doctor know if you are under medical care as they can interfere with medications you are prescribed.
Ok, let's talk about #12. Do not use EO's on a pet without the guidance of a veterinary professional trained in essential oil use.
I found an article from the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). It is very clear on why this can be quite dangerous and also includes great references to help you further your knowledge. A quick re-cap of the information is that dogs, horses and some farm animals may do well with some topical and inhalation therapy however cats have a sensitive metabolic system and even if used topically they can end up with damaged liver and kidneys. Also to note, tea tree oil (remember that was one of the ones that is "safe" to use undiluted in humans) is TOXIC to cats. Additionally fish, birds, reptiles, rodents and small mammals should not have EO therapy due to metabolic, respiratory and dosing sensitivity.
Alright that is all for this post but stay tuned for more as I can get them written.