The dangerous practices of consuming essential oils and applying them undiluted on the skin have gone viral on the internet, chat rooms and via sale representatives of many dōTERRA and Young Living MLM representatives. Beware of anyone who tells you to ingest essential oils either by putting a few drops in your water or putting them into a capsule. The only cases of death, organ failure and hospitalization in the history of aromatherapy have been caused by ingesting essential oils. It is THAT dangerous.
Another dangerous practice many dōTERRA and Young Living representatives teach is to apply essential oils undiluted directly on your skin. Please don’t.
I am so passionate about the safe use of essential ones that I dedicated an entire chapter to it in my book The Art, Science and Business of Aromatherapy. I decided to share a section Chapter 10 in response to the overwhelming number of people I am hearing from who are being taught to ingest essential oils and use them undiluted. Please share with your friends and family. Keep aromatherapy safe.
My Top 12 Aromatherapy Safety Rules from Chapter 10 of The Art, Science & Business of Aromatherapy
History and safety testing have given us useful aromatherapy data. For review of this chapter, please study the following twelve rules that I think are the most important when it comes to using essential oils safely.
Never consume essential oils. Even if you read a book by an aromatherapist from a country that uses essential oils internally, they should never be consumed. The practice of consuming essential oils is dangerous and was designed to be done under the care of an aromatherapist trained in that form of therapy. In addition, studies have shown that topical aromatherapy is more effective than internal aromatherapy methods.
Always dilute your essential oils before applying them to the skin. There are a very small handful of exceptions to this rule including lavender and tea tree which can be occasionally applied neat, or directly, to the skin. In different aromatherapy books there may be recommendations of essential oils over 3% in massage oils but it simply isn’t necessary. Less is more in the world of essential oils. There is no need to overdose and it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Essential oils are incredibly potent and need to be dispersed into a carrier before applying them to the skin. You wouldn’t wrap your body in 30 lbs. of plant material so don’t apply that much or more directly onto your skin.
Typically, essential oils are diluted into products at 1 to 3% – sometimes less and sometimes more, but that is the general rule of thumb. Some essential oils have an intense aroma and price tag combination that allows for their use as low as 0.1% Take jasmine, blue chamomile and neroli for example.
Raindrop therapy is a good example of how undiluted and too high of concentrations of essential oils can be dangerous. This method of applying essential oils is the practice of dripping pure undiluted essential oils directly onto the skin which has many adverse effects. People have had burns, skin irritation, and intense detoxification effects that could have been avoided if this dangerous practice was no longer taught. The human body does not need to detoxify at such a rapid rate, and the skin should not come in direct contact with undiluted essential oils. Please report injuries at the Atlantic Institute.
Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children; they are notorious for putting everything in their mouths. Compared to adults, essential oils should be used in half the dosage rate for children for topical application. They are not miniature adults, and their bodies were not designed to process the same ratio of essential oils on their skin. I have safely used aromatherapy on all three of my children since 1998.
I heard of a case of a woman who read that tangerine essential oil would help with hyperactivity in children. She decided to put undiluted tangerine essential oil directly on the palms of her child’s hands. Thankfully, tangerine is a safe enough essential oil and the child suffered no serious ill effect. But she had decided to try it on a day that the child had a big test to take at school, and the high concentration of tangerine oil knocked the child out for the entire day and he slept through his test, lunch, dinner…and into the next morning.
Stay with the tried and true essential oils. Avoid ones that are not the common essential oils used historically in aromatherapy. Unless you understand the chemistry, it is best to stick with the commonly used essential oils. A trained aromatherapist can read the chemical composition of an essential oil profile and make an educated decision about the safety of an essential oil. But without that training you would not know whether you should avoid or use essential oils based on their chemical composition of aldehydes, esthers, ketones, phenols, and monoterpene hydrocarbons.
Know which essential oils to avoid or use with caution. Avoid them even if you like the way they smell or the properties that you read about them.
Essential oils to be avoided altogether include: unrectified bitter almond, basil ct. methyl chavicol, birch, boldo leaf, blue cypress, bitter fennel, bog myrtle, buchu, unrectified cade, calamint, calamus, (brown, blue or yellow) camphor, cassia, cinnamon bark, costus, davana, dog basil, elecampane, fig leaf, horseradish, jaborandi, lantana, melaleuca bracteata, mustard, mugwort, parsley seed, pennyroyal, rue, dalmatian sage, santolina, sassafras, savin, tansy, tarragon, tea absolute, thuja, tonka bean, verbena, wintergreen, wormseed, and wormwood.
Essential oils that should be used with caution or at very low dosages include: yarrow, dill, tarragon, caraway, white camphor, hyssop, spearmint, rosemary ct. verbenone, and tagette.
Essential oils that should be heavily diluted due to potential skin irritation include: cassia, cinnamon leaf, cumin, lemongrass, oregano, clove stem, clove bud, clove leaf, wild thyme, and red thyme.
Always wear protective gear while handling essential oils. Remember that essential oils are very concentrated and should not be applied directly to the skin. If you wear gloves while handling essential oils you lessen the chance of spilling undiluted essential oils directly onto your hands. Even if it doesn’t hurt at the moment, it could hurt later. A good example is how peppermint essential oil spilled directly onto your hands might not hurt at the moment, but later when you touch your eye, it will burn like crazy.
Work in a well-ventilated area. Remember that essential oils can enter the body through inhalation. Some essential oils can cause euphoria, sleepiness or can be extremely stimulating. In a closed space with poor circulation the essential oils can become overwhelming.
Use extra caution when using essential oils on children and the elderly. The dosages should be at least half that of what you would use for a healthy adult. And essential oils are toxic to cats so never ever use essential oils on them.
Use common sense. Essential oils are safe when used in moderation. Many substances on earth are toxic when used in the extreme. Too much water can lead to water poisoning, and carrots, tomatoes, saffron, and mustard will all cause illness when consumed in excess.
To safeguard your business, do not make healing claims about your products. That would transform your cosmetic into a drug. The rules and regulations for drugs are completely different, and aromatherapy does not qualify on any monograph for approved over-the-counter drugs.
Always use the botanical name for essential oils when ordering. I never make an aromatherapy decision without reviewing the botanical name. The botanical name tells the genus and species of the plant and includes information about the variety, cultivar, chemotype, and hybrid when needed.
Often these details are the difference between an essential oil being safe for use or not.
Check contraindications of an essential oil before using it. You don’t want to be making a sleepy time bath with essential oils that are contraindicated for insomnia like peppermint, basil, lemon verbena, cornmint, or rosemary.
FYI (from earlier in Chapter 10) on the Seriousness of Ingesting Essential Oils
There has never been a reported case of a woman or baby being harmed by topical or inhalation therapy used during pregnancy or labor. Aromatherapists all warn their clients away from pennyroyal essential oil due to a case in the USA in which a woman drank a large dose of pennyroyal in order to induce an abortion that proved fatal to her (Gold and Cates, 1980). One out of four cases in which pregnant women accidently drank camphor oil instead of castor oil resulted in the death of the baby (Weiss and Catalano, 1976). Another reported case in which pennyroyal and parsley seed were taken in large doses caused hepatotoxicity which resulted in the death of the baby.
There are two other cases in which women consumed the same large doses of pennyroyal (100 to 200 times the recommended topical application) in which both the mothers and the babies survived unharmed. It is cases like this that give essential oils their warnings and contraindications.
Other Safety Topics
Chapter 10 of my book The Art, Science and Business of Aromatherapy also includes other safety topics including: essential oil testings, grades of essential oils, drug claims, essential oil adulteration, contraindications, more safety warnings, the use of essential oils during pregnancy, the history of aromatherapy warnings in pregnancy, MSDS information along with my top 12 aromatherapy warnings. You can find it in paperback and on Kindle.
What makes me qualified to teach about aromatherapy? I am a Certified and was a Registered Aromatherapist with more than a dozen years of experience. The references for this article and my book can be found here. I was certified by a school approved by the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy and was registered by The Aromatherapy Council.
UPDATE: Many of the comments below ask for proof. Others have said injury is only caused by other brands of essential oils. Please take the time to read these articles. I would like to leave comments open on this blog post, but some of have been so ugly and negative that I am having second thoughts. I have added this information below to try to answer the attacks before they come.
Articles that document injuries:
Essential Oil Safety: Documented Side Effects, Injuries, and Deaths from Essential Oil Ingestion by Lee Tea
A near fatal case of high dose peppermint oil ingestion- Lessons learnt by US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Essential oil ingestion and adverse reactions (proof) by Lea Harris
Essential oils and eye safety by Robert Tisserand
Truth Seekers – Young Living Deposition on Personal Care Truth
Adverse Reactions to Peppermint Oil and With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies by Aromaceuticals
Sultan Yusuf Salah – Response to “Gary Young: A Somalian Adventure”
UPDATE: The negative response to this blog post by some MLM members inspired me to share what I learned from being in an MLM. Before leaving a negative comment please take the time to read: 12 Signs of a Cult.
FDA ACTION UPDATE: Many commenters from Young Living and dōTERRA made claims that were against the law and linked to sites that clearly were actively breaking the law. On 9/24/2014 the FDA sent Young Living a Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations Warning Letter and dōTERRA a Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations Warning Letter. Ingestion, undiluted usage, claims of medical cures and medical treatment given by a layperson is not only dangerous, but can warrant legal action. To quote the FDA in the Young Living letter, “. . . , in light of their toxicity or other potentiality for harmful effect, the method of their use, or the collateral measures necessary to their use, they are not safe for use except under the supervision of a practitioner licensed by law to administer it.”