How to Use Essential Oils Safely
Compared to powerful prescription medication, essential oils have remarkably little potential for serious harm. But like any other substance used on or in the human body, certain basic safety practices must be followed to ensure safe use.
As a consumer of essential oils, there are four areas concerning safety with which you should be familiar. Of course, your professional aromatherapist can advise you, but basic education around this issue is a must. The four areas of concern are skin safety, eye safety, use in pregnancy and general safety precautions.
Safe Use of Essential Oils and the Skin – Skin Irritation
As a professional aromatherapist, I am greatly concerned with the misinformation out there that, among other things, advises the placement of essential oils directly on the skin. Essential oils have the potential to affect the skin in three ways: skin irritation, skin sensitization and phototoxicity. Skin irritation is relatively easy to understand. This can occur when an essential oil that is a known skin irritant, such as oregano oil, clove bud oil or citronella, is applied directly to the skin.
Patch Test Before Use on Skin
The skin in affected individuals will almost immediately become blotchy and red and can become painful as well. Also, sensitive individuals can have an irritant reaction to an essential oil even if it is not classified as a skin irritant, especially when the oil is applied to an area of skin that is already irritated or is used undiluted with a carrier oil. If you have sensitive skin, your aromatherapist may advise a patch test before use.
The second way in which essential oils have the potential to negatively affect skin is known as skin sensitization. This differs from an irritant reaction in that it is an allergic reaction. On the first exposure to the offending oil, the reaction may be slight and almost unnoticeable but with subsequent exposures the reaction becomes worse and worse.
Once skin sensitization occurs, the individual will likely be sensitive to the oil (and even ones in the same family) for many years or even for life. Although skin sensitization can occur with repeated contact with any essential oil, there are several which should be completely avoided in terms of application to the skin in any form, including cinnamon bark oil, cassia, verbena absolute, inula and others.
Photosensitivity or Phototoxicity
The third problem that can occur with essential oils and the skin is known as photosensitization, also known as photosensitivity or phototoxicity. There are certain essential oils, such as bergamot, expressed lemon, expressed lime, cumin, expressed bitter orange and other citrus oils which are classified as photosensitizers.
When used on the skin and then the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, either from the sun or from a tanning booth can cause burning, skin pigmentation changes and in some cases severe burns. If you use a photosensitizing oil, do not allow the treated skin to be exposed to ultraviolet light for a minimum of twenty-four hours after use. Also, certain prescription medications, such as tetracycline, are known to be photosensitizers. If an individual is taking one of these medications and also uses a photosensitizing essential oil, the negative effects could be multiplied.
In this article, I’ve given you quite a bit of information on how to avoid skin irritation, skin sensitization and photosensitization. We will cover eye safety, use in pregnancy and general safety in upcoming articles.