8 Safety Tips for Using Essential Oils

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What to know

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of flowers, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, bark, resin, or fruit rinds that can be inhaled or rubbed on the body. Research suggests that they can reduce stress and nausea in people with cancer, for example, or address behavioral issues in people with dementia. But they can be harmful if not used properly.

  1. Tell your doctor first

If you’re considering using essential oils, first tell your healthcare provider so he or she can help you avoid interactions with medications or other treatments. For example, if you have a health condition, such as an irregular heartbeat, that makes taking stimulants dangerous, avoid oils such as peppermint, rosemary, and basil.

  1. Dilute your oils

Not diluting essential oils when using on the skin can result in a severe rash or even burn. To avoid a reaction, dilute essential oils with a base such as vegetable oil or a fixed oil from nuts, seeds, or trees, such as coconut or jojoba, to decrease the concentration. If using in bathwater, mix with Epsom or bath salts first.

  1. Apply with care

Never apply any essential oil to the delicate eye area or mucus membranes and, in general, avoid broken skin or any inflammatory or allergic skin condition. Don’t place oils on the same area of skin every day.

  1. Do a patch test

Using a new oil? Make sure you’re not allergic to it. Dilute the oil, place a couple of drops on the inside of your elbow, and put a bandage over it. Keep the area dry and wait 48 hours. If redness, swelling, or soreness occur, discontinue using the essential oil.

  1. Skip the citrus oil

Apply citrus oil to your skin in moderation, if at all. Even in low concentrations, this oil can trigger photosensitivity reactions. If you do use citrus oil on your skin, stay out of the sun or avoid exposing that area of the body to the sun for 12 to 18 hours after you apply it to avoid serious burns.

  1. Don't ingest

Some aromatherapists may advise ingesting essential oils in addition to applying them topically. But that is not a good idea. Certain essential oils, such as wintergreen, can be toxic to the liver. Wintergreen contains high amounts of salicylic acid, aspirin’s anti-inflammatory ingredient.

  1. Store properly

Essential oils oxidize after they’re opened, changing the chemical composition and increasing the risk of allergy and skin irritation. Minimize this risk by keeping essential oils in their dark glass bottles with a tight-fitting lid (not a dropper cap) in the refrigerator or another cool, dark spot for no longer than one to two years. Open only when necessary, and replace the cap immediately after using.

  1. Don't use near flame

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy warns that essential oils can be highly flammable. Keep them away from open flames, such as candles, matches, cigarettes, and grills.