by Tommy Thompson
I have discussed essential oils (EO’s) in two previous articles as they relate to chemical free living and the journey in my ongoing education regarding these amazing natural products and their use in helping our body do what it is naturally designed to do–heal itself. I believe that nature is constantly striving for balance, homeostasis if you will. Perfect balance in nature was probably God’s original intent, though I am only citing my opinion. We (mankind), however, in the name of progress and innovation, have probably done more to upset the apple cart than any other factor. This upset can bee seen globally in the news and personally in your individual body. Where the body is concerned, balance of systems, all 12 of them, equates to health. Balance allows the body to do what comes naturally, and EO’s are very helpful tools to help balance and support our body systems and allow us to move from below the wellness line of imbalance to some point above that line.
While EO’s are extremely useful in seeking that balance, it cannot be overstated how important it is to use these natural products judiciously and cautiously. By this I simply mean that you need to educate yourself based on best practices for your intended use, following your particular philosophy of how you are willing to use these single oils, blends, and associated products infused with essential oils. Remember that these products are not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any specific medical condition, but instead are to help balance, support, and maintain systems as you move toward wellness and abundance in your life. Your physician should be involved in a consulting role, especially if she or he is involved in the practice of integrative or functional medicine. EO’s are only one spoke on that wheel of health, and your physician should be able to help guide you on the other things you can do in the “natural” realm.
Now to get to essential oil safety specifically, let’s talk about some very basic things first and get to more controversial issues later. First off, it is imperative that you use a pure, unadulterated essential oil that is free of any chemical additives regardless of how you are going to use it. There are three basic ways of using EO’s–aromatically, topically, and internally. Whichever method you choose for yourself and your family, chemicals are chemicals. Method of use does not make an oil with chemical additives any safer. The chemicals get into your body either way, and we certainly don’t need to introduce any more chemicals into our already toxin-laden bodies. Think purity, and heed the labeling on the bottle. If it says not intended for topical application to the skin or not for internal use, heed the warnings. They are on there for some reason, and only the supplier knows for sure what that reason is. Whether it is because of adulteration, aromatherapy philosophy, or FDA regulation, I would pay attention or just not use the oil at all. Caution should rule the day. Your choice is the one that matters.
Other basic precautions are: never apply any EO directly in the ears or eyes, always use a carrier oil to dilute when applying topically to the skin of elderly people or the very young as their skin could be more sensitive, be aware that some EO’s are phototoxic, use caution when applying “hot” oils (we will cover this in a moment), use oils internally only if they have been labeled GRAS (generally regarded as safe as a food additive by the FDA), follow the label instructions as we discussed earlier. Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Should you inadvertently get an EO in your eye, and I can’t imagine doing it on purpose, there is no need to panic. It will probably sting, but you likely won’t damage your eye. Just flush your eye with a carrier oil, like coconut, almond, olive, grapeseed, or any vegetable oil you may have on hand. This should minimize the discomfort almost immediately; if not, flush again. DO NOT flush with water!! Since EO’s are fat soluble and not water soluble, flushing with water will only serve to spread the oil over a wider area. This applies even on the skin. If you need to flush, use a carrier oil only. It is a good idea to always have some carrier oil close by when applying EO’s. Better safe than sorry. The same precaution applies to the ears or any other areas with mucous membranes exposed. I am sure you get my drift here.
Skin sensitivity is another issue. It never hurts to test the skin the first time you apply an oil to see how your skin will react. Apply only one drop, or less if you can, of any new single oil or blend to your skin and wait 5 minutes or so to see if it bothers you. If it stings or burns, dilute with a carrier oil. If you have a particularly sensitive skin-type or if you are applying an EO to areas of the skin that has been exposed to petroleum-based cosmetics, personal care products, soaps, or cleansers that contain synthetic chemicals and metals (and which of them don’t), be aware that some skin sensitivity or detox reaction may take place as the EO’s react with these chemicals. This applies to detergents, household cleaners, garden sprays and paints as well. When you consider how many years each of us have used this type of product, it is surprising that there are not more of these reactions, as these chemicals penetrate the skin and fat tissue and remain for days or weeks. Consider discontinuing the use of the EO’s and these chemically-laden products and embark on a systemic detoxification program before going back to the EO’s. Drink plenty of water during this time. Finally, a general word about dilution with the carrier oil. This does not diminish the effect of the EO. It does allow for a slower evaporation from the skin, thereby allowing the uptake of the EO over a longer period. Use 1-2 drops of pure, unadulterated EO per tablespoon of carrier on infants and 2-3 drops per teaspoon of carrier on older children. Applying to the soles of the feet is a great way to use the EO’s on children or anyone with sensitive skin. When faced with issues of fragrance in the workplace, application to the feet minimizes or eliminates this problem, too.
Certain oils are considered to be phototoxic if applied to skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods. This is most common with citrus oils because of the presence of furanoid compounds in the oil that magnifies or intensifies the natural effects of the sunlight on the skin. It is advisable to avoid prolonged sun exposure on areas of skin where these oils have been applied, or risk severe sunburn or skin discoloration which could be permanent. Cover these areas with clothing or simply apply the oils where the sun don’t shine. I do not mean that in the way you think I do. If you must expose these areas of skin, wait at least 48 hours after application before doing so.
Some oils are considered “hot” due to their high phenol content. Examples are oregano, clove, cinnamon, and lemongrass. They do tend to elicit a burning or stinging sensation when applied neat to the skin. It doesn’t last long, but it is rather unpleasant. By now you know exactly what to do. That’s right–dilute with carrier oil.
Finally, let’s talk about ingestion of EO’s. Ooh, that can be a loaded subject among some aromatherapists. And, I understand that. It is all about the training philosophy that was received. Believe me; I get it. As a retired pediatric dentist, I was whole-heartedly in favor of fluoridated water, topical fluoride application, and mercury containing amalgam fillings when I practiced, because that is how I was trained. My feeling now is maybe not quite as aggressive as it used to be. Right or wrong, everyone has to go with their own gut feelings, unless definitive research undeniably points one way. So far, regarding the internal consumption of essential oils, it has not been proven harmful, assuming the oil in question is a pure, unadulterated EO that is rated GRAS as a food additive by the FDA. If we are of the opinion that the FDA is the final authority on such issues, why worry any more about consuming EO’s than we do about consuming synthetic, chemically based pharmaceuticals. I say that tongue-in-cheek with regard to pharmaceutical drugs, as many approved by the FDA have been pulled from the market over the years. Should it be proven through research that ingestion of these oils is hazardous in any way to the public at large, I am confident that the EO industry will do exactly what the FDA tells it to do. Until then, I will continue to ingest those oils so approved. The choice in whether you do or not is purely a personal decision that should be reached through your own education about essential oils and what seems right to you.
There are other safety precautions regarding use during pregnancy, effects of individual oils on things like blood pressure, use of oils containing menthol in children under 30 months of age, use of oils in epileptics, and people who are highly allergic individuals. These are a few of the things to consider when selecting an oil to use. Consult with your physician, especially if that individual has any knowledge and training in essential oil use. Please, do your own research. Information abounds on the internet. Just remember that you can find all the information you desire to support or refute whatever position you are taking. The final choice is always yours.
Hopefully, this has stimulated something in you to consider the use of essentials in your life. I take the position that they are inherently safe, assuming you educate yourself, use common sense, and try only to use products that are pure, unadulterated oils from a grower, distiller, and supplier that you trust.
Disclaimer: Tommy and his wife, Patricia, are Independent Distributors for Young Living Essential Oils.