This week, I've been asked three times for "that really great thing you wrote about essential oils a while ago." While I would like to think that I've written a couple of great things, it turns out that this piece, originally just jotted down as a Note on Facebook for myself to reference when people ask me questions, is what everyone was asking for. So...here it is, in a more accessible (and shareable) Blog version.* Big ol' disclaimer: all opinions expressed here are mine. Neither Midwest Herb Fest nor Herbal Education, Inc. endorse or declaim any particular essential oil companies or people calling themselves Aromatherapists. I get asked a lot about my use of essential oils and my utter loathing of multilevel marketing essential oil companies. Here's the deal: I feel that Young Living in particular is spreading some unsafe advice, and that while many people follow it and are okay, others have had some pretty awful reactions. I think we'll start to see more problems as more people are using them. It takes tens of thousands of people using a drug before we see rare adverse events like those that got Vioxx pulled from the market; I see no reason why essential oils should be any different. Rare side effects are rare - you need a lot of people in your sample group to see them. Until very recently, there just weren’t that many people using essential oils. Also, I love essential oils, and they absolutely can be used safely.
Okay, so my basic rules are:
Essential oils should only be taken at therapeutic doses internally while under the supervision of a medical doctor or clinical aromatherapist with at least 200 hours of training in essential oils, anatomy, metabolism of eo's, ethics, etc. Please bear in mind that JUST being a medical doctor (or nurse) does not qualify anyone to give advice for OR against essential oils. Essential oils aren't covered in medical or nursing school. But a doctor or nurse can study essential oils just as well as anyone else can. It's the training in a quality Aromatherapy program that's important, not the title. When someone starts to give you Aromatherapy advice, ask them where they studied Aromatherapy, and for how long.
Using 1-3 drops of essential oils in a batch of food that's going to make at least 10 servings is okay, as long as the food has fat and/or sugar in it. But these should be essential oils from plants that are already used as food. Lemon essential oil, just a few drops, can be used in a lemon glaze instead of lemon zest, for example. A drop of basil can wake up a whole pot of pasta sauce. Two drops of peppermint will make a delicious mint chocolate brownie. THIS is the kind of "internal use" that the FDA is talking about when they say that some essential oils are GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). They're generally recognized to be safe in small doses, well diluted, in a big batch of food, at culinary, flavoring levels.
Essential oils should not be "diluted" in water, because they don't mix with water. They float on water, and can cause chemical burns of the mouth or esophagus.
Essential oils, when used properly under supervision, shouldn't be taken more than a drop or two internally per day. More is just not needed. It's a waste of money and it's a waste of essential oil, and it's more likely to cause nasty side effects, from upset stomachs to liver or kidney failure. When they are taken internally for therapeutic effect, they should be well diluted in fat (cream, whole milk, coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) or honey. Mix it in well, and it won't burn.
Topically, essential oils should be well diluted in a carrier oil. YL often recommends 25 or 50% or even undiluted, which is way too strong. Most work just fine at 1-5%. For babies and small children, some are used at only 0.1% (and a few shouldn’t be used at all.) Dilute to safe levels and you'll get a lot more use out of that little bottle! Undiluted essential oils and essential oils that aren’t diluted enough are much more likely to cause irritation and photosensitivity in the short term, and allergies and sensitization (similar, but not the same thing) in the long term. Diluting your essential oils is the best way to ensure that you’ll be able to continue using them for the rest of your life.
The safest, and in many cases most effective, way to use essential oils is simply to smell them. A nice no-heat diffuser (heat can break down essential oils and alter their effects) on for 20 minutes, then off for 20 minutes, then on again, can provide therapeutic effects with very little risk. Be kind about diffusers in public spaces like offices, though. You never know what someone else’s health conditions are. I once had to remove a jasmine tree from my office because the scent from the blossoms made my blood pressure go down so far I got dizzy and nauseated; I don’t want to think about what a diffused jasmine oil would do to me.
Young Living oils themselves aren't bad essential oils. They're as prone to errors and accidental contamination as any other brand (I hope it's accidental, anyway.) But their essential oils are insanely expensive, and all that stuff about "therapeutic grade" and being more "pure" than other brands is bunk. They're no better, no worse, and significantly more expensive than other reputable brands like Kismet Potions, Plant Therapy, Aura Cacia, and Bulk Apothecary. I've even found some decent essential oils at Puritan's Pride, although I've only sampled a few (their chamomiles, lavender, tangerine, and eucalyptus are fine. I'm not so fond of their ylang ylang...that one smells off to me.)
Good essential oil dilution guide here: National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy Methods of Application
Lots and lots of good information and articles here: National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy Home Page
This is my favorite book for beginners and people who just want to know enough to treat themselves and their family members: The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
This is a phenomenal book for advanced users and professionals; it's pricy, but it's so, so good. Robert Tisserand is the guru of safe and sane essential oil use. He's not super scaredy cat, but he's solid and sensible and science based.: Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals 2nd Edition
This is Tisserand's educational website. If you look on the right hand side, you can get a free mini course emailed to you - several short videos. They're really good. (Of course he does this so you're tempted to sign up for the full course! But there's no obligation to do so.): Tisserand Institute
Essential oils absolutely can and should be used safely and effectively. By keeping just a few common sense guidelines in mind, we can enjoy the benefits of these wonderful allies in health without putting ourselves or loved ones at risk.
*funny side note: when I posted this on Facebook, I just grabbed a random photo off Google to illustrate it. For this blog, I wanted to make sure I wasn't violating anyone's copyright, so I searched specifically for a photo that was marked for public use. Turns out I picked the same photo both times. ^_^ So I guess this photo really wants to be with this text!