How to use essential oils safely

Things to keep in mind when using essential oils

Using pure essential oils and aromatherapy safely

Do you know how concentrated essential oils are? To give you an idea, the ratio of fresh plant matter to dried is 3:1. So when you are drinking herbal tea 1 teaspoon of plant matter is fine, no problem at all. But when distilling essential oils, huge amounts of plant matter are needed. For example, the ratio of rose to rose essential oil is 10000:2 (so 10 kgs of rose petals yields around 2mg of rose essential oil), ylang ylang is 100:2, Frankincense is 1000:4. Because of the extremely intense nature of essential oils, there are some basic safety guidelines that need to be followed, but the most basic principle is less is more.

Although essential oils are generally safe when used as recommended, below are some useful guidelines.

  • Never apply essential oil directly to the skin unless directed by a clinical aromatherapist as it may result in burn-like reactions and sensitisation meaning that you may never be able to use that oil again.
  • Do not use an essential oil without having referred to its contraindications (when it should not be used). This is especially so if you are pregnant, on medications or have existing illnesses.
  • Do not internally consume essential oils in their undiluted form.
  • Keep essential oils out of reach of children. Not all oils can be used safely with children. 
  • Do not apply essential oils before sunbathing or using solar beds. This is especially so for bergamot (FCF varieties are safe though) and citrus oils.
  • If you have sensitive skin, patch-test the oil blend before use. You may also patch test any oil that you have not used before to ensure it will not cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Use the inside of your elbow, breastbone or behind ear. Use the oil at the same dilution as you intend to use. Wait 12 hours for any reaction.
  • Store essential oils in a cool dark place. Never leave the lid off and do not sniff from the bottle, otherwise you risk premature oxidisation of the entire bottle. When you want to inhale an oil, pour a couple of drops onto a tissue and tightly close the bottle. The more the oils are exposed to oxygen the more the chance they have of degrading and also of evaporating.
  • Do not use essential oils in a product that will be very close to the eyes.
  • Although essential oils can be used on pets for certain conditions, essential oils must not be used on cats. These substances are toxic for cats as their liver can not metabolise them.
  • When buying essential oils, buy from a reputable seller. The bottles should be amber (as these protect from UV light) and should have a dripper inserted. They should be identified by their Latin name and where possible the country where the oil is from.