Safety with Essential Oils
- Found on this page:
- Purpose of this page
- Definition of Essential Oils
- General precautions
- GMP and ISO Standards
- Organic Certification
- International Fragrance Organisation (IFRA)
- GC-MS -(Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry Analysis)
- Certificate of Analysis (CoA)
- Blot Test
- Grading of Essential Oils
- Manufacturing Process
- Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS)
- Excepted Quantities / Packaging / Drop Test / Stack Test
- Advanced Planning
- Training Courses
- Tisserand Institute
- Suggested Reading
- Diluting Essential Oils
- General Guide for Safe Dilution per Age Group or when Pregnant or Breastfeeding
- General Guide for Safe Dilution per Body Part
- Banned and Restricted Essential Oils
- Personal Inhalation
- Compounds to avoid
- Anti-angiogenic Oils
- Estrogenic Oils
- Lavender Essential Oil
- Banned or Restricted Essential Oils
- Legal Implications
- Aromatherapy – Comparing Different Applications and Possible Hazards
- Source and Supply Chain
- Dosage, the Therapeutic Window and Physical Delivery Methods:
- First Pass (Phase) Metabolism, Expiration, Trans-dermal Permeability, Transmucosal Permeability and Second Pass (Phase) Metabolism
- Physical Delivery Methods
- Considering Alternatives
- After Inhalation
- After Application to the Skin
- After Ingestion
- Third Party in Supply Chain
Purpose of this page
The safety guidelines below are targeted toward people who are using essential oils (diffused or mechanically extracted).
Other extracts such as oleo-resins, absolutes, concretes, and extracts made via the super critical carbon dioxide method may have different safety guidelines.
Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction will extract more chemical compounds from the raw material, certain compounds may also be present at a higher percentage and other compounds may be present that are not found in a diffused essential oil, i.e. what is found in the result of a co2 extraction process will differ from what is found in diffused essential oil.
Resins, oleo-resins, absolutes and concretes may also contain differing chemical compounds – depending on how they are created.
We discuss each of the products we sell on our website and supply information regarding each product on the product page.
This information may differ from the information found here. It may be that the specific product is not classified as an essential oil, or that it requires specific handling and dilution rates.
Certain general guidelines do overlap.
These guidelines are just that: GUIDELINES:
You may sometimes feel it necessary to follow your intuition in a specific treatment program for an individual. When doing so, please consider the following:
- That your country or the region that you live in may have set regulations regarding the use of essential oils / a particular essential oil.
- That you may not have received adequate training.
- It is possible that a person is allergic to something that no one else is allergic to. Some people are even allergic to water.
- Remember that everybody is different – what one person tolerates well may provoke an adverse reaction in another / that some people may tolerate a higher dilution rate better than others. People differ.
- Please consider the risk to benefit ratio: what risk am I taking and what will be the benefit of the risk?
- Consider the ‘Therapeutic Window’: Will the dose be sufficient to work? Will the dose be too potent and cause harm?
- The aroma produced by an essential oil inspires differing reactions and is subjective. What one person finds pleasing and helpful may not be tolerated by another. The psychological implications of this have a major influence on the efficacy of an essential oil as the psychological effect is found to manifest physiologically.
At the end of the day, the buck stops with you – you are responsible for your own body and for those that you treat or expose to essential oils.
These guidelines are given to help you do that safely and with the minimum adverse effect.
Please be cautious with your approach and enjoy reaping the benefits of these remarkable creations!
Definition of Essential Oils
The definition for essential Oils as accepted by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is the following:
“Essential oil is a product obtained from a natural raw material of plant origin, by steam distillation, by mechanical processes from the epicarp of citrus fruits, or by dry distillation, after separation of the aqueous phase — if any — by physical processes.”
- Although essential oils are natural, they consist of chemicals (everything on the earth consists of chemicals).
- Essential oils are man-made as they require the agency of a human to be produced.
- Essential oils do not necessarily have the same therapeutic properties as the plant that they were extracted from.
- Essential oils are potently concentrated and are made up of oil-loving molecules found in the volatile aroma compounds (‘VAC’) or the secondary metabolites of the plant.
- The overwhelming majority of essential oils are sensitive to light and heat.
- Amber glass is considered the best container for essential oils. Blue glass can be used, but is not found to be as effective as amber. A sticker or other material can also be used as long as it covers the surface of the glass to exclude light and UV rays (this helps prevent oxidation), Specially coated aluminium containers are often used (the coating is necessary to prevent the metal from leaching into the essential oil). A stopper or cap that is airtight is recommended as essential oils are volatile.
- Essential oils can only be stored in certain types of plastic bottles as toxic compounds from plastic can leach into essential oils.
- Plastic containers can be corroded by essential oils and are found to warp and break (even HDPE plastic containers).
- High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE also called Plastics number 2) containers are considered safer when used to store essential oils, but we recommend that you transfer any essential oil out of an HDPE container as soon as possible and to store pure essential oil in amber glass, or in a glass container covered with paper or material to prevent UV rays from affecting the essential oil.
- The most appropriate place to store containers of essential oils is in the fridge at an average temperature of 4° Celsius (39.2° Fahrenheit) or less (recommendations are found that suggest that the temperature should be between 2° and 8° Celsius) .
- If you cannot store your essential oils in the fridge, try to store them in a cool, dark place.
- Store all essential oils safely away from children, pets and uninformed people.
- Know what to do if you experience an adverse reaction (see ‘First Aid and Emergency Situations’) on this page.
- Always make sure that you mark a container well so that others will know what it contains.
- Do not mix essential oil containers with other items. Keep containers separate to avoid accidental use.
- Educate the people in your vicinity about your essential oils and tell them not to drink them or apply them to their skin without being diluted.
- Request documentation from your essential oil provider. The following is important:
- Most essential oils last around 2 years or more from date of manufacture – provided that they are stored in the right conditions.
- If your supplier does not mark containers with an expiry date, please request a CoA (Certificate of Analysis) from the supplier and ask for the expiry date.
- The CoA should contain the specific batch number, typical chemical components found and other test results that certify the standard of the essential oil.
- A GC-MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) analysis report should be supplied for all essential oils. This report should reference the batch and date and not be a ‘typical composition report’. Unfortunately, a GC-MS report is something that is usually not supplied. The public should start insisting on this being supplied with the essential oil when purchasing as it is a great aid when used to ascertain the standard of the essential oil.
- The lifespan of an essential oil depends on how it is stored, in which container it is stored, what contaminants may be mixed into the oil, at what temperature it is stored at and if it is exposed to light.
- An expiry date is an ESTIMATION and cannot be exact.
- Treat Essential Oils with caution.
- Essential oils are potent and mostly contain oil loving compounds.
- Essential oils do not mix with water.
- Do not mix and drink essential oils in water / milk / coffee / tea / cool drink / soda.
The essential oil will simply coat the mucus membranes in your mouth, throat and stomach lining and cause problems – they are concentrated and can be harmful.
- If you want to use essential oils internally, please read Drinking Essential Oils on this page.
- Do not use essential oils in a bath unless they have been suitably diluted in a substance that will cause them to mix with water first (i.e. a solubiliser).
- Do not mix and drink essential oils in water / milk / coffee / tea / cool drink / soda.
- It is recommended to dilute essential oils before use on the skin. Dilution rates differ according to the age and medical condition of a person and the specific essential oil being used (see Using Essential Oils on The Skin on this page)
- Essential oils can be a fire hazard and may be explosive (Please refer to Transporting Essential Oils and Flashpoints
and our page ‘Essential Oil Flashpoints’)
- Other potential hazards and precautions are discussed below.
Quality and purity is subjective – what is quality and pure to a Manufacturer or Perfumer may not be the same thing for an Aromatherapist. It all depends on where and for what you want to use the essential oil.
All Aromatherapists would usually want to use essential oils that conform to a universal specification, that have not expired and that do not contain any unspecified harmful compounds.
Unfortunately, we currently have no international regulations regarding the production of essential oils and there are no standards that are internationally agreed upon regarding the end product – ‘International Organisation for Standardization (ISO)’ standards are available and standards required for Organic Certification are available, but most producers can market their essential oils even though they do not subscribe to these standards. Standards for essential oil production are localised, except for countries belonging to the European Union (EU).
Standards have been set in Pharmacopeia for certain oils for medical use. These standards are localised and not really internationally accepted, although they are highly respected:
The EP (European Pharmacopeia), BP (British Pharmacopeia) and the USP (USA Pharmacopeia) have published standards for certain essential oils for use in pharmaceutical preparations (not all essential oils have an accepted standard).
The standards published by the various Pharmacopeia may differ slightly. If you submit an essential oil for analysis, the laboratory you use will most probably use one of these standards, or will use the ISO standard for the particular essential oil submitted for analysis.
GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation)
GMP and ISO 9001 certification generally deal with a manufacturer / producer meeting certain standards imposed regarding the process followed, environment, designated spaces, training, and the paper trail employed during manufacturing.
GMP and ISO 9001 standards do not guarantee quality or purity of the end product with regards to essential oils.
GMP follows five points:
- people, premises, processes, products and procedures (or paperwork).
Good Manufacturing Practice is enforced by the regulatory authorities of the specific country.
- ISO 9001 is an international standard for quality management published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 9001 standard lays out a set of guidelines to establish a Quality Management System (QMS) for any type of business.
- ISO publishes certain standards for a variety of essential oils (standards for all essential oils are not available) and these can be used to ascertain whether the required levels of components for an essential oil are within range and meet the published requirements.
ISO certification allows a manufacturer / producer to claim that they have this certification and if they fail an inspection, the certification can be withdrawn. A manufacturer can also not put a mark on their products that the product was manufactured according to ISO standards. ISO certification is systems and not product related.
Organic certification deals with the restriction of certain pesticides, fertilizers and other additives, allowed levels of pesticides and fertilizer in production and farming, and may also compel certain sustainable farming practices.
Organic certification does not ensure that a distilled essential oil does not contain any pesticides (certain pesticides/fertilizers may be allowed / certain percentages of pesticides and fertilizers may be allowed) and does not ensure that the product is of high quality or purity, as the quality and purity depends on what raw material and plant species are put into the still, the expertise of the distiller and what standard the distiller is required to meet by the buyer.
Distilled organically ‘un-certified’ essential oils may contain no or minute traces of pesticides/fertilizers. This depends on how the plants were harvested and what boiling point the pesticide or fertilizer that was used has. There is debate as to whether distilled organic essential oils are safer to use and if the extra cost is justified. A better knowledge of the production of the specific batch of essential oil is required to make an accurate judgement. Organic certification depends on constant ‘policing’ of the production, the capability of the certifying organisation to enforce their rules and the ethics of the producer/manufacturer.
Expressed essential oils (mostly from citrus) may contain high levels of pesticides and purchasing an organic certified expressed essential oil would hopefully reduce these levels, but may not eliminate them.
Organic certification is awarded by various accredited certification bodies that operate in your country and can be withdrawn from the farmer / producer if standards are not met.
It always boils down to the ethics of the manufacturer or producer. A producer can claim organic certification, but the end result rests on the producer or manufacturer’s ethics and the capability of the certifying authority to effectively enforce their rules.
A common problem with organic farming is that pesticides from a neighbouring farm are ‘blown over’ or that the ground water is contaminated.
International Fragrance Association (IFRA)
Essential oil producers may rely on the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) standards and/or production standards set by various purchasers e.g., food producers, flavouring producers, fragrance houses and pharmaceutical companies.
Although it seems as if there is a movement toward developing standards for Aromatherapy by IFRA, we must take note that the standards are currently set for use in perfumes and fragrances and not for the therapeutic uses of essential oils. Following the IFRA inclusion rates guidelines may affect the efficacy of treatment in Aromatherapy, for example:
- The quality and quantity needed for a fragrance or perfume may differ from the quality and quantity needed for a therapeutic Aromatherapy treatment. An Aromatherapist may need to use more/less essential oil according to the therapeutic window of the essential oil (this may differ hugely from what is standard in a fragrance).
- The purity and quality needed for use in a medication (pharmaceutical) may have to be manipulated (rectified, standardised or adulterated).
- Essential oils used in foods may also be manipulated before they are used and the quantities required in foods and flavouring will not be therapeutic quantities.
Certain constituents can be removed from or added to an essential oil, and this can result in an essential oil that has been standardised to specifications set by an end user. This does not mean that the essential oil that has been put through this procedure is no longer good quality and is not pure – the definition remains subjective.
GC-MS – (Gas Chromatography – Mass Spactrometry Analysis)
- The BEST way to ensure that an essential oil is authentic is to do Gas chromatography–Mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis on a sample of the batch of essential oil to be used. The analysis can then be compared to the standard of the oil (if one is available) by an expert who will be able to tell you if the oil you wish to buy contains acceptable levels of all the standard registered constituents for that oil. This test can also indicate if the essential oil has been adulterated, manipulated, or test whether the oil has expired and is not fit for use:
- A GC-MS cannot detect heavy metals and usually cannot accurately identify trace amounts of fertilisers.
- A GC-MS report will contain for what you ask it to test for – much like going to a doctor for a blood test. If you request a GC-MS report, ask the laboratory to test for whatever you need and they will tell you if they can achieve the results that you want. You need to know what you want to achieve.
- Find out whether you can request a GC-MS report when buying essential oils:
- Most firms or producers will not be able to give you one though, as the test is considered expensive and a GC-MS report is not a standard requirement in the normal course of business.
- A GC-MS is batch specific, and the sample submitted for the test by your supplier may not be of the same batch.
- Suppliers may simply supply a generic ‘universal’ GC-MS report. This is not really useful at all as you want to know the constituents of the specific essential oil that you bought.
- Dealing with an ethical supplier is of major importance.
- An easy way to certify if the essential oil is to your standard is to see where it is produced and to see how the product is handled and how it is manufactured from start to finish:
- Try to buy essential oils that are made locally as this cancels out the long storage period of the essential oil on ships in all weathers, or storage facilities at the harbour, for example.
- You may be able to visit the plant or farm where the oil is produced if you buy locally. This would help you to evaluate the quality and purity of the essential oil.
Certificate of Analysis (CoA)
- A certificate of analysis is required by most suppliers and intermediaries for a variety of chemical products and goods.
- A CoA is usually a standard requirement. This is industry wide and applies to most essential oils, constituents of foodstuffs, hydrosols and ingredients used in skin care products and medicines. It should be easy to obtain this.
- This should list the major constituents in the essential oil, certify the type of production and origin, provide a batch number and other means used to certify a genuine essential oil e.g., optical rotation and specific gravity.
- Dealing with an ethical supplier is of major importance.
Blot test: this is a simple test that uses a piece of white paper / blotting paper.
Drop a drop of essential oil onto the paper and leave it for around 30 minutes. The idea behind this test is that the essential oil should evaporate and leave no or little residue.
- This test is not a perfect way to test but should work with your lighter essential oils that contain mostly monoterpenes, provided that the essential oil has not been manipulated in some other way.
- Heavier essential oils (containing sesquiterpenes) may leave a residue, and oleo resins, extracts, concretes and absolutes cannot be tested this way.
- Certain unethical manufacturers use alcohol in their essential oils (to fool this test) and others may have manipulated the oil, including man-made essential oil compounds (such as synthetic limonene) – these will not leave a residue on paper, making this test inconclusive regarding purity and origin.
Grading of essential oils
Some firms claim that the essential oils that they sell are ‘Therapeutic Grade’, ‘Food Grade’ or ‘Pharmaceutical Grade’ and use this as advertising, to ensure that the public think that the essential oils they sell are in some way superior.
There is no such system of grading that is standard and generally accepted worldwide.
These claims may be true, but that does not mean that other essential oils on the market are not of the same purity or quality.
Claiming that an essential oil is of pharmaceutical grade or food grade may also mean that the essential oil has been manipulated or standardised in some way. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you are looking for an essential oil that is as natural as possible, then this is perhaps not what you would want to use.
- Essential oils that are labelled and sold as essential oil, and are recommended for use in Aromatherapy, all have suggested therapeutic properties:
- Labeling a product as ‘essential oil’ without further explanation e.g. ‘blend’, ‘contains fragrance oils’, means that the product should be just that – essential oil with therapeutic properties derived from the volatile aroma compounds of a plant.
- Beware of imitation products that do not state essential oil on the label – these will most probably contain fragrance oils that may be a skin irritant and should not be used in Aromatherapy. These products may be useful as air fresheners or linen sprays etc.
- Compare prices – find out why one oil is so much cheaper than another. This may give a good indication of whether an essential oil has been standardised or adulterated.
- Labeling a blend or fragrance oil as essential oil is at best unethical and at worst a crime.
- All essential oils expire – if you buy a bottle of essential oil without an expiry date, ask for certification before you buy it.
- Check your label before buying:
- The label should list the amount of oil contained and the suppliers name, address, and some form of contact details.
- The label should also contain the botanical name (Binomial name) of the plant material that the oil was extracted from for means of identification.
- Find out about the supplier:
- Where do they get their oils from, where are they produced, have a look online for any negative reports, are they an established firm, can you visit the farm or factory, are they a registered company, what is their return policy / fair trade policy / environmental responsibility claim?
Obviously, the manufacturing process has a huge influence on the quality and purity of the essential oil produced:
- The plant material that is distilled can be ‘wild harvested’ or ‘commercially harvested / cultivated’:
- Dangers of ‘Wild Harvesting’:
- The wrong species is harvested or mixed species are harvested (e.g. weeds included or the wrong plant harvested)
- Parasites and contaminants are not properly identified before distillation.
- Possible heavy metal contamination.
- Difficulty in determining the quality of the raw material (plant used).
- Over-harvesting, destruction of eco-systems and possible extinction of plant and / or animal species.
- Dangers of ‘Commercial Harvesting – Cultivated’
- Possible heavy metal contamination.
- Possible illegal pesticide/fertilizer contamination.
- Destruction of eco-systems, habitats and the possibility of extinction of plant and animal species due to size of crop needed to produce an economically desirable quantity of essential oil.
- The diffusion/manufacturing process has a major effect on the quality and purity of an essential oil e.g.:
- Correct plant/herb/raw material used – is it clean and uncontaminated
- Time the plant was harvested and the waiting time before distillation
- Temperature used when distilling and the time period of distillation
- Hygiene and cleanliness (was the still properly cleaned before distillation for example)
- Dangers of ‘Wild Harvesting’:
Certain essential oils can be transported via the normal hold in an airplane and certain cannot.
Correct packaging and containers are important and means of transportation (road, sea, normal airplane hold or freight airplane hold) becomes a major deciding factor due to the costs involved.
The following points influence transportation of essential oils:
- The flash point (explosive nature of the vapour of the essential oil). The flashpoint is measured and classed according to essential oils that have vapour that may explode below a certain temperature and essential oils that do not. This flashpoint depends on the make-up of the specific essential oil – click here for a link to a chart regarding essential oil flashpoints and which are regarded as safe for air transport in a normal airplane hold, and which are not.
- Packing – the way the essential oils are packed and what containers are used affect the acceptance of a shipment for cargo:
- Certain tests may be employed, and a third party may need to be used to certify that the essential oils are packed correctly, and that the shipment passes certain packaging tests.
Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
- Cross border transport of essential oils will require a material safety data sheet (MSDS). This is used to classify the product being shipped into a risk category and to list all possible safety concerns regarding a product and the use of the product in a working environment. The MSDS must mention certain safety controls and medical advice regarding spillage, accidental contact, or contamination.
- Sometimes a carrier may insist on a MSDS for internal/local transport.
- Transport requirements are listed under section 14 of the MSDS.
- Risk categories are used to class the hazardous nature of goods being transported. The class may require the product to be transported in a specialised hold and be handled while wearing specialised protective gear (See ‘Excepted Quantities’ below for exceptions)
- The risk category influences the cost of the shipment hugely and whether a specilised hold is required and /or specialised protective clothing needs to be used. This will affect the cost of carriage, and the cost can become prohibitively expensive.
- An essential oil with a flashpoint of 60 ° Celsius (140 ° Fahrenheit) and below is regarded as a flammable liquid and as a ‘class 3 dangerous goods FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS’ for transport. As such, it will require specialised transport and handling in most cases.
- Certain items that qualify as hazardous may be shipped as ‘excepted quantities’ if they are packed in small volumes and are packed correctly (a certificate may be required to certify packaging from a third party)
- Certain airlines refuse to transport ‘Excepted Quantities’ and this is their right.
- Required packaging (an example): ‘There must be an inner package and each Inner (primary) packaging must be constructed of plastic (when used with liquids of a thickness of not less than 0.2 mm) or of glass, porcelain, stoneware, earthenware or metal. Do not completely fill inner packaging as space for expansion of liquids must be available (i.e., liquids must not completely fill inner packaging at a temperature of 55C/130F). The inner packaging must be compatible with the contents. Inner package closures must be held securely in place with tape, wire, metal crimps or other positive means.
- A ‘drop test’, where after the package and contents must remain undamaged and a ‘stack’ test, where after the package and contents must remain undamaged may also be required before acceptance of the package.
- Appropriate labelling will be required on the outer package.
- It is advisable to contact your preferred courier or delivery service BEFORE shipping essential oils.
- You will require an MSDS to give them answers to help them classify the product correctly and to give you an informed answer.
- The South African Postal Service does NOT ship essential oils and they are prohibited items.
- The USA regards any products that have a flashpoint of 100 ° Fahrenheit and lower to be hazardous substances in the workplace, but road transport within the USA seems not to be too much of a problem.
- Each country may have different internal regulations regarding the internal shipment of essential oils.
The sale of essential oils has become a major commercial enterprise in the last 5 years and websites have sprung up on the Internet, many giving shocking and dangerous advice.
- There is an abundance of training courses available and every second Chiropractor / Aromatherapist / Firm / Direct Marketing Representative have various courses on offer – some for free and others going for a hefty fee.
- Please do proper research BEFORE you learn something that is incorrect and possibly dangerous.
- Not much conclusive scientific research has been done on essential oils and the scientific consensus regarding essential oils is constantly changing – make sure that you follow a course that is presented by respected academic professionals that are at the forefront of the field.
- All claims that are made in a course should be backed by adequate scientifically accepted and peer reviewed data. Make sure that any claims and/or recipes are referenced from qualified and trusted sources.
We strongly recommend that you have a look at the Tisserand Institute and their courses that are on offer (link: https://tisserandinstitute.org/online-courses)
Quite a few of the courses available are presented by academics who hold a PHD and are extremely knowledgeable regarding the safe use of essential oils. These university doctors elaborate on the science behind Aromatherapy and give practical advice on treatment options and guidelines.
You will learn the safest way to dilute and use essential oils and so much more. They charge a fee for their courses, but it is really money well spent.
(We are in no way affiliated with the Tisserand Institute and we do not receive a referral fee or any form of payment from them).
We found that the following books and websites currently offer reasonable advice:
- National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists – click on ‘EXPLORE’ for free advice.
- The Tisserand Institute – click on ‘RESEARCH’ / ‘SAFETY’ / ‘EO PROFILES’ / ‘BLOG’ for free information.
- Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals 2nd Edition by Robert Tisserand (Author), Rodney Young (Author)
- Dr Joy’s Aromatherapy: Using Essential Oils with Confidence for Psyche, Skin, Medicine and Health Paperback – February 1, 2020 by E. Joy Bowles
- The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils: The Science of Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt Ph.D.
- Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy by Kurt Schnaubelt Ph.D
- Medical Aromatherapy: Healing with Essential Oils by Kurt Schnaubelt Ph.D
- The Art of Aromatherapy Paperback – International Edition, November 25, 2004 by Robert Tisserand
- The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy Volume 1 Foundations and Materia Medica Paperback – January 1, 2018 by Salvatore Battaglia
- Aromatherapy for Health Professionals 3rd Edition by Len Price Cert Ed MIT(Trichology) FISPA FIAM (Author), Shirley Price Cert Ed FISPA MIFA FIAM (Author)
Diluting essential oils
- It is generally recommended that essential oils be diluted with an excipient (a fatty ‘carrier’ or ‘base’ oil, cream, lotion, or gel that is considered safe to be liberally applied to the skin), before being applied to the skin. Almost all essential oils are too potent for direct application. There are a few exceptions, usually if used rarely in very small amounts, and according to the skin sensitivity of the individual.
- In Aromatherapy, an excipient is an ‘inactive’ substance that can be safely applied to the skin without causing a negative reaction:
- ‘carrier’ / ‘base’ / ‘fatty oils’: such as sunflower oil, olive oil, grape seed oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, wheatgerm oil etc qualify and can lend their therapeutic properties to a mixture/blend.
- Certain forms of aloe gel, base skin creams, aqueous skin cream, or aqueous gel are considered apt excipients. Our OLINAT base cream is an excellent excipient when used for skin care.
- Honey (usually used internally, but suggested as helpful if used on bedsores or sores)
- Bath salts, Epsom salts can be used, provided that the essential oil is diluted into an appropriate excipient BEFORE they are mixed with the salts.
- Certain essential oils are safer for use on the skin than others and dilution rates should be adjusted to suit.
- You will find that we have supplied recommended dilution rates for each essential oil that we sell on their respective page under the Information section on the page.
General Guide for Safe Dilution per Age Group or when Pregnant or Breastfeeding
(Please note that certain essential oils may have lower dilution rates or cannot be used on the skin at all – see specific product page)
Baby – 1 day to 3 months:
0.1% to 0.2%
Infant – 3 months to 24 months:
0.2% to 0.5%
Young Child – 2 years to 6 years:
0.5% to 2%
Child – 6 years to 15 years:
1% to 3%
Older Child and Adult:
1% to 5%
- Certain experts doctors and midwives encourage use of essential oils and certain do not.
- Essential oils are used in many over the counter preparations (body creams/gels/creams/lotions and soaps) that do not contain warnings against use of these during pregnancy).
- Essential oils are present in many foods that we eat. The volatile aromatic compounds that make up essential oils are part of the plant.
- You will find our recommendation for use of any essential oils that we sell on the specific product page – we stress that you only use essential oils that are approved for use by your registered midwife or doctor and follow their guidance.
- At the end of the day, it is up to you. It is not necessary to use essential oils during pregnancy at all – it is your choice.
- Please refer to ‘Pregnancy, Childbirth, Nursing and Essential Oils’ on this page for a more detailed discussion.
- Follow advice given in ‘Pregnancy’ above.
- Wash and dry any area of your skin that your baby will come into contact with before breastfeeding (this will eliminate the essential oils from your skin) – unless otherwise directed by a medical professional.
General Guide for Safe Dilution per Body Part
(Please note that certain essential oils may have lower dilution rates or should not be applied to the skin at all – see specific product page)
Note: The basic human anatomy consists of 5 parts:
The head, neck, torso, arms and legs.
When we refer to ‘face’ in the following, we mean face and neck.
When we refer to body in the following, we mean torso, arms and legs.
Face: 0.2% to 1.5%
(Avoid eyelids, inner nostrils and lips in most cases)
Body: 1.5% to 3%
(Groin, skin surrounding rectum and any exposed mucous membrane, underarms, inner upper thighs and inner upper arms is more sensitive and may require the lower dilution rate).
Bath: 1% to 4%
(always dilute oils in an excipient BEFORE adding to bath water. Increase dilution rate gradually)
Pain / Wounds: 3% to 5%
(apply to affected part only, increase dilution rate slowly if you don’t know your reaction or your client’s reaction)
Acne: 2% to 5%
(apply to affected part only, increase dilution rate cautiously)
Toxic and Restricted Essential Oils
A skin patch test is commonly recommended.
This is where you apply two drops or more of properly diluted essential oil / essential oil blend to a sensitive part of the skin (the inner upper arm / inner upper thigh / behind the ear / on the back), to see if there is any negative reaction after leaving it on the skin for two days (48 hours). The area should be covered with a bandage or plastic/non-absorbent material to ensure that the diluted oil stays on the skin.
If irritation occurs, wash the area well with soap and water, rinse well. If irritation persists, apply a paste of oats to the spot. If this doesn’t help, please see a medical professional.
Problems With A Skin Patch Test:
- The 48-hour period means that you cannot wash the area for two days and that you must keep the area out of water. You may have to re-apply the mixture to the same area out of hygienic necessity.
- The blend or mixture must be tested on the person that the specific essential oil is going to be used on. This may be someone who cannot understand the procedure or the waiting period (a confused or delirious person, a child, someone who doesn’t communicate well in your language or someone on the spectrum).
- An irritation could occur at any time in any event, and an allergic reaction can present after days, weeks or months of use.
- There are various circumstances that can occur that would negate the results of this test e.g., excessive sweating, a reaction to medication / food / other substance, or bandages absorbing the mixture being tested.
- A level of tolerance can change quickly without any known cause.
- Someone who is extremely sensitive to substances would most probably show a reaction quickly or within the 48-hour period, but others with a higher tolerance level would not.
(using a personal inhaler / from the bottle / Handkerchief / Facial Steam / Chest Rub).
- Follow our suggested dilution rate on the specific product page.
- Use lower dilution rates in children
- Do not expose children under the age of 3 years to Peppermint oil – this is due to findings that Peppermint oil slows breathing and may cause neurological problems
- Do a risk assessment – consider respiration issues and age (Start slowly and increase dose and frequency over time – be cautious).
- Consider that people differ, and that smell is subjective.
- Do not expose a person to a smell that causes distress or pain.
- This is an intense form of treatment – advise slow and normal breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth during treatment.
- Advise treatment for short periods, several times a day – a short period would be anything from 1 minute to 5 minutes (depending on response) and then wait an hour or two before repeating.
- Discontinue use if irritation, unintended wooziness, dizziness, headache, continual coughing or breathing difficulties occur. Should this occur, please read First Aid and Emergency Situations on this page.
- Chest rub
- Use lower dilution rates in children and the elderly.
- Start treatment with a low dilution rate and increase to maximum over time – go slowly.
- Discontinue use if headache, irritation, consistent coughing, wooziness, headache or breathing difficulties occur. Should this occur, please read ‘First Aid and Emergency Situations’ on this page.
- Be on the lookout for skin irritation. Should this occur, please read First Aid and Emergency Situations on this page
(Room odorisers / Steam vaporisers / Humidifiers / Candle or heat source burners)
- This form of diffusion is not considered to be that potentially hazardous, provided that the recommended dilution rate is used.
- Care should be exercised when exposing babies and young children to essential oils – follow the suggested dilution rates mentioned on our product pages.
- Provide adequate ventilation. People will complain of headaches / nausea / sneeze / cough etc if they find an aroma too overpowering. If that is the case, ask them to step outside into the fresh air, open more windows if possible and switch off or remove the device from the area.
- In the unlikely event that someone has an allergic reaction, remove the person from the area into the fresh air and follow the applicable points under First Aid and Emergency Situations on this page.
- There is an idea that it may not be courteous to intentionally expose strangers to an aroma, as they may not like it, or it may have negative associations for them. Stick to very common scents that most people would enjoy – perhaps citrus (lemon or orange), or tailor the aroma to your ‘audience’.
- The sense of smell is very subjective – keep this in mind.
- It is generally considered safe for pregnant or nursing mothers to be exposed to this application.
- Birds and certain small animals are extremely sensitive to vapours and gasses. These include essential oil vapours. Birds may have an extreme reaction to diffusion and may die. We recommend that you remove any birds, small animals or caged animals from the area.
- Always give your dogs, cats and animals who are not in cages an ‘escape route’ so that they can move away from the area and into the fresh air should the essential oil vapour disagree with them.
There is great controversy surrounding the use of essential oils in pregnancy, childbirth and when nursing:
- It is perfectly sensible to decide to avoid essential oils (the actual products or the blends made by Aromatherapists) during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. It is not altogether necessary but is obviously the safest course of action.
- A point to consider when deciding to use essential oils when pregnant: We are all exposed to volatile aromatic compounds daily. Essential oils and compounds derived from essential oils / that mimic essential oils, are present in soaps, creams, lotions, bath oils, shampoos, detergents, waxes, body washes and a host of other commercially available products.
Volatile Aromatic Compounds (VOC’S) are present in herbs and vegetables.
Candy, sweets and some pre-prepared foods and flavourings contain essential oils or compounds that are extracted from essential oils.
Most of these products do not contain a warning that they should not be used in pregnancy.
- It all comes down to the dosage or the amount of essential oil used, the time period, which essential oil is used and what compounds are present in the essential oil.
- We strongly suggest that you should follow the advice of a registered medical doctor or registered midwife regarding the use of essential oils when pregnant.
- Studies have been done on the use of essential oils, but most of these studies were performed on animal subjects or in vitro (glass) and are not conclusive and cannot be extrapolated to mean that the results apply to humans. Most precautions recommended in pregnancy are based on these studies – people are very cautious when it comes to pregnancy and rightly so!
- Certain essential oils are used during pregnancy and no negative effects have been proven – you will find conflicting advice as it is much safer to recommend that an essential oil not be used, even if this essential oil is commonly used in flavouring or foods and has GRAS status (Generally Recommended as Safe).
Compounds to avoid
- Certain compounds, which are regarded as harmful and which will encourage abortion and developmental problem, can be identified in certain essential oils. Oils containing these compounds should be avoided in pregnancy and when nursing:
- Sabinyl acetate (found in Savin)
- Asarone (α & β) – some debate in literature regarding this restriction for use
- Estragole (methyl chavicol) – some debate in literature regarding this restriction for use
(Also called embryotoxicity in the first trimester and fetotoxicity in the last two trimesters)
Definition: of, relating to, or causing developmental malformations.
A teratogen is anything a person is exposed to or ingests during pregnancy that’s known to cause foetal abnormalities.
Studies show that the following essential oils are tetrogens in animals (usually mice and rats). Caution indicates that the following oils are not to be used during pregnancy or when nursing:
- Birch (sweet),
- Carrot seed,
- Sage (Spanish),
- Cinnamon bark,
- Lavender (Spanish),
- Yarrow (green)
Definition: noting or pertaining to a substance that reduces the growth of new blood vessels needed by tumours to grow and metastasize.
While a foetus is obviously not thought to be a tumour, it is presumed to be logical and follows that the following essential oils can be problematic when used during pregnancy or nursing, as they may restrict blood flow to the foetus (as shown in animal studies):
- Black seed
- Cypress (blue)
Definition: an essential oil that has an estrogenic effect will influence estrogen levels.
Definition of estrogen: a steroid hormone associated with the female reproductive organs and is responsible for developing female sexual characteristics.
It is thought that the following essential oils may be problematic when used during pregnancy as they have an influence on estrogen levels (as found in animal studies):
- Myrtle (aniseed)
- Anise (star)
- Sweet Fennel
- Chaste Tree – Not a typical estrogen disruptor but known to disrupt hormones.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) has been reported to cause breast growth in young boys. These reports have been refuted by various experts. Some studies were done where a product was believed to contain Lavender oil (but did not). Other studies were done where the collection devices were made of plastic that could contain endocrine disruptors.
Long term usage of lavender and lavender essential oil does not suggest any estrogen or endocrine disruptors in the plant or the pure essential oil.
Toxic and Restricted Essential Oils
- Please refer to our list of toxic or restricted essential oils by clicking here
It is possible to drink essential oils for their therapeutic effects, and this practice is common in France and is also becoming common all around the world.
The French have included essential oils in a discipline that they call phytoaromathérapie (‘Phyto-therapy’ / ‘Phyto – Aromatherapy’). This discipline includes herbs, essences, decoctions etc, and includes essential oils in its treatment protocols. Phytoaromathérapie is studied at university and is a detailed course.
There is concern that lay-persons are prescribing essential oils for ingestion and that this is dangerous.
Please consider the following carefully before you decide to drink or prescribe essential oils for ingestion:
- Make sure that you are allowed to prescribe essential oils for ingestion – it may be illegal in your country or area. You may be charged with operating as a doctor without being properly registered and qualified.
- It is very possible that you open yourself up to civil action if you prescribe / recommend an essential oil for ingestion and there is a negative or even a perceived negative reaction.
Aromatherapy – Comparing Different Applications and Possible Hazards
- Aromatherapy offers the following routes of application:
- Topical application
- Rectal administration
- The safest routes of application are inhalation and topical application (It is easy to remove the essential oil from the skin and negate a negative reaction. It is also easy to stop inhalation: you can simply move to another area, and you can stop the application by removing/deactivating the device you are using to disperse the vapour).
- If you administer an essential oil per mouth or rectum, the essential oil will remain in the body and there is no easy way to mitigate any harm.
- Aromatherapy offers the following routes of application:
Source and Supply Chain
Please consider the following before you drink, prescribe, or advise ingestion of essential oils:
- There is currently no accepted international body that has established standards for the production and quality of essential oil for use in Aromatherapy.
- There is currently no certainty in the market that the essential oil you are using has not been tampered with:
- Most essential oils are currently sold to the public without a GC-MS analysis report (see GAS CHROMATOGRAPHY – MASS SPECTROMETRY ANALYSIS – ‘GC-MS’ above) – You may be able to obtain a GC-MS, but you still cannot be sure that this analysis really applies to the bottle of essential oil you are using. Results can be forged, and containers can be mislabeled or swapped.
- You have no way of knowing how many hands a bottle of essential oil has passed through before you buy it – most bottles do not have a tamper-proof seal on the cap, and it is easy to replace a cap.
- You have no way of knowing how the bulk of the essential oil has been treated before it was bottled e.g., how long it sat in a tank before being sold and in what circumstances, or what climate conditions influenced the composition of the essential oil during shipping.
- You have no way of knowing if the essential oil that will be ingested is contaminated with heavy metals.
Volatile aromatic compounds are part of a lot of the foods and herbs that we eat, but it is common knowledge that we cannot eat certain plants because they are poisonous. This is mainly due to the VAC’s (Volatile Aromatic Compounds) or the secondary metabolites that are present in almost all plants.
Essential oils are either expressed or distilled from a plant and contain the oil-loving compounds present in the VAC’s in the secondary metabolites of the plant. The essential oil is not exactly the same as the plant and contains certain compounds from the plant that are present in a more potent and concentrated form.
Pharmaceutical firms use essential oils and have the expertise and equipment available to ensure that the essential oil they use has been tested and is standardised to fit their requirements.
Food manufacturers use essential oils and make sure that the essential oil that they are using has been tested and standardised to fit their requirements. The quantity of essential oil required for flavouring is measured in parts per million (ppm) and is a lot less than would be required if an essential oil is used therapeutically.
Please ensure that you have the knowledge and expertise to use essential oils wisely before ingesting them. You will need to use a therapeutic dose for a treatment to be effective – do you know what a therapeutic dose is and do you know if this dose is safe?
The buck stops with you – please don’t use any recipe found on the Internet or believe everything that you read on the Internet. The advice that you receive from a third party may be flawed – check your sources.
Please view Education on this page.
Dosage, The Therapeutic Window and Delivery Methods
Once you are sure that you are adequately trained and that the essential oil you are using is uncontaminated, contains the correct chemical compounds and has not expired, you must ascertain the correct dosage, how long you are going to prescribe or take that dose and what delivery method you are going to use.
- How will you measure the dose: will counting drops be accurate enough?
- How many times a day will you administer the dose?
- What other factors will influence the effectiveness of the dose:
- Is the person sick, elderly, a child, or an infant?
- Is the person pregnant?
- Is the person receiving medical treatment for the ailment / another condition and will the dose affect this treatment?
- Is the person allergic to a chemical component in the specific essential oil / blend?
- Will the dose influence the absorption rate of any other medication – will it cancel out the effectiveness of another medication, or will it increase the effect of another medication (consider contra-indications)?
- Will the essential oil increase or decrease sensitivity to light / UV rays?
- Will the essential oil have any other effect on the metabolism e.g., will it make the person drowsy, and will it effect cognitive ability or slow reactions?
- What other possible side-effects would or could there be?
- Are you using the correct chemotype of the essential oil?
- It is difficult to decide how much essential oil to administer:
- The dose may be too small to be effective
- The dose may be too much and may be dangerous
- The dose must be just enough to be effective, and this is difficult to establish – specialised knowledge of the body and its workings is required.
- It is difficult to find specialised knowledge about dosage and there are a variety of opinions.
- We do not know enough about most essential oils to know if there will be any long-term negative effects, including possible liver toxicity, effect on the kidneys, blood vessels, stomach, intestines, brain and other organs etc. More research is needed.
- We do not know enough about possible side-effects, or contra-indications when using most essential oils in conjunction with other herbs or medications. More research is needed.
- When deciding how much essential oil to use, please consider the following:
- Essential oils, medicines and other substances are regarded as foreign substances (xenobiotics) by the body and the body will try to get rid of them quickly, as it regards them as a threat.
First Pass (or First Phase) Metabolism, Expiration, Transdermal Permeability and Transmucosal Permeability
- The body will get rid of essential oil through First Pass Metabolism, Expiration, Trans Dermal Permeability, Mucosal Permeability and Second Pass Metabolism:
- First Pass Metabolism:
- When considering ingestion of essential oils, you must account for the loss of compounds in the essential oil via the urine (metabolised by the liver), lungs, skin, and mucous membranes. This loss effects the efficacy of the treatment and occurs before the essential oil components are passed on to the organs.
- Metabolism of a foreign substance requires specialised knowledge of the effectiveness of a dose and how much of the dose eventually reaches the organs through the blood.
- Certain essential oils have been studied in this regard, particularly peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender, but the large majority of essential oils have not been subjected to rigorous testing (especially in humans – clinical studies) and a lot more research is required.
- Expiration: essential oil compounds that are breathed out during First Pass Metabolism.
- Mucosal Permeability: essential oil compounds lost through the mucous membranes e.g. gums and mucosa of the nose.
- Dermal Permeability: essential oil components that are lost through the skin.
- First Pass Metabolism:
- The body will get rid of essential oil through First Pass Metabolism, Expiration, Trans Dermal Permeability, Mucosal Permeability and Second Pass Metabolism:
Second Pass (or Second Phase) Metabolism
If the foreign substance is not expelled via first pass metabolism, the liver produces enzymes that help change the foreign substance (xenobiotic) into something that can eventually be expelled, mainly via the urine, but also via the stool (faeces).
A specialised knowledge of these phases is necessary to establish the safety and efficacy of an essential oil, particularly when it is ingested.
Physical Delivery Methods
Oil and water DO NOT mix!
Please don’t mix therapeutic amounts of essential oil with water, milk, soda, cooldrink, tea, coffee, or any water-based drink. The essential oil will separate from the water, coat your mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach and cause irritation and possible damage.
- Preferred methods of physical delivery:
- Enterically coated capsules containing essential oil that has been blended with suitable vegetable oil. An enterically coated capsule is designed to break down and be absorbed in the intestines and this avoids the irritation that could occur if the capsule deteriorated in the stomach.
- Gelatine capsules that can be filled with essential oil that has been blended with an appropriate vegetable oil.
- Mixing a blend of essential oil and vegetable oil with honey or syrup.
- Other methods of physical delivery:
- ‘neutral tablets’ (a dose of essential oil is placed on top of the tablet) or a sugar cube are also used but are not regarded as being as effective and could lead to irritation of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
Although therapeutic amounts of essential oils are used internally and are ingested, it may be a wise idea to consider using a safer alternative that is easier to administer and that is perhaps less litigious. A different discipline or method of therapy may also be more effective:
- The best idea would be to visit your registered doctor or registered medical practitioner for advice.
- A person could eat the plant or herb itself. You would still have to read up and ensure that you eat the right amount, that the plant is not poisonous and that you or your client are in the correct physical condition to eat the plant. You still have to consider whether the ingestion of the herb or plant will influence the effectiveness of any other medication and the time period of the treatment (when should you stop).
- An herbal tisane (decoction/infusion) / extract / maceration / powdered dried herb / capsule / reduction may be just as beneficial and less potentially harmful.
- Consider the massive variety of herbal remedies on the market and the variety of alternative therapies available.
- Inhalation of essential oils is highly effective. Essential oils penetrate the blood brain barrier via inhalation, and are effective when used for pain, stress, relaxation, and lung and chest complaints (amongst others).
- Topical or dermal application: essential oils can penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream through this method. Some excipients (carrier mediums) are more effective than others in penetrating the skin e.g., aqueous gel.
Extreme caution is advised when ingesting essential oils and it is difficult to establish the long-term effects e.g., liver toxicity that may occur when overloading the liver with potent doses of certain compounds, or from the extended use of certain compounds or essential oils.
You may open yourself to litigation, or be committing a criminal offense, if you advise or prescribe the ingestion of essential oils.
Many alternative disciplines and natural treatments are available that are far safer and less litigious.
The buck stops with you – you may believe that someone else knows what they are talking about, and you may follow their advice, but you are to blame if you cause harm.
We suggest that advising ingestion of essential oils is unnecessary – the inhalation or topical use of essential oils is effective:
- It is far easier to mitigate any damage or side effects if you administer essential oils via inhalation or via application to the skin.
- If you wish to drink something therapeutic, rather go to a legally registered doctor or follow the advice of a legally registered medical practitioner.
Please have a look at our page ‘Aromatherapy for Animals’ by clicking here
Two major concerns regarding using essential oils on your pets should be mentioned:
- An overwhelming majority of essential oils are toxic to cats – they are absorbed through the skin and paws and cause liver damage. There are cleaning products that contain Pine and Orange essential oils, or constituents found in them (pinene and limonene for example) – using these products may cause liver toxicity in cats because they walk over surfaces that have been cleaned with these products.
- An overwhelming majority of essential oils and various vapours from other substances are toxic to birds. Certain hydrosols in recommended dosages seem to be safe if added to drinking water though.
Common symptoms: difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing, headache, nausea, wanting to faint (syncope), mental confusion.
Suggested First Aid
- Remove the person to fresh air and then advise that they take slow and deep breaths for a few minutes
- Open windows to ensure adequate ventilation.
- Stop diffusing the essential oil: switch off the device / remove the device / remove heat source causing diffusion.
- In the unlikely case that the person stops breathing, get trained medical assistance immediately and apply CPR.
- Do not treat symptoms with essential oils.
- Get the person medical attention if the reaction persists or if you are unsure.
After Application to the Skin
Skin irritation, burning, redness, hives, blisters, pain, allergic response (this depends on the essential oil that the person was exposed to, the concentration and how long the skin was exposed).
Atypical and Rare symptoms: allergic shock (anaphylactic shock) – usually after a prolonged period of exposure.
Suggested First Aid:
- Look if any essential oil got onto the clothing. Remove the clothing if saturated with essential oil.
- Expose the skin to the air, but not sunlight.
- Do not apply essential oils.
- Wash skin thoroughly with a gentle and mild soap. Rinse well and pat dry carefully. Expose skin to the fresh air and avoid the sun.
- A bath with a generous measure of oats (Avena sativa seeds) in the water will help. Oats contain avenanthramides. These are a known anti-inflammatory agent and oats contain moisturising agents.
- Apply a poultice of oats (oats mixed into a paste with water – put this paste into a material bag). This can be put into any type of material, like muslin. Ensure that that the water from the oats mixture can penetrate the material).
- An over the counter (OTC) oral antihistamine may be of benefit. Follow directions for use on the product insert and read all the information on the insert. Obey and follow any warnings in the insert and make sure the patient can take the medication.
- A small area of skin exposure may probably not be as serious as a large area of skin exposure (depending on the essential oil).
- Professional medical treatment will be required if a large area of skin has been exposed to pure essential oil and the patient shows symptoms.
- If any symptoms persist, consult a medical professional.
Symptoms: burning sensation in the mouth, throat, oesophagus. Pain and burning sensation in the stomach. Diarrhoea and vomiting. Depression of the central nervous system, convulsions, liver and kidney failure.
Suggested First Aid
- Get patient to a doctor or hospital urgently.
- Then make sure that you can tell the doctor what essential oil / oils / blend was consumed. If you can find a Material Safety Data Sheet for the product/essential oil it may be of assistance.
- Activated charcoal usually does not work in cases of essential oil poisoning.
- Do not encourage vomiting. This will cause further damage to the mouth, throat and oesophagus. Essential oil may enter the lungs, causing further damage.
- Rinse the mouth out with water if the patient is still lucid and is not convulsing – do not give the patient anything to drink unless a medical professional tells you to do so.
- Do not give anything to drink if the patient is unconscious. Place the patient in the recovery position. Monitor breathing.
- If the patient stops breathing, start CPR (using a Personal Resuscitation Device / CPR mouthpiece if possible – this will prevent any essential oils from entering your mouth).
- Do not use or apply any essential oils.
It follows that if you decide to drink essential oils, or prescribe their ingestion, you should be fully trained in CPR and should have done a course in First Aid.
Note: A dose of 1 ml is regarded as a large and dangerous dose. Ingestion of small amounts of essential oils can build up and cause damage and the symptoms mentioned above.
Adequate training and knowledge of the body and the working of the compounds in essential oil is essential.
A therapeutic and effective dose of essential oil is not the same as using essential oil as flavouring in foods. When essential oils are used as flavouring by manufacturers, they are usually measured precisely, obeying guidelines that recommend how many parts per million (ppm) of the essential oil should be included.
Essential oils pose a risk to the environment as they are extremely concentrated and are man-made. Essential oils are toxic to aquatic life and may cause other health hazards if they enter ground water or the sea and oceans.
Essential oils require massive volumes of raw material. This raw material is then put through a still or expressed by mechanical means. The environmental impact of essential oil production is considerable.
Consideration must be given to various factors that influence the environment:
- How the plant material is harvested (wild harvesting or cultivated) and the risks and advantages either method has to the environment.
- Organic certification: does this certification include strictures on how the raw material is harvested, the influence cultivation has on the environment, or how much raw material is harvested from the wild.
- Profits are influenced by the size of the crop that is harvested and the quality of the harvest. This can lead to a lack of consideration for the environment and the use of various substances that encourage growth and the quality of raw material that will suit the requirements of the buyer.
- Other substances can be added to an essential oil that will have a negative impact on the environment.
- Disposal of waste:
- How the raw material is disposed of. The waste may be used as animal feed or used as mulch or fertilizer. Dumping waste can be hazardous to a fragile ecosystem.
- How contaminated waste is dealt with – has a dangerous waste disposal firm been contracted to deal with contaminated waste?
- What procedure has been put in place to contain, minimise, and prevent accidental spillage.
- Training of workers or staff to minimise the impact of production on the environment.
- GC-MS Analysis of the batch of essential oil produced.
- Providing an accurate and complete Certificate of Analysis.
Proper certification will help third parties to minimise and prevent possible environmental damage.
- Dispense essential oil into correct containers.
- Following correct safety measures when transporting.
- Prepare and update a correct and fully completed Material Safety Data Sheet.
Third Parties in the Supply Chain
Most consumers will buy essential oil from a third-party e.g., Chemist/Pharmacy, Aromatherapist, on-line supplier or other type of health store:
- Proper training of staff to ensure that accidental breakages are dealt with properly (refer to ‘Consumers’ below).
- A specialised Waste Disposal firm should be contracted to dispose of essential oils that have expired or are no longer needed – this includes empty used bottles / a contract with the supplier that goods and empty bottles can be returned for disposal – this may be law in your country in any event. If the goods were imported, this may mean that you must dispose of the essential oils and empty bottles yourself.
- Essential oils must be stored safely and under the correct environmental conditions (to prevent explosion and leakage).
- Knowledge of the Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) for an essential oil is vital and this information should be passed onto any transporter of the essential oil.
It is important to do all that we can to prevent essential oils from contaminating ground water and our water supplies. Essential oils are toxic to aquatic organisms and may also eventually find their way into our drinking water.
- Essential oils should not be disposed of down a drain or flushed down the toilet. The environmental damage should be contained as much as possible – we must accept that essential oils used during bathing or in shower gels and creams etc will enter the drainage system.
- Essential oils should be disposed of with your normal refuse (NB!: Find out from your local council if they have any special requirements regarding the disposal of essential oils before you do this).
- If you have any surplus essential oil left in a bottle that you would like to dispose of, pour the essential oil onto paper toweling or disposable absorbent cloth and leave it outside in a place where birds and animals are not present. The essential oil should diffuse into the air. Then you can throw the cloth or paper toweling away.
- Empty containers of essential oil should be wiped out with paper toweling and cleaned with alcohol. The bottle can then be reused (preferable) or can be disposed of. Follow the same method as above before you throw the paper toweling away.
- Used essential oil bottles cannot be recycled, so it is better to try and clean them with paper toweling and alcohol and to use them again. If you have an ethical supplier, you should be able to return them to the supplier for disposal in bulk.
- Caps, stoppers, rollers, and inserts etc can be wiped down and cleaned with alcohol before disposal. These can also be returned to your supplier for disposal in bulk, if you have an ethical supplier.
It is our responsibility to protect our planet as far as possible. Essential oils are far more natural than a lot of other substances, but they are toxic to aquatic organisms. Essential oils are also toxic to birds, cats and some other forms of wildlife. The growth of plants may also be affected by essential oil in the ground, so disposing of essential oils in a safe manner is important.
Proper disposal of essential oils via a specialised waste removal firm is advised. If you are a consumer and deal with small amount of essential oil, essential oil and empty bottles should be disposed of in accordance with the regulations set by your local council. If they do not have any regulations, please follow the suggestions above. An ethical supplier should supply a service where they dispose of the waste created by their products.
IFRA (The International Fragrance Association) has developed a list of guidelines for the use of certain compounds and essential oils in perfumes and fragrances.
If you wish to follow the IFRA guidelines for use in your Aromatherapy, it may be a good idea to become a member.
There isn’t an international organisation that governs the use of essential oils in Aromatherapy and IFRA is regarded as the closest that we have.
Please take into account that the recommended minimums and maximums for inclusion in a fragrance or a perfume may be too much or too little to have an effect as a therapeutic treatment, so these guidelines will influence the efficacy of Aromatherapy.
IFRA Website: https://ifrafragrance.org/
Link to the IFRA Standards 48th Amendment: https://ifrafragrance.org/docs/default-source/ifra-code-of-practice-and-standards/ifra-standards—48th-amendment/ifra-standards-in-full—booklet.pdf
Note: The IFRA guidelines may differ from your local regulations.