Safety and Toxicology
Essential oils have been used medicinally for thousands of years and when used appropriately pose little risk. Essential oils are obtained from plants and, when processed correctly, contain potent chemical compounds each with their own proven therapeutic properties. Not all essential oils are suitable however for use in aromatherapy. Some oils are carcinogenic, phototoxic, hepatotoxic, neuro-toxic and renal toxic. Others can cause sensitisation and irritation and should not be applied to the skin. Whilst they are a natural product - if unadulterated - they are also very potent and it is vitally important that they are handled with the relevant knowledge to ensure their effective, safe use.
Please observe the following basic principles:
- Oral ingestion of essential oils is not advocated click here for more details. Certain oils are toxic when ingested, so under no circumstances should anyone take essential oils orally without a prescription from an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Essential oils need to be treated with the same respect as conventional medicines.
- Do not apply neat essential oils to the skin, always dilute with a carrier oil or suitable base lotion or cream.
- Keep essential oils out of the reach of children
- Avoid UV exposure with citrus oils as they are photo sensitive
- Avoid essential oils coming into contact with the eyes and mucous membranes.
- Keep essential oils away from direct sunlight.
- Always seek the advice of a professional aromatherapist.
General Dilution Guidelines
The number of drops of essential oil used in a blend is a major factor to safe use. Generally dilutions range from 0.5 to 5% dilution. Chronic conditions generally require more diluted doses compared to acute situations.
Special consideration is required for children, the elderly, terminally ill patients, during pregnancy and lactation and when attempting to conceive, epileptics, clients on medication and patients going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy should always seek professional advice before using any essential oils.
A 2% essential oil dilution is generally regarded as a safe guideline for dermal application on healthy adults.
Some essential oils and methods of application may be contraindicated in some medical conditions and illnesses and during on-going medical treatments.
Professional advice is required when using essential oils in combination with medications.
Babies, children, teenagers, pregnant and lactating women, palliative clients in particular require a gentle approach and should always seek professional advice.
Always contact a professional aromatherapist who will guide you on the oils that are suitable for your individual needs.
The International Federation of Aromatherapists are a professional representative body, concerned with the standards of Aromatherapy training and the professional development of their members. Any reactions or adverse effects you may have experienced using essential oils should be referred to either your GP practice or the NHS Helpline on 111.
Purity is important as many essential oils are expensive and to avoid inadvertently using adulterated products or synthetic products always purchase essential oils and carrier products from reputable suppliers.
Once you have obtained or bought your essential oils and carrier oils from a reliable supplier, there are a few points you should observe to safeguard the quality and therapeutic power of your oils and keep them as fresh as possible:
- Store in a dark place away from air, light or heat. Light or heat will cause evaporation, air causes oxidation and sunlight cause photo-catalytic activity and photo-toxicity.
- Avoid leaving bottles of essential oils by a window or a heater, where sunlight and heat can affect them.
- Keep in an even temperature, as cool as possible.
- Replace tops immediately after use, firmly and securely.
- Always ensure that your essential oils are stored in appropriate containers, e.g. use glass bottles not plastic.
- Keep away from children.
In such conditions essential oils will keep for a year or more. Once blended, mixed with a carrier oil and with other essential oils they will keep for a much shorter time and may even go off after six weeks or less.