Thursday, January 12, 2012

Essential Oil Safety & Gudelines

I received an email from a reader asking my thoughts about why she may be breaking out in a rash when she rubs Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil on her chest.  She stated that she was experiencing a cold and thought that it would help to "open up her chest", but instead her chest became irritated and sensitive.  I emailed her back and asked her how she was diluting it and I learned she was using it straight from the bottle.  Although, Eucalyptus essential oil is one of the oldest native medicines used in Australia and is known for its beneficial use as an inhalant and decongestant, it almost always needs to be diluted in liquid or a carrier oil.  It also should not be used while pregnant and CAN cause skin irritation. 

Essential oils are wonderful and can be very beneficial when used properly.  Use them the wrong way and you might end up with skin irritations or worse!  I hope you will read the following guidelines about the hazards and warnings regarding essential oils.  I found most of this information from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2 edition by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young was published in November 2013 and is a must have for those interested in essential oils and aromatherapy.  

photo from Amazon.com

 Here is the book description from Amazon.com

The second edition of this book is virtually a new book. It is the only comprehensive text on the safety of essential oils, the first review of essential oil/drug interactions, and it provides detailed essential oil constituent data not found in any other text. Much of the existing text has been re-written, and 80% of the text is completely new. There are 400 comprehensive essential oil profiles and almost 4000 references. There are new chapters on the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, the urinary system, the digestive system and the nervous system.

For each essential oil there is a full breakdown of constituents, and a clear categorization of hazards and risks, with recommended maximum doses and concentrations. There are also 206 Constituent Profiles.

There is considerable discussion of carcinogens, the human relevance of some of the animal data, the validity of treating an essential oil as if it was a single chemical, and the arbitrary nature of uncertainty factors. There is a critique of current regulations.

The only comprehensive text on the safety of essential oils.


General Guidelines (from Mountain Rose Herbs)
  1. Read and follow all label cautions and warnings
  2. Keep out of reach of children and pets
  3. Do not use on babies, children or pets
  4. Keep away from flame, heat and ignition sources (essential oils are flammable)
  5. Do not apply undiluted (neat) essential oils directly onto skin; dilute with a carrier oil first
  6. Always conduct a patch test of diluted essential oil on the inner arm before using; do not use if redness or irritation occurs
  7. Do not ingest essential oils
  8. Keep essential oils out of eyes, ears, nose, mouth and any body opening
  9. Never assume an essential oil possesses the same properties as its plant
  10. If you have sensitive skin, epilepsy, heart or kidney problems, or any serious medical condition, do not use essential oils unless advised by a physician or medical professional that it is safe

Specific Precautions

  1. Do not use at all, or under the supervision of a qualified expert: (These are the most hazardous of essential oils, possessing very high oral and dermal toxicity): Bitter Almond, buchu, camphor, sassafras, calamus, horseradish, mugwort, mustard, pennyroyal, rue, savin, savory, southernwood, tansy, thuja, wintergreen, wormseed and wormwood. 
  2. Do not use during pregnancy: aniseed, balsam peru, Bay (laurel), basil, benzoin, bergamot, bitter almond, basil, birch, cajeput, camphor, cedarwood, celery seed, chamomile (blue), cinnamon (bark and leaf), cistus, clary-sage, clove, cornmint, cypress, dill seed, douglas fir, eucalyptus, eucalyptus lemon, fennel, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender (spike), lemon, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, lime, lovage, marjoram, myrrh, myrtle, nutmeg, oakmoss, oregano, parsley seed, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine (scotch), rose, rosemary, sage, savory, spikenard, st. johns wort, sweet marjoram, tangerine, thuja, thyme, valerian, wintergreen, and yarrow
  3. Do not use on skin (ever): Ajowan, cinnamon bark, cassia, clove leaf-stem-bud, costus, elecampane, bitter fennel, oregano and pine
  4. Do not use if you have high blood pressure: Hyssop, rosemary, sage or thyme
  5. Do not use if you have epilepsy: Sweet fennel, hyssop, sage, rosemary and wormwood
  6. Skin irritants: Angelica root, bergamot mint, birch, bitter almond, cinnamon leaf, cinnamon bark, clove bud, costus, grapefruit, hyssop, lavender (spike), lemon, lemon verbena, lime, marjoram, orange peppermint, oregano, parsley seed, peppermint, pimento berry, pine, savory, spearmint, tagetes, tangerine, red and wile thyme and wintergreen
  7. Will make skin more sensitive to sunlight: most concentrated citrus oils, angelica, bergamot, and lemon verbena.
  8. Not to be exposed by mucous membranes or ingested: all absolutes, allspice, ajowan, amyris, benzoin, calendula, cinnamon (bark and leaf), Douglas Fir, Jasmine, Lemon Myrtle, manuka, myrrh, oregano, parsley seed, pennyroyal, pine (scotch), savory, st. johns wort, tarragon, tea tree, thuja, and thyme.
In Case of an Accident

  1. If essential oil gets into eyes: Immediately flush with cold milk or vegetable oil to dilute; if stinging persists, seek medical attention
  2. If essential oil gets on hands: Use cream or vegetable oil to dilute; wash with soap and warm water; repeat if necessary
  3. If ingested: Call National Capital Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222
  4. If ingested by a pet: Follow directions on label or call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435; be prepared to pay $50 with a credit card
Did you know that some essential oils are so potent that their spills must be handled as if they are hazardous? That's right. Take tea tree oil, for example. If it spills, it cannot be allowed to enter a sewer or waterway. It should be absorbed with inert material and sealed in a container. Then the container must be disposed of as if it were a hazardous waste in accordance with local, state or federal laws.


Such information is included on the Material Safety Data Sheet for every essential oil. These sheets are particularly helpful for essential oil suppliers such as Mountain Rose Herbs to store and handle essential oils, as required by the Chemicals Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply Regulations. The MSDS includes important information such as flammability and chemical composition. Mountain Rose Herbs can supply an MSDS for any essential oil they stock upon request.

Here are some helpful MSDS sites where you can conduct a search based on the essential oil's name:
  1. http://www.setonresourcecenter.com/MSDSs/comply1.htm No login is necessary on this site; it contains approximately 275,000 records
  2. http://www.msdssolutions.com/ This site is quite comprehensive with 1.5 million records; requires login