It’s been long on my mind to write an article about how to use essential oils safely. There is a lot of marketing and information about essential oils going around the internet today – but people are still left wondering whether or not certain uses of essential oils in certain ways are safe.
The two biggest concerns I’ve heard and want to address in depth, are:
- Can I “eat”/ingest essential oils?
- Which brands of essential oils are safe to ingest?
- Can I use essential oils directly on my skin?
And then, of course, there are a few side notes to each topic, such as skin sensitivity and other valuable information – but in essence, this article will address the top 3 questions.
What is in an essential oil?
Essential oils are extremely concentrated natural essences and can quite often be a lot more powerful than expected. Even though a drop of oil might not look like much, it can be extremely potent in its effect. Please be aware of this fact always so that we can prevent misuse of precious oils – all the while ensuring you get to enjoy the maximum possible benefit from them.
1. Can I safely ingest essential oils?
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration office (FDA) is the agency that protects and promotes public health through the control and supervision of food safety – including dietary supplements, drugs and cosmetics. However, since essential oils at large are neither a drug, cosmetic, or dietary supplement, there is really no one category for the FDA to approve or stamp the use of essential oils in general.
As far as I could find out, the categorization of whether an essential oil is deemed a “drug”, “cosmetic” or “dietary supplement” depends on how its use is being advertised. In 2014, Young Living Essential Oils actually received an official warning letter from the FDA, basically slapping their fingers for making strong health benefit claims that would usually have to fall under the “drugs” regulatory act, but the essential oils didn’t go through that approval process and were therefore in violation of the rules. Of course, Young Living has since made all of the necessary changes to remain in compliance.
Further to note, there is also the clause of essential oils being safe “for their intended use”. If you read up on what is actually implied by “intended use” on the FDA website¹, it is also again an area that leaves a lot of room for interpretation or marketing from essential oil brands, websites, and social media channels.
That being said, some brands definitely do advertise that their products are safe for internal use, and I will include them here for easy reference. Just know that if you do ingest these oils, you are placing your trust in that company, their integrity and marketing ethics – and not in an officially approved safety stamp.
2. Which brands of essential oils are safe to ingest?
The following brands of essential oils have self-proclaimed their essential oils to be “safe to ingest”. To repeat a summary of the information above, such claims are not approved by the FDA and in my opinion – should be taken with a grain of salt. Use at your own risk. Good marketing should not replace personal judgment nor medical treatment when indicated. Essential oils are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always talk to your health care provider or naturopathic physician about the use of essential oils.
Young Living Vitality™ Oils
Young Living has always been at the forefront of pushing the use of essential oils internally. All of their oils comply with a Seed to Seal® promise, basically stating that all aspects of the oils production are controlled and monitored under their quality standards. However, Young Living recently created the Young Living “Vitality™” label to help further and very clearly distinguish aromatherapy oils from oils intended for dietary or culinary use. Look for the label “Vitality™” on any Young Living bottle, and this means they suggest safe internal use for that particular oil.
Miracle Essential Oils
Miracle Essential Oils is another brand that very openly promotes internal use of their essential oils. If you click”How to Use” on their website, you will see a paragraph on how their oils are recommended for dietary use.
I’ve also found this support desk ticket with an answer from a Miracle Essential Oils staff member, directly stating their oils are safe for internal use.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any way that this information is clearly stated on each individual essential oil bottle. The website and online store does have a nice icon for dietary use, but what you basically have to do, is shop in the MEO online store, and look for that “Dietary Use” icon, and read the description to help you see that any particular oil of choice is good for adding to your food.
Then, you can always take your search back to Amazon.com and shop for the best price on favorite oils (such as Orange essential oil).
Most other essential oil brands that I know of advertise the more conservative and safe way of using essential oils by saying to NOT ingest them. Some customer service answers I’ve received in the past do state that their brand officially doesn’t recommend internal use, but that their consumers do so anyways at their own risk and while working with their healthcare team. If you like a particular brand of essential oils, and consider taking them internally, I would recommend you search the FAQ or customer service database of your exact brand of choice really well to find some good answers on this question. You can’t go off of general information here as no such thing exists and no one-size-fits-all general approval to use oils internally exists in this industry.
If you choose to ingest essential oils, it is recommended that you only do so under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider.
3. Can I use essential oils directly on my skin?
Most essential oils should not be applied to your skin directly without being diluted. This is because essential oils are highly concentrated and can actually burn your skin instead of helping it heal. As a rule of thumb, you want a 3-5% dilution of essential oil into your carrier oil of choice to be on the safe side and to ensure your skin can tolerate the essential oils used. Carrier oils are actually a fantastic way to add additional health benefits to your skin care routine. Most of the oils have wonderful qualities that can help moisturize, tone, or rejuvenate your skin all on their own. Pair them with essential oils and you really do have a wonderfully natural power house of a home remedy!
Further considerations to essential oils safety
In addition to the main questions on eating essential oils or using them on your skin directly, here are a few more notes of what can help you use essential oils safely:
- Dosage: Harmful effects might arise when certain essential oils get used in the wrong doses or too high of a concentration. Remember, oils are highly concentrated and potent, so there is no need to use a lot of them. While one drop of a certain essential oil might not cause you problems or harms, an excessive dosage might. Always choose a conservatively low dosage to air on the safe side. This usually means just a few drops in your diffuser, and a few drops mixed into a massage oil only for example.
- Purity: Look for essential oil labeling that has language indicating 100% oil purity. You do not want any oils that have been altered by adding synthetic chemicals or other, similar smelling additives. Then, always dilute your essential oils with a carrier oil to be safe before applying them to your skin. In a diffuser, the diluting happens with the water, so do not add carrier oils to your diffuser!
- Application method: Some essential oils may be safe when applied in one way, but not when used in a different way. For example, Thyme, oregano, clove and cinnamon bark oils are considered safe if used via inhalation, and yet may be irritating if applied to the skin, even mixed with carrier oils and in concentrations as low as 3-5%. As another example, several of the citrus oils (lemon, lime, bergamot, or orange) can cause severe burns or skin cancer (phototoxicity) if there is exposure to natural sunlight or sun-bed radiation following an application of the oil to your skin – but this would not result from inhaling the same oils.
- Possible drug interactions: There is very little research published on how essential oils react with pharmaceutical drugs. Given how chemically complex essential oils really are, a cross-reaction or sensitivity between classic pharmaceuticals and essential oils is quite possible if not likely. It is important to discuss essential oil use with your health care provider to ensure your health care team is fully in the loop of everything that goes on with your body at all times. Only this way can you properly assess any potential risks and benefits fully.
In summary – personally – I never ever recommend ingesting essential oils – because none of it is approved by the FDA. Surely there are ways that certain companies get away with marketing internal use, and it might very well work for some people, but while I love essential oils and their use in my daily life – I don’t ingest them or say that you can, should, or would be ok to do so.
What about Lemon Essential Oil in my water?
Think about this: if you want the benefit of lemon essential oil in your drinking water – why don’t you just buy a real lemon from the produce isle and squirt a bit of it into your water? You can even buy organic lemons, and be sure that the product you’re using is actually its full, intended, product from nature. I’m not saying essential oils aren’t — but since this article is on essential oil safety, I just want to point out that the most commonly desired dietary additives (lemon, peppermint, orange, etc.) are also quite readily available to us in their fruit/natural form. I do see how convenient it would be to just use a few drops of lemon oil out of a bottle – but maybe call me a naturalist – I still prefer the “real” food when it comes to consuming it in my diet.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
Are essential oils safe? An article by the University of Minnesota