Essential oils can be a fantastic addition to your beauty and cleaning regimens, but there are a few habits that can turn a relaxing, healthful practice into a recipe for disaster. Like anything, there are always risks and even side effects to keep an eye out for. And remember, just because something is sold over-the-counter or marketed as natural doesn’t mean there aren’t contraindications or real risks.
Check out our expert tips for enjoying essential oils safely and effectively.
1. Don’t swallow.
As much as oils with names like thyme or orange might seem safe to ingest, it’s important to always check with a professional aromatherapist or naturopath first.
“Because the oils are so concentrated, they are likely to irritate mucous membranes and the stomach lining if taken internally,” explains Susan Smith Jones of Penn Herb Co.
Of course, some oils are safe to ingest or cook with – it’s just a good idea to check with an expert first, not only about whether it’s safe for your chosen oils but also about the correct way to do it.
“Simply dropping essential oils in a glass of water and drinking it can be damaging to your stomach,” explains Jessica Morelli, founder of Palermo Body. “If you’re going to ingest essential oils, they need to be properly dispersed in an oil-soluble ingredient before ingesting.”
She suggests flax oil, honey, or specially designed capsules.
2. Don’t skimp on your essential oil quality.
“Know your supplier, where they source, and what values they have,” says Kristi Head, creator and owner of LITE+CYCLE.
This research can help you ensure that you are actually getting botanical extracts, and not synthetical or chemical reproductions.
“Chemical reproductions are not effective because they do not evoke the same biochemical response as natural, pure essential oils,” says Smith Jones.
Doing your research is essential to ensuring that your oils are safe to use, especially on the skin or internally.
“The purer the oil, the better it is for you and the more diverse things you can use an oil for,” says Jaya Jaya Myra, author of Vibrational Healing: Attain Balance & Wholeness. Understand Your Energetic Type. “High quality oils can be taken internally and used on the skin, whereas low quality ones cannot.”
Kac Young, PhD, author of “The Healing Art of Essential Oils,” recommends only choosing organic oils to be absolutely certain of their quality.
“You never know how they have been grown, harvested and processed unless you see the organic label,” she says. “Pesticides can be concentrated and intensified in the distillation process just like the essential oils.”
3. Don’t sunbathe with essential oil.
Sun is a no-no with essential oil for two reasons.
The first is that sun and heat can make essential oil turn or lose potency, meaning that it’s best to store your bottles somewhere dark and cool. But it’s also important for you to stay out of the sun after you’ve used them.
“Some essential oils are phototoxic (also known as photosensitive), which means they become toxic in direct sunlight and can cause harmful effects if left on this skin in direct sunlight,” explains Christina Daigneault, certified aromatherapist, founder of Orchard Aromatherapy, and the co-author of the forthcoming book, Plant-Powered Beauty.
Photosensitive oils include citrus-based oils, rue, and angelica; you’ll want to allow 12 hours after applying before going into direct sunlight after using these oils to avoid blistering or burning.
4. Don’t use oils on their own.
Most essential oils need to be combined with a carrier oil before applying them to the skin, otherwise they’ll cause your skin to burn or blister.
KJ Landis, author and creator of the Superior Self Series suggests mild, unscented grape seed oil as a carrier, which is not only inexpensive, it’s also easily absorbed by the skin.
“Other carrier oils that are safe to use are jojoba oil or almond oil,” says Landis. “You may use coconut or shea butter, but know that these oils will turn solid at room temperature. They are great for making body butters. Personally, I use coconut and shea butters on my face every day.”
5. Be wary of using essential oil if you’re pregnant.
While some essential oils may be safe to use when pregnant or nursing, certain oils can cause complications and problems, according to dermatologist Dr. Kathy Taghipour of Savana Urban Spa.
“If you are pregnant there are lots of essentials oil you mustn’t use, because they can either cause a disturbance in hormone levels, malformation of the fetus, or worse case scenario, abortion,” she notes. “Some of the oils are angelica root, aniseed, basil, birch, bitter almond, cinnamon, and many others.”
To keep you and your baby safe, always check with a doctor before using these or any other essential oils while pregnant or nursing.
6. Use sparingly.
Essential oils come in small bottles for a good reason – make that two.
Firstly, the oxygen in partially filled bottles deteriorates the oil, according to Smith Jones, so buying smaller bottles ensures that your oils will stay fresher longer.
But those little bottles are also a suggestion at how much of each essential oil you should really be using.
“Less is more,” says Taghipour. “A good rule of thumb for diluting essential oils is to use a two percent solution. This roughly equates to 12 drops per fluid ounce of carrier oil.”
7. Don’t apply essential oil to infants.
Because young children have more sensitive skin than adults, it’s important not to apply essential oil directly to them, especially without a carrier oil.
Victoria Sexton, certified aromatherapist, notes that she prefers using an electric diffuser around her kids or infants to allow them to reap the benefits of essential oils – like keeping their rooms smelling fresh – without applying them directly to their skin; check with your pediatrician to see if this is a good option for your kids.
8. Don’t get impatient.
Using essential oils on the skin is one of the most common ways to reap their benefits, but it’s not a magic Band-Aid – feeling the positive effects of essential oils can take some time, according to Landis.
“It may take some time before the full benefits are realized because it takes a while to get circulated throughout the whole body,” she says.
Use essential oil as part of your regular routine; you’ll be feeling their amazing benefits in due time for sure.