Essential oils have become all the rage and whilst this is a good thing, there is a bad and an ugly side to this realisation. The good includes therapeutic benefits, alternative medicines and safety precautions. The bad are full of false claims, marketing jargon and incorrect education from inexperienced sellers. The Ugly is this lack of education has led to an outbreak of bad information and sometimes even dangerous advice.
I’ve been inundated with questions regarding Essential Oils and so for this blog, I’m going to list the questions and answer them accordingly. It’s very important when reading my answers that you take the time to do your own research and not to take what I say as the be all and end all of information available. I am a qualified Holistic Health Therapist, who is currently studying nutrition as well as aromatherapy.
I personally have seen a lot of information floating around that is correct and helpful and others that are just plain wrong and dangerous.
This is a vast topic filled with multiple answers, however, it is very important to decipher fact from fiction, real answers from marketing ploys, educated research from opinions and above all else, common sense when it comes to working with these wonderful oils.
Without further ado, let’s get straight into your questions.
What is the difference between Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils?
To start with when we are talking Aromatherapy, we are always talking about Essential Oils. Fragrance oils are not ‘aromatherapy’ because they are synthetically made and have no therapeutic value.
Essential Oils are extracted from flowers, fruits, herbs and trees. The extraction process is usually done in one of four ways – distillation, direct pressure, solvents or enfleurage. The end result is a concentrated oil or extract.
Fragrance oils are produced synthetically with chemical scent compounds. They are often made up of a number of caustic composites that are toxic to our health. So if your bottle of oil has ‘fragrance oil’ written on it, it is best to disregard it. It may smell pretty but can be detrimental to your health. Fragrance oils have been known to cause headaches, nausea and difficulty breathing. If you do decide you want to use fragrance oils, remember, less is more and less often is even better and choose phthalate free fragrance oils.
Are all Essential Oils safe?
Definitely not. Some Essential oils are safe for children but dangerous to animals, some are safe for adults but not if you’re pregnant, there are so many oils and so many contraindications that when using Essential oils it becomes necessary to have some basic knowledge and if ever in doubt, contact a professional for advice. A professional means someone who has training in either pharmacology, physiology, aromatherapy chemistry, medical herbalism, naturopathy or a GP. A professional is not your local essential oil advocate or the person who sold you the essential oil.
Here is a list of Essential oils that are deemed unsafe to use both externally and internally. They are:-
What Essential oils can I safely use around my children?
This is a great question I get asked and the answer depends upon the age of your child. As with anything though, always seek the advice of a qualified naturopath, clinical aromatherapist or your GP as the health of your child will also have to be taken into consideration.
Essential Oils shouldn’t be used on or around children under 6 months of age as their immune systems are immature, lungs are still developing and their skins highly sensitive.
You can start to introduce essential oils via a diffuser from the age of 6 months and only with Essential oils that are child safe. It is also best to use the diffuser intermittently as young children are sensitive to aromas. It is very important to only use Essential oils and not fragrance oils as fragrance oils are full of chemicals and toxic ingredients.
When selecting an Essential Oil it is also best to try and find a Certified Organic brand. This way you will know the oil is botanically pure and hasn’t been rectified or adapted in anyway. You can also be sure that no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals have been used from seed to bottle.
To use Essential Oils topically (in very low dilutions and always with a carrier oil) should only be applied to children aged 2 and over and again, only with child safe Essential Oils. This should also only be done sparingly as a child’s immune system is still developing and allergies can appear. If at any time you are not sure, always seek the advice of a professional that knows your child’s health and history.
Each oil listed on the website has the appropriate age listed as well as dilutions and warnings. If you have any questions, please contact me.
Here is the list of child safe oils (for over 6 months via diffuser and over 2 years for low dilutions)
My daughter who is 8 has a cold and I want to diffuse Eucalyptus oil in her room. I have heard conflicting reports. Is this safe?
Eucalyptus Oil as well as Peppermint Oil shouldn’t be used around children under the age of 10 due to the compound 1,8-cineole found within Eucalyptus Oil and the 1,8-cineole & Menthol found in Peppermint Oil. It has been known to cause breathing difficulties in young children.
Can Essential Oils be placed directly onto the skin?
Generally no. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and potent. They must always be diluted with a carrier oil before being used topically. Adding roller ball tops to undiluted Essential oils is extremely dangerous. Essential oils can burn, irritate the skin and cause sensitivities. You can use a diluted mix directly onto the skin but make sure it is low dilution. Mt Retour make three wonderful roll ons that are safe to use directly onto the skin.
“Essential oil dilution is important for two safety reasons. One, to avoid skin reactions: irritation, sensitisation, and photo toxicity. Two, to avoid systemic toxicity, such as fetotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, carcinogenicity, and neurotoxicity. Adverse skin reactions are obvious when they happen, but systemic toxicities may not be. Skin reactions are totally dilution-dependent, and safety guidelines exist to minimise risk.” – Robert Tisserand
There is only one exception to this rule and this is in a first aid setting. If you have a bug bite or sting, using a drop of undiluted (neat) Essential oil, like Lavender, can be very effective, however, it is best not to continually use the Essential oil this way or as above, reactions can occur.
How do I dilute my Essential oils ready for use?
Most dilutions are between 0.25% – 3%. How you dilute your Essential oil will depend upon a number of factors – the potency of the essential oil, the toxicity level of the oil, if you have sensitive skin, your age, any health issues, if you are pregnant or nursing or if you have regular medications you take. It is best to start with a lower dilution as there is less chance of an adverse reaction.
0.25% = 1 drop of Essential oil to 20ml of carrier oil (4 teaspoons)
1% = 1 drop of Essential oil to 5ml of carrier oil (1 teaspoon)
2% = 2 drops of Essential oil to 5ml of carrier oil (1 teaspoon)
3% = 3 drops of Essential oil to 5ml of carrier oil (1 teaspoon)
Carrier oils you can use include (but not limited to) are – Sweet Almond Oil, Apricot Kernel Oil, Argan Oil, Avocado Oil, Borage Oil, Calendula Oil, Coconut Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Jojoba Oil, Macadamia Oil, Mango Seed Oil, Meadowfoam Oil, Olive Oil, Rosehip Oil, Sunflower Oil, Tamanu Oil and Safflower Oil. **It’s very important to avoid canola or soy and use raw or organic wherever possible. Avoid refined or processed oils and butters. If your oil has a pungent odour or appears cloudy, your oil has probably gone rancid and should be discarded.
If you aren’t fond of oils, you can dilute your essential oils in butters. Butters you can use are – Shea Butter, Cacao Butter or Mango Butter. It’s important to mix extremely well into the butter of your choice.
Can I ingest Essential Oils?
I am asked this one a lot from concerned Essential oils users. Most have attended a workshop where they have been told to ingest or use in recipes. With concern, they have contacted me to check. Here is my answer:-
Without professional supervision or prescription the answer is always NO! Essential oils can be used in many therapeutic ways, however, ingesting is without a doubt the most dangerous and the most unnecessary. Unless you are under the care of a professional (pharmacologist, physiologist, clinical aromatherapist, medical herbalist, naturopath or a GP) then ingesting is strongly advised against.
This is due to that fact that without proper training or knowledge, ingesting essential oils can lead to serious health issues. I am aware that some companies are promoting the fact that their oils are suitable for ingesting, however, this is extremely irresponsible. Without knowing a person’s health, both present and historically as well as current medications, no company can advocate that their oils are safe to ingest.
True Essential oils are extremely potent. Ingesting can cause serious damage including burns to your mouth and oesophagus as well as putting undue stress on your internal organs such as your liver and kidneys. Essential oils are also known irritants to the stomach lining and over time can cause damage to this delicate tissue.
It is also important to know that Essential oils are absorbed dermally very well, better than ingestion. If you have a reaction to an essential oil, you can easily wash it off your skin, however, it is not easy to neutralise an ingested essential oil. Please, regardless of the brand or what it says on the bottle, do not ingest without seeking the advice from a qualified professional. This includes using Essential oils in cooking. There is never a need to use an Essential oil in your recipes.
Again, Essential oils are extremely concentrated, so adding them to your cooking is not only overpowering but dangerous. Using a drop of Peppermint Essential oil instead of a teaspoon of chopped up mint is not an equal equivalent. So to using Lemon Essential Oil instead of a squeeze of fresh lemon. Essential oils are very volatile, concentrated and potent. There is never a need to use them in your cooking. Always use fresh ingredients.
What about ingesting ‘food grade’ essential oils?
The answer is still no. If an Essential oil has been approved within Australia to be food grade, it will actually be labelled as a food flavouring, not as an essential oil. This is due to the fact that certain food standards and protocols must be administered. It is strictly regulated. If you notice a company within Australia promoting ‘food grade’ essential oils, you can rest assured that this hasn’t been certified or approved by an Australian governing body.
Can I add Essential Oil to water?
Yes and No. Essential oils are not water soluble. To create a water soluble oil the oil must be rectified and have a solublising agent added. Most fragrant oils are water soluble, however, if you come across an Essential oil that claims to be ‘water soluble’ you can be guaranteed that it either isn’t an essential oil or it has falsely advertised its contents.
If you are wanting to add Essential oils to your bath water, make sure you add an Essential oil dispersant to your oils in a small dish and then add it to your bath water. It is also important to make sure the dispersant is naturally derived, for example Springfields have a dispersant that is made from coconut and almond oil. Be careful of artificial dispersants as they can irritate the skin.
If you are wanting to add Essential oils to your drinking water….DON’T!! As above it is dangerous to ingest oils, especially in your water. As the oil isn’t soluble, it floats around as a big droplet of oil. When you go to drink, you can end up burning your mouth and throat. There is nothing healthier than adding a squeeze of fresh juice, some sprigs of fresh mint or fruit, there is never a need to drink an oil.
Are certain brands of Essential oils better than others?
Mostly, no. Of course you will get the odd company that has added a synthetic filler to their mix but most companies have essential oils that are sourced from the same place. Brand is certainly not important when it comes to choosing your oils. The only items I look at when purchasing oils is if it is certified organic. If it is certified organic then you can rest assured that there have been no pesticides, herbicides or chemicals used from seed to bottle. What you purchase is free from contaminants.
It must say ‘Certified Organic’!!
How do I make sure I choose a company that hasn’t used a synthetic filler?
Firstly, look for the terms ‘fragrance’, ‘perfume’ or ‘nature identical’. These terms will mean you are not getting an Essential oil but rather a synthetic version. Secondly, make sure the oils come in dark, glass bottles. If it comes in plastic or clear glass, stay away!
Thirdly, make sure the company provides detailed information. This includes: the scientific name of the plant species, the quantity of essential oil, an expiration date and manufacturing date, safety information, storage information and certification stamps. Also, do a little bit of research on the company and see what information they have on their oils.
I have just purchased an oil that is ‘Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade’, however, I haven’t been able to find any other brand that has this certification, why is this?
This can be the most confusing and misleading message in the Essential oil community. There is no independent certifying body in Australia (or USA) that assesses what grade an essential oil is. The terms ‘Therapeutic Grade’, ‘Medicinal Grade’ and ‘Aromatherapy Grade’ are all marketing terms and by no way reflect the ingredients within the bottles themselves. The only way for an oil to become certified is for it to obtain an organic certification. In Australia this is performed by ACO (Australian Certified Organic) and the OFC (Organic Food Chain).
The reason why you won’t find any other companies using this term is because not only is it not a real certification but it has been trademarked.
Does cost reflect the quality of oil?
Definitely not. You will find that most places source their oils from the same suppliers/farms. As long as the oils are not all the same price (this should tell you something is wrong) you can be sure the majority of oils fall into one of three categories – fragrance (synthetic), essential oils or certified organic essential oils.
For example if a company is selling Rose Essential oil for the same price as Sweet Orange, it’s best to stay away. The price will reflect the ease of production and quantity of flowers, fruits, herbs or trees used. As we know it takes a great deal more of Rose Petals to make Rose Essential Oil than it does orange peels for Orange Essential oil. It will also reflect testing and certification.
The reason some companies are more expensive than others is simply due to the chain of recruitment, meaning that the ‘middle men’ all need a piece of the commission. Whereas if you purchase from an independent business, you will find the prices reflect the manufacturer to retail outlet model. One is not worse than the other but the price you are paying for your oil doesn’t reflect the purity.
What are some of the ways you can use Essential Oils?
The most popular way is inhalation. This can be done by Ultrasonic Diffusers, Vaporisers, Light Bulb Rings, Steam Inhalation, Oil burners or simply adding to a porous stone or fabric. This is also the safest way, however, as discussed previously, some oils shouldn’t be used at certain ages or for certain conditions.
I’m four months pregnant and am confused as to if I can use essential oils or not. Can you help me?
The first three months of pregnancy, Essential oils should be avoided. This is the most delicate time during the entire pregnancy and while we are careful about foods we consume, drinks we digest and skincare, we should also be careful about Essential oils both topically and via inhalation.
The next two stages is when we can start to incorporate safe Essential oils via inhalation and in extremely low dilutions topically. Essential oils should never been taken internally, especially during pregnancy.
There are also some Essential oils that should be avoided throughout the entire pregnancy. This is due to the fact that some Essential oils can cause toxicity resulting in structural defects due to the size of the molecular structure of the essential oil being able to cross into the womb.
There are eight main reasons to not use specific oils during pregnancy and they are:-
carcinogenic – causes cancer
hepatotoxic – toxic to the liver
nephrotoxic – toxic to the kidneys
*abortifacient – causes abortion/terminates pregnancy
*embryotoxic – toxic to the growing baby (specifically in the first 8 weeks of gestation)
*fetotoxic – toxic to the growing baby
*teratogenic – ability to cause malformations in a growing baby
Here is the list of Essential oils to avoid at all costs during your entire pregnancy.
These are the Essential oils that are considered safe use in the second to third trimester.
Amyris, Bergamot, Blue Tansy, Cedarwood (Atlas, Himalayan), Chamomile (German, Roman), Cinnamon Leaf, Citronella, Clary Sage, Coffee, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Frankincense (carterii/sacra, frereana, serrata), Geranium, Ginger, Helichrysum, Jasmine, Lavender (Bulgarian, French), Lemon, Lemon Eucalyptus, Lime, Mandarin, Neroli, Orange (Sweet), Patchouli, Pepper (Black), Petitgrain, Pine, Rosalina, Rose, Rosemary Rosewood, Sandalwood (Australian), Spearmint, Spikenard, Spruce, Tangerine, Tea Tree, Turmeric, Valerian, Vanilla, Vetiver and Ylang Ylang.
As with everything, what is safe for one isn’t for another. Complications during pregnancy can arise, so please check with your professional before using.
I have a dog and a cat at home. Can I diffuse essential oils around them?
Diffusing essential oils around animals needs to be done with the utmost care and sometimes, depending on the animal, not at all.
Dogs are more sensitive to Essential oils than their owners as a dog can detect odours in parts per trillion. This will mean, while you think the house smells lovely with your Essential oils wafting around, it becomes extremely over powering for your dog.
Never diffuse Essential oils around puppies aged 10 weeks or under, never put Essential oils in your dog’s water dish or food and if needing to use topically, extremely low dilutions (0.25% – 1%) are recommended.
Here are the oils that are considered safe to diffuse (1 drop in diffuser only) around dogs (as per animal experts) –
If you have a cat, it is recommended not to diffuse essential oils around them. You can either close them out of the room, while you diffuse, making sure to air the room before allowing them back in or use a personal inhaler. The reason diffusing around cats isn’t recommended is due to the fact that cats are unable to metabolise essential oils due to the lack of glucuronyl transferase, a liver enzyme.
Some pet owners have had to put their cats down after a couple of weeks of diffusing as their cat has had liver failure. The choice is yours but beware.
Essential oils that should never be used around cats are:-
As for any other small animals – such as birds, fish, rabbits, hamsters, mice, rats, reptiles or any other small animal that is living in a cage or tank, no Essential oils should be diffused around them at any time. If you are using Essential oils, remove the tank or cage into a room with ventilation and no correspondence with the oils. Do not put the cage or tank back into the room until the oils have dissipated.
I hope this answers most of your questions. In the next blog, I will be sharing with you some recipes and blends to help with common ailments. If you have a question you would like answered or a recipe you would like, please send it to
Second Edition Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young
Using Essential Oils Safely by Lea Harris
Aroma-Therapy for Pregnancy & Childbirth by Margaret Fawcett
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy by Julie Lawless