In my case, are essential oil safe for internal use?
There is a lot of marketing and information about essential oils going around the internet today – but people are still left wondering whether or not certain uses of essential oils in certain ways are safe.
The two biggest concerns I’ve heard and want to address in depth, are:
Can I “eat”/ingest essential oils?
Which brands of essential oils are safe to ingest?
Can I use essential oils directly on my skin?
It is important to understand, “What is in an essential oil?”
Essential oils are extremely concentrated natural essences and can quite often be a lot more powerful than expected. Even though a drop of oil might not look like much, it can be extremely potent in its effect. Please be aware of this fact always so that we can prevent misuse of precious oils – all the while ensuring you get to enjoy the maximum possible benefit from them.
Can I safely ingest essential oils?
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration office (FDA) is the agency that protects and promotes public health through the control and supervision of food safety – including dietary supplements, drugs and cosmetics. However, since essential oils at large are neither a drug, cosmetic, or dietary supplement, there is really no one category for the FDA to approve or stamp the use of essential oils in general.
As far as I could find out, the categorization of whether an essential oil is deemed a “drug”, “cosmetic” or “dietary supplement” depends on how its use is being advertised. In 2014, Young Living Essential Oils actually received an official warning letter from the FDA, basically slapping their fingers for making strong health benefit claims that would usually have to fall under the “drugs” regulatory act, but the essential oils didn’t go through that approval process and were therefore in violation of the rules. Of course, Young Living has since made all of the necessary changes to remain in compliance.
Further to note, there is also the clause of essential oils being safe “for their intended use”. If you read up on what is actually implied by “intended use” on the FDA website¹, it is also again an area that leaves a lot of room for interpretation or marketing from essential oil brands, websites, and social media channels.
Plant Therapy Essential Oils
That being said, some brands definitely do advertise that their products are safe for internal use, Just know that if you do ingest these oils, you are placing your trust in that company, their integrity and marketing ethics – and not in an officially approved safety stamp.
The fact remains that there are no scientific, evidence-based, anatomical, physiological or logical reasons to say that essentials oils are safe for human consumption.
Aromatherapists are still at odds with each other on this point, which confuses the casual essential oil user all the more. With that said, rest assured that large professional organizations like National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) support safe, exteternal use.
In the words of NAHA, “Essential oils may be applied on the skin (dermal application), inhaled, diffused or taken internally. Each of these methods have safety issues which need to be considered.”
Safety involves a state of being free from risk or occurrence of injury, harm, or danger. Individuals who practice aromatherapy need to be aware of the safety issues involved with using essential oils in order to avoid potential adverse effects. According to Burfield, “Although many essential oils are potentially hazardous materials, if handled in the appropriate manner, the risks involved in their use can be very small. So therefore, most commercially offered essential oils are safe to use for the purpose intended in a domestic/ professional or clinical environment.”1 The informed use of essential oils may create occasional irritation or minor discomfort, but it is extremely unlikely to create serious injury or lasting physical problems,2 particularly when basic guidelines are followed.
Factors that influence the safety of essential oils include https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety
Quality of essential oil being utilized
Adulterated essential oils increase the likelihood of an adverse response and hence the need for pure, authentic, and genuine essential oils is of the utmost importance.
Chemical composition of the oil
Essential oils rich in aldehydes (e.g., citronellal, citral) and phenols (e.g., cinnamic aldehyde, eugenol) may cause skin reactions. Essential oils rich in these constituents should always be diluted prior to application to the skin. According to Schnaubelt, “diluting such oils so that the resulting solution becomes non-irritant, may require diluting them to concentrations much lower than in normal circumstances. Another option is to blend such irritant oils asymmetrically with other essential oils, which mitigate their irritant effects.”3
Method of application
Essential oils may be applied on the skin (dermal application), inhaled, diffused or taken internally. Each of these methods have safety issues which need to be considered. The potential safety concerns with dermal application will be discussed below. With regard to inhalation, from a safety standpoint, inhalation presents a very low level of risk to most people. Even in a relatively small closed room, and assuming 100% evaporation, the concentration of any essential oil (or component thereof) is unlikely to reach a dangerous level, either from aromatherapy massage, or from essential oil vaporization.4
Tisserand and Balacs further point out that “the only likely risk would be from prolonged exposure (perhaps 1 hour or more) to relatively high levels of essential oil vapor which could lead to headaches, vertigo, nausea and lethargy”. With regard to internal use, NAHA does not support the indiscriminate internal use of essential oils. Click here for more information.
Dosage/dilution to be applied
Most aromatherapy oil based blends will be between 1 and 5 percent dilutions, which typically does not represent a safety concern. As one increases dilution, potential dermal (skin) reactions may take place depending on the individual essential oil, the area in which the oil is applied, and other factors related to the client’s own sensitivity levels. Any excessive usage of essential oils may cause irritation or other undesired effects due to their lipophilic nature.5
Integrity of skin
Damaged, diseased, or inflamed skin is often more permeable to essential oils and may be more sensitive to dermal reactions. It is potentially dangerous to put undiluted essential oils on to damaged, diseased or inflamed skin. Under these circumstances the skin condition may be worsened, and larger amounts of oil than normal will be absorbed. Sensitization reactions are also more likely to occur.6
Age of client
Infants, toddlers, and young children are more sensitive to the potency of essential oils and safe dilutions generally range from 0.5 – 2.5% depending on the condition. Certain essential oils should either be avoided, used in highly diluted form under the guidance of a knowledgeable professional, or included as a minor percentage in a professionally-formulated essential oil blend. For example, special caution should be exercised with potentially toxic essential oils such as Birch and Wintergreen which are both high in methyl salicylate, Eucalyptus which is high in 1,8 cineole and Peppermint which is high in menthol. Elderly clients may have more skin sensitivities so a reduced concentration/dilution may be indicated.
Bottom Line be very very careful when using essential oils.