Essential oils can be a wonderful addition to your health and wellbeing program. They are derived from natural substances such as trees, fruits, roots and flowers. However, just because they are derived from nature, it doesn’t mean that they are always safe to use. Natural doesn’t equate to safe. Water is safe, but in excess amounts, it can be dangerous. Arsenic is natural. Poison Ivy is natural. 

There are some general safety guidelines that we need to adhere to, for the safety of our family, friends, animals and ourselves.    

Method of Application 

Essential oils may be applied to the skin, diffused, inhaled or taken internally. Each of these methods have safety issues that need to be considered. Inhalation is generally considered the safest, and ingestion the riskiest. All methods are valid, however, each method needs to take into account the individual, the need, the quality of the oils, and the method of application. 

 Sometimes the simplest way to use oils is often the best. A drop or two on a tissue for inhaling can be great for nasal congestion. This approach can also be great for when feelings of anxiousness arise. 

We will delve into different application methods and approaches in another article. 

Dilution 

The neat application of essential oils to the skin is best avoided as it can cause a number of potential concerns. Applying essential oils ‘neat’ means that you are placing the oils directly onto the skin without dilution or using them full strength. This practice was acceptable in the past; however, it is now known that this can cause irritations, sensitisations, and other skin issues. 

In acute situations, it might be the best option to use a known ‘safe’ oil neat, however, this practice is becoming ill-advised. A drop of Lavender oil on a bee sting would be ok, however, if you were being exposed to bee stings continually, then this option would not be safe. You would need to come up with a safer and more effective option. 

How do we dilute? We dilute our essential oils with fixed oils, or what we call in aromatherapy terms carrier oils. Carrier oils would be oils like Sweet Almond oil, Apricot Kernal, Avocado Oil and Jojoba to name but a few.  

In aromatherapy, a 2.5% dilution is a good and safe level for many applications. To work out how many drops of essential oils you need to add to your preferred carrier, first you need to know your amount of carrier.  Say you have 10mls of a carrier, half that numberwhich in this case is 5, then and add that number of essential oils in drops for a 2.5% dilution.  10mls equals a total of 5 drops for a 2.5% dilution. 20mls would be 10 drops in total. 5mls would be 2.5drops which you can’t do so go with the 2 drops. Please note that is equation is based on the assumption that 20 drops equal 1ml. 

You will find other charts available on how to dilute, but first, check the basic assumption of how many drops per ml. We have referenced the Tisserand chart for you, note that this chart assumes 30 drops per ml.   

In general, you will find most aromatherapy essential oil blends will be diluted at a 1% to 5% dilution. At these rates, they generally won’t pose a safety risk. When we increase the dilution, that is more essential oils less carrier oil, the risk is increased. The following advice is based on Tisserand’s safety guidelines. 

  • For facial applications, a 0.2 to 1.5% dilution is considered safe. 
  • For massages, a 1.5 to 3% dilution is the safest approach. 
  • For bath and body products, a 1 to 4% dilution is considered safe. 
  • For specific concerns, you can increase dilution to 4 to 10% 
  • For pain and wound management, you can increase dilution to between 5 and 20%. 
  • Please note that these recommendations do not take into account dermal limits for specific oils. Some essential oils are known skin irritant, and therefore require lower dilutions.   
  • For babies, children and the elderly, a low dilution is the best and safest approach. It is generally recommended to use a 0.5 to 2.5% dilution.   

Storage and Shelf Life 

Keep your oils in a safe place – ensure that all bottles are tightly closed, stored in a cool area, and away from direct sunlight. Light and oxygen are not your oils best friends. In fact, they can degrade your oils more quickly. If your oils degrade, also known as oxidisation, it can make them irritating and less effective.  

Essential oils do have a shelf life. Citrus oils, such as Lemon, Lime and Orange are more susceptible to degradation than root oils such as Vetiver and Patchouli.  

Phototoxicity 

Some essential oils are phototoxic meaning that they can cause irritation, inflammation, and redness when exposed to sunlight. In general, Citrus oils are the most likely to cause a phototoxic reaction due to their chemical makeup, however, not all oils are photosensitive or phototoxic. The most common oils that are photosensitive are: 

  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) 
  • Cold pressed lemon (Citrus limon) 
  • Cold pressed grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)  
  • Cold pressed lime (Citrus aurantifolia) 

There are, however, non-photosensitive versions available, and it is, therefore, prudent to look for and use these, from a safety perspective.  

General safety Notes 

  • Do not place essential oils directly in the eyes, ears, nose and genitals.  
  • Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets. 
  • Avoid prolonged use of the same essential oil or essential oil blend.  
  • If you have chemical sensitivities, known allergies or are generally sensitiveit would be wise to perform a skin patch test 
  • Essential oils are highly flammable substances and should be kept away from direct contact with flames, such as candles. 

If you have any doubts, questions or concerns, please consult with your primary healthcare practitioner or a qualified professional aromatherapist. To find a professional aromatherapist in your area, check www.iaama.org.au or www.australiannaturaltherapistsassociation.com.au  

References and further reading 

Safety 

https://tisserandinstitute.org/safety/safety-guidelines/ 

Dilution 

https://tisserandinstitute.org/essential-oil-dilution-chart/ 

https://tisserandinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/EO-dilution-chart.pdf