With a few exceptions, most essential oils are perfectly safe if used correctly. In aromatherapy, remember the term less is more because it is rare that more than a few drops of any essential oil are needed at any given time.
First, never use essential oils undiluted on the skin. There are instances when a qualified aromatherapist will suggest that an essential oil be used neat (undiluted) but until you have done a large body of research on essential oils and aromatherapy, stay safe and always dilute your oils. Dilution doesn’t have to always mean a carrier oil. Essential oils can be diluted in: lotions, creams, shampoo, bath oil, bath salts, pure alcohol (to make perfume), body scrubs, and even room and body sprays.
Some essential oils are simply too toxic and should not be used in aromatherapy. These oils include: bitter almond, buchu, camphor (brown or yellow), sassafras, calamus, horseradish, mugwort, mustard, pennyroyal, rue, savory, southernwood, tansy, thuja, wintergreen, wormseed and wormwood. Do not consider the above a complete list. Just because an oil is not listed above does not mean it is safe. Always research all essential oils before use.
OILS TO AVOID DURING PREGNANCY
Bitter almond, basil, clary sage, clove bud, hyssop, sweet fennel, juniper berry, marjoram, myrrh, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sage, thyme and wintergreen.
Some essential oils are photosensitive, which means they can make you sensitive to sunlight. When these oils are applied to the skin they can cause a rash or burn when exposed to sunlight. After using these oils, it is recommended that you stay out of the sun (or tanning bed) for a couple of days. You will find that many of the citrus oils fall into this category. Some of the photosensitive essential oils are: grapefruit, orange, tangerine, mandarin, lemon, and bergamot, but again, this is not a comprehensive list as individuals can sometimes exhibit photosensitivity to substances which are not known to invoke that response.
Contraindications are the “warning labels” of essential oils and let you know which oils you should avoid if you have certain medical conditions such as: asthma, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, etc. It cannot be said enough – research your essential oils before use, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
PERFORMING A PATCH TEST
Before using a new essential oil, it is advisable to perform a skin patch test. You can test your skin’s reaction by dabbing a small amount on the inside of your arm. If you notice any redness, burning or irritation, discontinue using the oil immediately and wash the area thoroughly with plain soap and water.
INGESTING ESSENTIAL OILS
I must come out as saying that I do not promote the internal use of essential oils, and there are some essential oils that should never be orally consumed under any circumstances. (Please see section on ingesting essential oils – the big debate) The main problem is that there are unqualified and untrained people promoting internal use. Always seek out a trained aromatherapist or holistic doctor before considering this option – a well-delivered sales pitch is not the same as consulting a qualified practitioner!