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Are Essential Oils Safe? A Beginner’s Guide to getting started with Essential Oil Safety

#essentialoilbasics #essentialoils #essentialoilsforbeginners #essentialoiltips Jun 30, 2023

The use of essential oils has been around for centuries. Although they are not a new FAD, essential oils have grown in popularity over the past couple of decades. That has brought some concerns and the question; Are essential oils safe? This article will guide you through some of the common essential oil safety concerns that come up for beginners. We will also discuss how to use them properly.

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. As an Amazon Associate, this post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read full privacy policy here.

What is an Essential Oil?

First, let’s take a quick moment to talk about what essential oil is. This substance is found in the cells or glands of certain plants. This substance, or essence, is what gives the plant its aroma. Plants are living things, and they need survival mechanisms. This aroma gives off a warning signal to another plant when a predator is near, such as a certain insect. Or, perhaps, attract certain insects, such as the honeybee, for pollination. Either way, the world of plants is an amazing integrated system. This system has this wonderful gift of essential oils to share.

With that being said, in their purest form, they are highly concentrated substances. However, when used properly, they can give us amazing therapeutic benefits, right from nature. The “essence” in the plant is naturally occurring, but it becomes approximately 200 times more concentrated than in the plant itself when distilled to create an essential oil. Let’s look at some of the things we need to consider when starting to use essential oils so that we may enjoy and benefit from them safely. We will also discuss in more depth are essential oils safe.


Huh? What is the adulteration of essential oils? This is when distributors add another substance or switch the contents all together, to the essential oil. For example, they might do this by adding a carrier, such as olive oil. This allows them to sell it cheaper, making you think that you’re getting a good deal. Another way adulteration is practiced by using another essential oil that is cheaper than the one advertised. For instance, Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) may be on the label; however, Lavandin is a much cheaper alternative, and they may “cut” the lavender with it and sell it for less.

Lastly, adding synthetic components to the essential oil is another form of adulteration. Essential oils have several different organic, chemical constituents in them. This is what gives them their therapeutic benefits. Manufacturers can mimic these constituents with synthetic, inexpensive chemical alternatives. This allows them to sell the essential oil for less. Problem? It will not provide you with the true therapy you are looking for, and more importantly, it can be unsafe and be hazardous to your health.

Are Essential Oils Safe? – What To Look For

So what should you look for? First, good-quality essential oils will have the botanical species of the oil written on the bottle. For example, you’re looking at a bottle of Peppermint essential oil. Next, there should be the name (Mentha x Piperita) on the bottle. The botanical name is usually in italics and many times in parenthesis. Next, you want to stay far away from the term “fragrance oil.” This is not an essential oil at all and usually, completely synthetic material that is not safe, especially when inhaling regularly. You do not know what kind of synthetics are being used. Be mindful of what you are purchasing. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. You’re not going to find pure essential oil at the local dollar store. To find out more about the basics, read our post here.

The Skin

Are essential oils safe for the skin? Essential oils being used on the skin, or transdermal, is another very common way to reap their benefits. Sometimes irritation and allergic reaction can occur. Here are some tips on using essential oils safely on the skin:

Oxidation– the process of oxygen being introduced to a substance and chemically changing it. Three main factors cause oxidation. These are oxygen, heat, and light. This will change the chemical composition, decrease the therapeutic benefit of the essential oil, and cause some safety issues, particularly with skin allergies and irritation. Skin reactions from essential oils are caused by oils that have oxidized. Some may think they are allergic, but it may just be that the oil was changed chemically from this process.

A few ways to prevent oxidation:

  • Transfer to smaller bottle- When purchasing a larger volume of oil, when it gets under half full, transfer to a smaller bottle. The more dead air space you have in the bottle, the more quickly your essential oil will oxidize.
  • Keep in a cool, dark area- The refrigerator is best. The warmer the temperature, the quicker the reaction will happen.
  • Keep in amber glass bottles to inhibit U/ V light from entering. This is very important, especially when you are creating your own blends.

All essential oils have different shelf lives. Citrus oils typically have a shorter shelf life than other oils. Even these are good for 1 year, from opening the bottle, with proper storage. A good rule of thumb is to date the oil when you open it. That way, you can keep track of the time it is spent on the shelf.


Some essential oils, when applied to the skin, are phototoxic. What is phototoxic? It is a chemically induced skin irritation, that occurs when substances are exposed to the sun’s UV rays and resemble that of an exaggerated, severe sunburn.

Citrus oils are the most common essential oils found to be phototoxic. Not all citrus oils, however, are phototoxic. This reaction is due to the chemical components that are found in the oil and should only be applied to the skin in small amounts. The list below shows essential oils that have phototoxic risks with a maximum percentage that is safe when diluted in a carrier. You may notice that oils like bergamot, are phototoxic at a very small amount. For this reason, I recommend not using oils that have this risk under 1% on the skin. If you are using them over their recommended percentage, you should avoid sunlight and tanning beds 18 hours after application, as it will increase your risk for severe burns. (1) (Tisserand and Young p.659)

  • Angelica Root (0.8%)
  •  Bergamot (over 0.4%)
  •  Bitter Orange (1.25%) (Sweet Orange is not phototoxic)
  •  Cold Pressed Lime (over 0.7%) (Distilled Lime is not phototoxic)
  •  Cumin (0.4%)
  •  Grapefruit (4%)
  • Lemon (over 2% dilution)
  •  Mandarin Leaf (0.17%) (Mandarin green is not phototoxic)
  • Laurel Leaf Absolute (2%)
  •  Rue (0.15%)


Properly diluting essential oils is a big safety issue and probably one reason people have skin irritation. It is recommended that you use a carrier oil to dilute if applying essential oils to your skin. Essential oils are highly concentrated and powerful, as we discussed. How much carrier oil do you use? There are a few factors to take into consideration. If the blend is for everyday use, for example, preventing your allergy symptoms or boosting your energy level, I recommend starting at a 3% dilution. From there, if you experience no negative effects and you think you may need more for the therapeutic effect desired, you may want to increase that to 5-6%. In some cases, with long-time therapies for some ailments or short-term for an acute injury or chest congestion, an 8-10% dilution might be used.

To be sure there are no adverse effects,  I don’t recommend starting with that dilution. An example of a 10% dilution would be if you have a 30ml (1 oz) bottle, you would fill 27ml carrier to 3 ml essential oil. Each ml is approximately 20 drops. This an approximation because not all droppers are exactly the same, and some oils are more viscous than others.

What is a Carrier?

A carrier is an oil, butter, or wax that is not an essential oil. Although most are derived from plant material, they are obtained from different parts of the plant. These parts of the plant can include the flesh of the fruit (avocado oil) or the seeds of the plant (hemp seed oil), for example. It is important to use a carrier when applying essential oils to the skin. They provide a medium that is less concentrated and usually possesses its own therapeutic properties. Applying an essential oil “neat”, or directly on the skin, may cause skin irritation. Carrier oils, like essential oils, need to be used in their purest most natural forms, for you to reap their maximum therapeutic benefits. To read about 10 popular carriers and their benefits, check out my post here.


Adding essential oils to a diffuser is probably the most popular way that people use aromatherapy. Studies have shown that you only need 15-20 minutes at a time to gain therapeutic benefits. After 20 minutes, the body becomes habituated and the “curve” goes down. Break for an hour or two before diffusing again, for maximum results. Always diffuse in a well-ventilated area and be mindful of others around you.  If you have pets, you should not be diffusing in a room that is small and with no way for the pet to leave the area. More on pets below.


You may think that diffusing and inhaling are the same, and essentially, they have the same overall effect; only with inhaling, the result happens more quickly. Furthermore, there is the added advantage of not worrying about anyone around you being affected, as it is a personal use item and can easily be taken with you on the go. The absorption rate of using an inhaler is rapid. This is because the molecules are absorbed through the mucous membrane of the nose, which is a much thinner barrier than the skin. This method allows quick travel to the bloodstream, allowing the therapeutic effects to kick in quickly.

Some of the molecules pass to the brain, affecting our nervous system, so if your desired effect is to help with sleep or anxiety, this may be the most effective mode. Likewise, if respiratory effects are needed, the lungs will absorb rapidly, and respiratory support is gained. Safety considerations with inhalers are the possible risk of mucous membrane irritation, as well as individual sensitivities. It is always best to start with just a few drops of oil in the inhaler and increase as needed. Children under 5 are much more sensitive to respiratory reactions. Use inhalers cautiously. For more on using nasal inhalers, check out our post here.

Are Essential Oils Safe For Children

Most adverse reactions that have happened with essential oils have been with children. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances. They are dangerous if a child gets hold of a bottle and ingests its contents. Always keep your essential oils in a locked area or out of reach. It is recommended not to expose children under 5 to strong essential oil vapors or put essential oils on young children’s faces (under 5 years of age). In applying to the skin with carriers, such as lotions or sprays, proper dilution should be practiced. With young children under 5, I recommend a 1% dilution with kid-safe oils.

A great alternative for young children is using hydrosols. What are hydrosols? When the essential oil is steam distilled,  the water from the steam separates from the oil. The water that is created from the steam is used as a hydrosol. They are 2000 times less concentrated than an essential oil, making them a safer option for young children.


If you are pregnant, you should use caution with aromatherapy. The recommended dilution when using essential oils, safely, for pregnant women is 1%. Some of the constituents found in certain oils have estrogenic activity, as well as other hormone stimulating or inhibition activity. Avoid these completely. The reproductive system is an extremely regulated system. When fertilization takes place, the hormonal changes that need to occur are essential for the proper development of the fetus. Some essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy, either because of the constituents present or because of the lack of research available for use during pregnancy, are Anise, Birch, Carrot Seed, Cassia, Chaste Tree, Cinnamon Bark, Cypress (blue), Dill Seed (Indian), Fennel (bitter and sweet), Ho Leaf, Hyssop, Myrrh, Myrtle, Oregano, Parsley Leaf, Parsley Seed, Sage, Western Red Cedar, Wintergreen. (1) pg 152-153.

Are Essential Oils Safe For Pets

There are some things to consider with essential oils when you are a pet owner. If you are diffusing essential oils, you need to consider the room you are diffusing. Is it well ventilated well? Can the pet easily leave the room? I also recommend only diffusing oils for 15-20 minutes at a time. This is really all that you need to reap the rewards of essential oils. There is a lot of information on the internet that talks about treating animal ailments with essential oils. Please be sure you are taking this information from a reliable source. Misleading practices are spreading. These could potentially put your pet at risk. However, if you are treating your pets with essential oils, there are a few things to consider.

Pet Considerations

1)  Be sure you are treating in a safe, quiet environment so that your pet does not feel threatened or frightened in any way. You want to maintain trust.

2) Animals, in general, have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans. For example, a dog has 4-5x more olfactory receptors, so they are much more sensitive to aromas and their effects. A great explanation for this is by Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist. In his book “Inside of a Dog,” he explains: while we might notice 1 teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee, a dog could detect 1 teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water or 2 Olympic-sized pools. This puts things in a great perspective.

3) The animal needs a way to leave an area if essential oils are diffusing. They will likely know when an aroma is hazardous or unpleasant to them. If you are going to use essential oils for pet therapy, when choosing oils, you may want to have a few alternatives on hand for this reason. Remove the cap off of oil and they turn away, this is not the oil to choose. If you take off the cap, get up, and walk away, the animal follows, this may be the oil you want to continue the therapy with. This is a holistic approach to therapy with essential oils and pets, as they will know what they need.

A Book To Read For Further Information

To learn more about animals’ self-medicating, the book, “Animal Self-Medication: How animals heal themselves using essential oils, herbs and minerals”,  by Carolyn Ingraham is a great resource. has a list of essential oils that may be toxic to your pet. I also include this list in my Essential oil 101 Ebook. While I agree that topical (on the skin) application of essential oils on pets can be toxic, and I don’t recommend it unless, under the guidance of an aromatherapist specially prepared to care for pets, it is more about limited exposure.

I hope this article has been helpful to you to understand that essential oils can be an amazing way to promote wellness when used safely. I also hope it answered the question are essential oils safe. Please feel free to comment or ask questions. I am only a click away! Book a call with me today!