Guidelines & Safety
Essential Oil Safety: A Guide fo…
by Robert Tisserand
Once you purchase your essential oils, knowing how to store them will help you get the most out of your oil. First, any oil you purchase must be stored in a cool place. Make sure the bottle has a tight lid, otherwise the oils may evaporate. Also, keep thebottles as full as possible, since air inside the bottle will also harm the oil. Oils should be stored in an amber, cobalt blue or any other dark glass bottle. The darkglass cuts out any sunlight, and sunlight speeds up deterioration. Glass also works better than plastic because, over time, the oil can actually break down the plastic.
If you dilute the oil with a carrier oil, you can then store it in plastic. Like plastic, rubber can also be broken down by essential oils. Therefore, watch for rubber droppers attached to bottle caps. Most oils will be sold in bottles with a clear insert, called an orifice reducer, inside the opening. This acts as a dropper, but it isn’t exposed to the oil when thebottle is closed. Protect oils as much as possible from air and sunlight. It is also very important to keep essential oils away from an open flame and other heat sources since oil is flammable. When it is particularly warm outside, it may be a good idea to store the oils in a refrigerator.
• Watch for shelf life – some oils keep better than others
• Store in a cool place in a dark glass bottle with a tight lid
• Check for rubber or plastic parts and use an orifice reducer
• Keep oils away from heat sources, pets and children
• Storage boxes are ideal
• Don’t allow skin in direct contact with essential oils
Are Essential Oils Safe?
There are many uses for essential oils. From cosmetic to medicinal uses, there is always a reason to have essential oils in a home. Essential oils do deteriorate over time and some become useless. Citrus oils, especially grapefruit, oxidize quickest and begin to loose their aroma and beneficial properties. On the flip side, sandalwood and patchouli improve over time.
- Dosage. Dose is the most important factor in essential oil safety. Some essential oils used in the wrong doses or too high a concentration have been found (in animal and laboratory studies) to contribute to tumor development and other harmful changes in the body. Some essential oils can even be damaging to the skin, liver and other organs if used improperly.
- Purity. Sometimes essential oils are altered by adding synthetic chemicals or other, similar smelling, essential oils or they are sometimes diluted with vegetable oil. Look for language indicating purity on the label. It is not necessarily bad if the label indicates, for example, that the bottle contains 20% essential oil and 80% vegetable oil. This is sometimes done so that popular but expensive oils like rose or neroli (that can cost over $100 per teaspoon when pure) can be made more affordable. If you think you are starting with 100% essential oil and you are not, however, you may be disappointed with the results. On the other hand, if you are starting with professional quality essential oils, which are generally much more concentrated, you need to dilute them to be safe.
- Application Method. An essential oil that is safe when applied in one way may not be safe when used in another way. Some oils are considered safe if inhaled, and yet may be irritating if applied to the skin in concentrations as low as 3-5%. Thyme, oregano, and cinnamon bark essential oils are examples of this. Several of the citrus oils can cause phototoxicity (severe burns or skin cancer) if there is sun exposure following skin applications, whereas this would not result from inhalation
- Possible Drug Interactions. There is little published research on interactions between pharmaceutical drugs and essential oils. Given the complex chemistry of essential oils, however, it makes sense that this is possible or even likely. As with dietary supplements and herbs, it is important to discuss regular essential oil use with your healthcare provider and together assess any potential risks and benefits. In one of the few published studies on this question, Eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus globulus) was shown to greatly enhance the skin absorption of 5-fluorouracil, an anti-cancer drug (Williams & Barry, 1989).
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential oil safety: A guide for health professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Williams, A. & Barry, B. (1989). Essential oils as novel human skin penetration enhancers. International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 57: R7-R9.
Always keep a bottle of vegetable mixing oil, massage oil base or any pure vegetable oil handy when using essential oils. Vegetable oils dilute essential oils if they cause discomfort or skin irritation.
1. Keep bottles of essential oils tightly closed and store them in a cool location away from light. If stored properly, essential oils will maintain their potency for many years.
2. Keep essential oils out of the reach of children. Treat them as you would any other therapeutic product.
3. Do not use essential oils rich in menthol (such as peppermint) on the throat or neck area of children under 30 months of age.
4. Direct sunlight and essential oils. Lemon, bergamot, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, white angelica and other citrus oils may cause a rash or darker pigmentation if applied to the skin and exposed to direct sunlight or ultraviolet rays with 3 to 4 days of use.
5. Keep essential oils away from eye area and do not put into the ear. Do not handle contact lenses or rub the eyes with essential oils on your fingers. Oils with high phenol content – oregano, helichrysum, cinnamon, thyme, clove. Lemongrass, bergamot, thieves and immu powder – may damage contacts and irritate the eye.
6. Those who are pregnant should consult their health care professional before using essential oils containing constituents with hormone-like activity, such as clary sage, sage, Idaho tansy, juniper and fennel.
7. People who suffer from epilepsy and those with high blood pressure should consult their health care professional before using essential oils. Avoid camphor, fennel, hyssop, rosemary, lavandin, sage, spike lavender, and thuja.
8. Those with allergies should test a small amount of any oil on a small area of sensitive skin, such as the inside of the arm, before applying to other areas of the body. The bottoms of your feet is one of the safest, most effective places to use essential oils.
9. Do not add undiluted essential oils directly to bath water. Use a bath gel base as a dispersing agent for oils in your bath.