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How Safe Are Essential Oils?

Updated on August 9, 2014

Are Essential Oils Safe? These Are The Important Things You Need To Know

Whether you use essential oils for their fragrance, for health, or for esoteric and magical purposes, it is important to remember that they are highly concentrated plant extracts. They need to be used with care and respect.

So how safe are essential oils? I would say that essential oils are safe in the same way that cars are safe when driven with skill, awareness and following the rules of the road.

There are some oils that although available, should not be used in conjunction with certain conditions, and some that should not be used at all, due to their toxicity. They are listed in the section on warnings below. Oils not on these warnings lists may still be contra-indicated for certain conditions, and it is recommended that you always check with your medical practitioner if you are taking medication, are being treated for a medical condition, or have doubts about the appropriateness of any essential oil treatment.

Apart from the oils listed in the warnings section, there is always the possibility that certain people might find that they have an allergic reaction to a particular oil. For example, I and many people use neat Lavender oil with great pleasure and efficacy for many things, but I know that there are those that find that it irritates their skin, and need to dilute it.

For this reason, it's always a good idea to try out any oils and blends at their weakest solution first on a small patch of skin, and leave for 12 hours just to check. It is extremely rare, but everyone is different, and there can never be a one size fits all rule in things like this.


Do not ingest the oils:

Essential oils are highly concentrated, and by themselves can irritate and burn the mouth delicate and gut lining.

Be very cautious and sparing using essential oils in cooking:

Some essential oils, such as Peppermint, Orange, Lemon and Lime are used in commercial food and confectionery preparation, but there are also oils that are positively unsuitable to internal use. You need to know the difference, and if your knowledge of oils is limited, it is best to avoid using them in this way completely.

Avoid skin and eye contact with undiluted essential oils

Always wash your hands after opening essential oil bottles to avoid transferring oils to eyes, nose and mouth, or any other tender parts. Certain people find that undiluted oils irritate their skin, and everyone will find essential oils extremely unpleasant, and possibly damaging if transferred to the eyes.

Keep individual oils uncontaminated, and ensure their longer life and effectiveness:

Over time, during handling and use, oils become contaminated by the transfer of other oils on the hands. Always use dropper bottles, and allow the oil to discharge naturally without touching the dropper tip. In an instant, an oil is contaminated by contact with skin, so smell oils by putting a drop on a tissue or hanky, and not your skin.

Don't leave essential oils, oil blends or aromatherapy burners with infused water within the access of animals or children.

Essential oils will cause oil marks on materials and clothing, and may affect certain surfaces.

The Following Oils Should NOT Be Used For Any Reasons Due To Their Toxicity

  • Bitter Almond - Prunus amygdalus var. amara

    Bitter almond oil contains prussic acid, commonly known as cyanide. Ingesting only 7.5 ml of bitter almond oil has resulted in death.

  • Boldo Leaf Oil Boldo - Peumus boldus Boldu boldus and Boldoa fragrans

    Boldo oil can produce convulsions even in very small doses.

  • Calamus - Acorus calamus

    All products from this plant were banned in 1968 as food additives and medicines by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a carcinogen. Long use as native medicine, and the research methods used fin coming to this conclusion leave it's true toxicity level under debate.

  • Yellow camphor Cinnamomum Camphora

    Yellow camphor is toxic and deemed carcinogenic.

  • Horseradish - Cochlearia armoracia

    Irritates the skin, eyes, nose and mucus membranes.

  • Cassia - Cinnamomum cassia

    Irritates the skin, eyes, nose and mucus membranes.

  • Mugwort - Artemisia vulgaris

    Toxicity affects the nerves and brain

    Can cause miscarriage in pregnancy.

  • Pennyroyal - Mentha pulegium

    Even in small quantities it causes acute liver and lung damage.

    Can cause miscarriage in pregnancy.

  • Rue - Ruta graveolens

    Irritates the skin, eyes, nose and mucus membranes. Toxicity affects the nerves and brain. Causes sun sensitivity due to phototoxicity.

    Can cause miscarriage in pregnancy.

  • Sassafras - Sassafras albidum

    It can be lethally toxic even in small amounts. Also carcinogenic..

  • Savin - Juniperus sabina

    Irritates the skin, eyes, nose and mucus membranes. Can cause miscarriage in pregnancy.

  • Tansy - Tanacetum vulgare

    Causes convulsions, vomiting, respiratory arrest and organ failure.

  • Wintergreen - Gaultheria procumbens

    Generally poisonous. It can be a skin irritant - especially to those sensitive to aspirin .

  • Wormseed - Chenopodium ambrosioides

    Its toxicity affects the liver, kidneys, nerves and brain. It also suppresses heart function.

  • Wormwood - Artemisio absinthium

    An ingredient of Absinthe, the favoured drink of Vincent van Gogh, notorious for causing auditory and visual hallucinations. It causes convulsions. It's toxicity affects the nerves and brain. Can cause miscarriage in pregnancy.

Phototoxicity, Photosensitization and Sun Sensitivity

Some oils, when applied to the skin, cause the skin to burn when exposed to sun-light. This is known as Phototoxicity, Photosensitization and Sun Sensitivity.

This does not mean that these oils increase or speed up tanning; they simply cause the skin to burn. Because of this side effect, phototoxic oils should not be included in sun tan oils or day face and body creams.

After any application of photosensitizing oils, whether by aromatherapy massage, or self treatment, exposure to the sun should be avoided for at least 12 hours. In practical terms, this means using these oils in the evening and at night, although they are fine to be used in a diffuser at any time.

Phototoxic Essential Oils

Esssential oils are phototoxic if they contain Bergaptene. All the oils from the citrus family contain Bergaptene, but there is a Bergaptene free form of Bergamot that is always sold as Bergamot FCF..

  • Angelica - Angelica archangelica, Angelica officinalis

  • Bergamot - Citrus bergamia,

  • Bitter orange - Citrus aurantium,

  • Cumin - Cuminum cyminum, C. odorum

  • Dill - Anethum graveolens,

  • Grapefruit - Citrus paradisi, C. racemosa

  • Lemon - Citrus limonum

  • Lemon verbena - Aloysia citrodora

  • Lime - Citrus aurantifolia, C. medica var. acide, C. latifolia

  • Sweet Orange - Citrus sinensis

  • Mandarin - Citrus reticulata

  • Tagetes - Tagetes minuta,

  • Tangerine - Citrus reticulata

Essential Oils In Pregnancy

The benefits to general well being, and relaxation that essential oils can bring make it an extremely helpful therapy during pregnancy.

However care must be taken with the choice of oils used in baths, massage oils and inhalations.

Some oils contain chemical compounds that stimulate menstruation; (these are called Emmenagogues), and some contain chemicals that have hormone-like molecular structures. Although there is no solid data as to their effect in pregnancy, it is always wise to err on the side of caution and give these oils a miss, as well as the known toxic oils.

Essential Oils To Avoid In Pregnancy

  • Aniseed :

    Anethole rich / hormone-like

  • Angelica :


  • Cedarwood :


  • Chamomile :


  • Cinnamon :

    Skin sensitization and emmenagogue

  • Clary sage :


  • Fennel :

    Anethole rich / hormone-like

  • Ginger :


  • Juniper :


  • Marjoram :


  • Myrrh :


  • Parsley seed :

    Apiol rich / hormone-like

  • Peppermint :


  • Rose :


  • Rosemary :


  • Sage :

    High thujone content

Personal Responsibility And Liability

The information here is not meant to take the place of the diagnosis and treatment of any illness by a qualified medical practitioner.

As we are all different, and I have no control over the way that the information that I give is used, I cannot guarantee the effectiveness of any oils, blends or recipes offered here.

Equally all applications of oils, recipes and blends is at the readers own risk. The author and publisher disclaim any liability arising directly or indirectly from the information given here.

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