Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy
You may wonder whether you need a guide to aromatherapy safety. Isn’t aromatherapy safe anyway? Yes, it is – provided you are aware of a few things that may not be obvious when you start out.
Aromatherapy uses highly concentrated plant extracts. Even though these come from plants, and are completely natural, there are some safety precautions which must be followed.
Natural doesn’t automatically mean “safe” – many of the poisons beloved of the Victorian thriller writer were derived from plants, for example. Also, we are all unique, and some people may have an allergy to something that doesn’t affect their friends or the rest of the family. It’s also best not to use aromatherapy oils on animals without thorough research first, as not all oils suitable for humans are safe for animals and some may even be toxic to certain pets, in particular cats.
Even if you are using essential oils which are in themselves safe and you don’t have an allergy to the one/s you are using, it’s still important that you don’t use them directly on the skin without diluting them first. There are very few essential oils used in aromatherapy which are safe used neat: Lavender for burns, Tea Tree for fungal conditions and skin infections, and Lemon for warts are the only ones I can think of. Other oils must either be used dilute (in a carrier oil, or in the bath) or using a diffuser or one of the other methods that don’t involve direct contact with the skin or scalp.
Not all essential oils are used for aromatherapy. These oils should not be used: Bitter Almond (but Sweet Almond is used as a carrier oil), Calamus, Brown Camphor, Cassia, Horseradish, Mugwort, Mustard, Oregano, Spanish Oregano, European Pennyroyal, American Pennyroyal, Rue, Sassafras, Brazilian Sassafras, Savine, Summer Savory, Winter Savory, Southernwood, Tansy, Thuja, Wintergreen, Wormseed and Wormwood. It’s safest not to buy these so you don’t use them by mistake.
There are also what are called contra-indications which is about an interaction between the oil and something else. For example, you should not use Clary Sage if you’ve been drinking alcohol, or are about to, because it can cause side effects similar to narcotic drugs and make you drunker than you would otherwise be.
If you’re using homeopathic medication, then you should not use Black Pepper, Cornmint, Camphor, Eucalyptus, Peppermint or Spearmint essential oil because it may stop the homeopathic remedy from working.
If you have high blood pressure you should avoid Clary Sage, Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage, Spanish Sage and Thyme.
If you have epilepsy you shouldn’t use Fennel, Hyssop, Rosemary or Sage.
Don’t use Basil, Camphor, Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Clary Sage, Clove, Fennel, Hyssop, Juniper, Marjoram, Myrrh, Rosemary, Sage or Thyme if you are pregnant, and use other oils at half the normal strength.
Before using large quantities of an essential oil you haven’t used before, mix a single drop with a teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil (or olive oil) and put a dab of the mixture on a hidden part of your skin (inside the elbow, for instance). Leave for 24 hours and if there’s no reaction, then you should be safe to use it without problems.
Finally, never swallow essential oils. Don’t use them for flavoring. Don’t add them to tea or anything else you will be eating or drinking. If you want the medicinal benefit of taking the herbs then use the actual herb, not the essential oil or if you want the flavor then use a regular food flavoring/extract/essence. This is much safer, more palatable and almost certainly cheaper as well.