Essential Oil Safety Precautions and General Guidelines


To help ensure essential oil safety and effectiveness, follow these general guidelines and precautions in your aromatherapy practice:

  • Keep out of reach of children and pets
  • Essential oils high in menthol (such as peppermint) should not be used near the throat or neck on children under 30 months of age
  • Essential oils do not dissolve in water. They must be diluted with vegetable oil
  • Essential oils in their concentrated state should never come in contact with mucous membranes or sensitive skin areas
  • Do not add undiluted directly to bathwater
  • If you have sensitive skin, do not apply undiluted (neat) essential oils directly onto skin; dilute with a carrier oil first. Or, you can usually apply neat to soles of feet
  • People with allergies must be cautious with essential oils. The least sensitive skin area is the soles of the feet
  • Some essential oils have strong caustic characteristics and should be used very cautiously, generally in a diluted form
  • Some oils, including most citrus oils, bergamot and petitgrain, are phototoxic. So, do not apply directly to skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight with 48 hours. According to Tisserand and Balacs in Essential Oil Safety, the expressed oils of mandarin, sweet orange, tangelo and tangerine are not phototoxic
  • Always conduct a patch test of diluted essential oil on the inner arm before using; do not use if redness or irritation occurs
  • Do not ingest essential oils unless you are sure of their integrity and know their properties
  • If you have very sensitive skin, epilepsy, asthma, heart or kidney problems, or any serious medical condition, do not use essential oils unless advised by a health care professional that it is safe
  • Never assume an essential oil possesses the same properties as its plant
  • Keep away from flame, heat and ignition sources (essential oils are flammable)
  • Use caution when applying oils to skin that has been exposed to personal care products and cleansers containing petrochemicals or other synthetic chemicals. The petrochemical based products especially can penetrate and remain in the skin and fatty tissues for days or weeks after use. Essential oils may react with these chemicals and cause skin irritation, headaches, nausea or other unpleasant effects
  • Essential oils can react with toxins that have built up in the body from chemicals in food, water and the environment. If you experience a reaction, stop using the essential oils and do an internal cleansing program before resuming regular use. Also double your water intake

In Case of an Accident

  • If essential oil gets into eyes: Immediately flush with cold milk or vegetable oil to dilute; if stinging persists, seek medical attention
  • To remove unwanted essential oils from skin surface: Use cream or vegetable oil to dilute; wash with soap and warm water; repeat if necessary
  • If accidental ingestion occurs: Call National Capital Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222
  • If ingested by a pet: Call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435; be prepared to pay $50 with a credit card

Special Essential Oil Safety Tips for Massage Therapists

  • Prolonged exposure to essential oils can cause headaches, nausea and a general feeling of uneasiness; ensure adequate ventilation, drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks
  • Do not operate a motorized vehicle (or allow a client to do so) immediately following a relaxation treatment or after using soporific oils such as clary or sage
  • If a given essential oil is used daily over two weeks, allow one week of rest before continuing use
  • Vary oils to reduce the chance of acquiring a sensitivity reaction
  • Avoid sensitizing oils if hands become sore or cracked

Pregnancy and Essential Oil Safety

Many essential oils can safely be inhaled and used topically during pregnancy. Linda L. Smith writes in Essential Oils for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health:Any essential oil misused can cause potential damage if taken in large quantities.” However…“the quantities are so small that they cannot possibly harm the mother. Some oils should be diluted for topical use to 10% or less.”

For legal reasons, it is best to a consult licensed health care provider before taking essential oils internally.

There are a very few essential oils to be avoided during pregnancy – Juniperus sabina (Savin) and Juniperus pfitzeriana (Spanish Sage). In laboratory animals, tumors developed in the offspring when they were exposed in the womb to all essential oils in safrole. These include Brazilian sassafras, Ocotea camphora, Chinese sassafras, Cinnamomum camphora.

- Essential Oils for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health

If you have further questions or comments about specific essential oils or oil combinations safety, leave a comment in the comment box below and I'll offer suggestions as I'm able to.

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