By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America
I love working with essential oils and have for several decades. It’s been lovely to witness their surge in popularity over the past 15 years. Essential oils are wonderful for diffusing and creating a relaxing aura of comfort. Certain oils like lavender, frankincense, and rose are skin care standards which, when used correctly, are lovely additions to any wellness program
While essential oils are great, consumers must know proper safety.
Without safety measures, bad things happen. For example, I’ve been to a yoga class where a well-meaning yogi dabbed oils directly onto my skin during shavasana to promote relaxation. In theory this would be lovely, but it could cause an allergic reaction for some people. The yogi should be aware of the participants’ sensitivities.
In another case, I saw a young woman suffer skin damage from improper use of essential oils. She innocently mixed lavender and tea tree oils into bentonite clay for a face mask. Without additional emollients or carrier oils she blistered her skin. (The correct formulation — after a patch test — would be one cup of bentonite clay, several tablespoons of almond or avocado oil, ¼ cup of raw honey, and several drops of each oil.)
Even with carrier oil dilution, you can be allergic to an essential oil. And so a patch test, dabbing a drop on your inner elbow and waiting a few minutes for a reaction, is important.
Some top cautions include:
- Ingestion — Adding essential oils like grapefruit, lemon or oregano into water or capsules for ingestion is dangerous. Straight ingestion of oils can burn your esophagus and damage your stomach lining.
- Sunlight exposure — Many of these oils are photosensitive, meaning that you should never apply them and go into the direct sunlight.
- Pharmaceutical interaction — You may experience contraindications between oils and medicine. For example, if you are taking a blood thinner or have blood clotting issues, cross frankincense off your list.
- Pregnancy — Clary sage should never be used if you are pregnant as it can induce contractions.
Users must realize that essential oils are strong. They are the highly distilled essence of the plant. With high-quality essential oils, it’s more is never better. With essential oils less is more. The best rule of thumb is that unless you have your doctor’s permission, just don’t ingest essential oils.