Essential oil safety is so important. I mean oils like tea tree and peppermint are amazing and powerful. But they can send you to the emergency room if you don’t use them properly.
That does not mean you should be scared to use oils. Instead, you need to understand the risks associated with putting undiluted essential oils on your skin. Or taking them internally. Or exposing your loved ones to oils.
Aromatherapy is NOT a simple cookie cutter, one oil fits all type of thing. It’s complex. Oils affect different people differently. Some folks may be allergic. Others may get sensitized over time. Old, oxidized oils can also be harmful – it’s happened to me.
Since sales reps and oil companies don’t quite get into explaining all of this, I decided to compile my own list of essential oil safety tips using real stories.
Some are hilarious. And some are downright terrifying, especially the injury reports submitted to Aromatherapy United. If you have your own story, please share it with all of us in the comments section. And submit it to Aromatherapy United too. Let’s all help each other avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made.
When you’re done going through this page, check out my Part 2 post:
21 More Ways You Shouldn’t Use Essential Oils. It’s definitely worth the read.
There’s also a great video that explains the do’s and don’ts when it comes to using essential oils. It explains a lot of what I talk about in this post.
Ok, back to the post, here are ways you shouldn’t use essential oils:
Essential oil safety for sensitive areas
1. You shouldn’t soak tampons in essential oils before sticking it in your vagina.
Um yeah! It has to be said… This is from a terrifying story reported to Aromatherapy United:
A 24-year old woman, dealing with a vaginal yeast infection, was…
advised by a [essential oil company] consultant to soak a tampon in tea tree oil, insert it before bed, [and] wear it overnight.
She didn’t follow the advice exactly. Instead, she added 5 drops of tea tree to a tampon before inserting it. Immediately, she experienced a warming effect but was reassured by the consultant that this was normal, expected and indicative that the treatment “was working.”
After 6 – 7 hours of sleep (yeah! she got sleep!), she woke up to excruciating pain and had to be rushed to the hospital. There, she was treated for chemical burns… yes chemical burns up there!!!
Three months after the incident, her doctor told her that she had vaginal scarring and it was unlikely the area would completely heal.
Now, Prevention.com’s article on 9 Highly Effective Solutions For Yeast Infections says soaking your tampon in tea tree oil can cure yeast infections… BUT… their own expert advised caution. She said:
The vagina is very sensitive, so I would hesitate to put something that might be irritating in an already irritated environment.
So yeah! You should not soak your tampons in essential oils. Five drops gave one woman permanent scarring… Remember that!
And tea tree oil is powerful so be sure to take the necessary precautions when using the oil. You should read this before using tea tree oil.
2. You shouldn’t insert essential oils like peppermint oil into your vagina with a cue-tip.
It doesn’t matter if it’s neat or diluted. You shouldn’t! Nope, never, nuh uh!
Ask reddit user, mimicryinc. She’ll tell you just how much it hurts… especially peppermint oil…
3. In fact, you shouldn’t use any mint oils on your privates.
Seriously don’t…. Don’t even be tempted to try it…. And don’t prank your friends either!
Reddit user, averah, explained why so eloquently:
[I] put about three or four drops of mint oil into about a palm full of lotion, and proceeded to lotion myself… It was going well until I decided to lotion my balls. Started rubbing that mint oil infused lotion on there. I immediately realized my mistake. My balls were on fire. But not the normal type of fire, a[n] icy, evil burning that seared my soft, prepubescent scrotum. It felt like the air was ripping the skin right off my nuts…
So guys, take note! Don’t use mint oils in those sensitive zones. And girls, the same goes for you too!
Essential oil safety for the bath
4. You shouldn’t drop essential oils directly into your bath before getting in.
Essential oils don’t mix well with water so they won’t really be diluted in your bath. Chances are the oils may stay on the surface or may cling to your skin. And this can lead to bad chemical burns and essential oil side effects!
It’s better to dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil (less than 5% concentration would be safe) and then add that blend to the bath. Some aromatherapists also suggest mixing essential oils in milk first before adding to your bath.
5. You also shouldn’t use large amounts of essential oils in your bath.
As I said before, a 5% essential to carrier oil mix in your bath should be okay. Don’t go overboard and chuck the whole bottle in. You’ll only do more harm.
Reddit user trajectorys found this out the hard way. After adding about 50-100 drops of peppermint oil to her bath and sitting in it for a few minutes, she noted:
my back, my butt, and my ladybits are [were] burning cold. Like, sitting in the snow naked kind of cold. It’s really uncomfortable… Peppermint + bath = burning, cold ladybits.
Please, let’s not feel the burn this way.
Essential Oil Safety for your body
6. You shouldn’t use photo-sensitizing essential oils before going sunbathing.
Photo-sensitizing oils like bergamot, grapefruit, and most citrus oils can burn and damage your skin when they’re exposed to sunlight. And sadly, this is what happened to a 33-year old woman, according to this 2000 study.
The woman had an aromatherapy bath with 6 drops each of bergamot and geranium essential oils. After the bath, she spent about 30 minutes on a sunbed. For the next two days, the woman noticed serious skin redness and blistering in areas that were exposed to sunlight.
She was admitted to the burns unit of a U.K. hospital with 70% superficial partial thickness burns. These burns are pretty painful and take about two weeks to heal, provided there are no complications.
The study identified bergapten in bergamot oil (which we know is photo-sensitizing), as the culprit for the woman’s adverse effects.
7. You shouldn’t add essential oils to your neti pot.
Oh my …. Isn’t saline solution uncomfortable enough?
In a report made to Aromatherapy United, one woman added one or two drops of a popular blend to eight ounces of saline solution. She used this mix in her neti pot and was fine for about 10 days, then:
“I noticed that my jaw hurt and my face was swollen. Sense of smell [was] greatly diminished…. Trip to the urgent care revealed that my sinuses were red, swollen and “angry” and the surrounding facial areas were swollen and the inflammation was also causing pain in my jaw. I was diagnosed with a sinus infection….
Treated with shots of 2 different steroids and a 10 day course of antibiotics…. 2 weeks later I was put on a stronger antibiotic and a short course of oral steroids, or oral dose pack…. 3rd trip to dr [doctor] revealed that the swelling was down and no apparent infection but my sinuses remain dry and burn[ed] sometimes and my sense of smell remains changed. Not completely gone, possibly improving. My next appointment will be with an ENT as this is still ongoing…”
8. You shouldn’t get essential oils near your eyes or in your eyes or in the same zip code with your eyes.
Too far? Or not far enough?
I would certainly say not far enough. And I’m sure reddit user: AetherAce would certainly agree. Here’s a tidbit from his post.
My eye felt like it was being stabbed by red hot tongs which I would have preferred to oregano [essential oil] in my eye. Seriously, I would[sic] screaming in pain, ready to die, and for the next hour trying to flush my eyes which did nothing. The pain was indescribable… I’m lucky to not be 1 eye blind.
9. You shouldn’t use mysterious, unattended vials of essential oils, especially if they aren’t yours.
Take it from this reddit user: secretly_an_alpaca. Here’s more from her post:
I get down on the floor and find a mysterious vial on the ground. I pick it up and it’s some essential oil thing, claiming to help cure my stress and tension if I rub their oil through the roller ball all over my temples, forehead and back of the neck. I do a quick read and decide that, not only could it not hurt to try, it also has wintergreen, peppermint and frankincense in it (other than the standard cilantro and lavender and what not) so I figured it would also smell appropriate for a Christmas thing. I rub it on the back of my neck and, after testing it by rubbing it on my hands to make sure the roller still works, I also put it on my temples, forehead and even the bottoms of my feet…
Unfortunately, she also got some in her eyes…
With so much concentrated wintergreen, peppermint and cilantro in my eyes, the burning was almost immediate. To give a fair description, imagine a burrito went on Christmas break, ate a bunch of candy canes, and then lodged itself sauce-first into your eye.
Vividly described! Thankfully, this wasn’t much worse! See why essential oil safety is so important?
10. You shouldn’t use undiluted essential oils – especially clove – on cold sores.
This one is a sad report made in 2014 to Aromatherapy United:
A 57 year old woman with a cold sore on her lip applied neat clove oil on the sore once per day for three days. Each time she experienced tingling and redness on the spot; however after the third application:
she woke up the next morning with her mouth covered in open, bleeding sores.
Scary! The report went on to suggest the woman was now sensitized to clove oil and cannot use the oil again! And this is why dilution is a must.
11. You shouldn’t leave spilled, undiluted essential oils on your clothes.
Pure, undiluted, unadulterated essential oils on your skin can be very bad news. You can get sensitized or experience an allergic reaction to essential oils this way. And they can definitely burn your skin very badly.
So if any oil spills on your clothes, you should change or wash the oils out. If you don’t, chances are you may see skin redness, blisters, and other side effects.
12. You shouldn’t handle essential oils without the proper protective clothing.
Have you ever gotten undiluted essential oils on your fingers or hands? How about on your arms or legs? And have any drops flew into your eyes? Well these have certainly happened to many people (remember reddit users AetherAce in #8). And they know it burns….a whole lot!
The solution? Consider gloves! Consider eyewear like goggles… Consider long sleeves. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and you never know when a rogue drop of essential oil will get onto your skin or face or in your eye.
Essential Oil Safety for internal use
13. You shouldn’t use a whole lot of essential oils all at once, especially if they’re undiluted.
Each essential oil is made up of several chemical compounds and when you lump a whole lot together, you can’t be sure if they’re going to behave nicely or interact terribly in your body.
For instance, a 59 year old woman (report via Aromatherapy United) ingested wild orange and lime essential oils (diluted); inhaled and applied peppermint oil (undiluted); and applied [essential oil company] blend to her neck and shoulders. Note, the blend contained wintergreen, lavender, peppermint, frankincense, cilantro, marjoram, roman chamomile, basil and rosemary essential oils.
Those are a lot of oils!
Her report noted she experienced headache relief and an ease of tension in her shoulders. However, one day later:
… I had a very itchy bumpy, hot, red rash all over my neck, shoulders, face, ears, arms and hands that lasted for a week. After the worst, every time I went in the sun it started all over again only in areas that were exposed to the sun. This severe sensitivity to the sun lasted about 3 weeks.
The itch I experienced was severe, I couldn’t even sleep at night… I believe that I experience[d] 2 types of reactions, a skin reaction to the ones applied undiluted topically, and a photosensitive reaction to the citrus oils that I ingested. I have learned the hard way to never ingest essential oils, and to always dilute the ones I put on my skin. After a full 3 weeks, the photo-sensitivity had finally resolved.
Woah! Understand, there are essential oil side effects… especially when many oils are involved.
14. You shouldn’t ingest a whole lot of essential oils too.
This continues the point mentioned above. Ingesting essential oils, especially multiple, undiluted essential oils, is never going to end well. In fact, I don’t advocate ingesting essential oils at all!
Take a lesson from a report made by a 25 year old woman to Aromatherapy United.
She had 25 – 35 drops of lemon essential oil and a particular essential oil company’s oils. She took all of these over a matter of 5 – 6 hours.
A few hours later, she experienced nausea, dry heaving, dizziness, high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. Several days later she still felt nauseous and went to the hospital. She was administered IV and saline.
Here’s more of her story:
I had canker sores and was told by the aromatherapist that they [essential oils] are completely safe and fine to ingest. And that I can ingest as much as I wanted… I ended up in the ER… I thought I was going to die. The woman I called who sells the oils said it wasn’t the oils and swore up and down I was fine and it wasn’t the oils and they can’t hurt and I can’t overdose on them. She is going to end up killing someone. People need to know that THESE ARE NOT SAFE TO INGEST PLAINLY.
The ER….. Scary stuff!
Essential Oil Safety for your kids
15. You shouldn’t use undiluted essential oils on your kids.
Are essential oils safe for babies? How about older kids? Well before using oils on your children, consider these cases.
A 2011 study discussed a case about a one month old who was massaged with juniper essential oil. The baby reportedly experienced convulsions, fluid in his lungs, renal failure, and liver damage!
Thankfully, after eleven days in the ICU, he was released from the hospital in good condition.
Here’s another case reported to Aromatherapy United: Ten to twenty drops of an undiluted [essential oil company] blend (that contains lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, thyme, and melissa essential oils) was applied to the chest, armpits, behind the ears, and neck of a two year old boy. The child experienced seizures, fever, foaming at the mouth and then stopped breathing.
He was rushed to the hospital. Again thankfully, after treatment and washing his skin, he was back to normal.
16. You also shouldn’t use diluted essential oils on your kids without checking with their pediatrician and without conducting a patch test.
They are not your personal guinea pigs and child-testing is probably illegal (I hope!).
There are numerous studies that report essential oil poisonings in children. And they’re not all about accidental ingestion. Some kids can have bad reactions to the blends their parents massage onto their skin. That’s why it’s so important to patch test and talk to their pediatrician.
A case published in 1998 discussed what happened to a 6-year old girl who had hives. Her guardians slathered her with liberal amounts of a home remedy containing eucalyptus oil. Unfortunately, she did not react well to the oil. She started experiencing slurred speech and muscle weakness before becoming unconscious!
Kid…. unconscious…. Scary!
Luckily though, six hours after the oil remedy was cleaned off her symptoms were resolved. So are essential oils safe for babies and children? Yes, when used properly…
17. You shouldn’t add essential oils directly to your kid’s bath water.
Just like I mentioned before in #4, the oils must be properly diluted. If not, you’re putting your child at risk for a chemical burn.
And this has happened too. A report to Aromatherapy United in March 2015 mentioned adding undiluted tea tree oil directly to a four year old’s bath while he was in it.
The report noted:
the child instantly broke out in hives all over the body, including areas that were not in the water….The child was immediately taken out of the water, soaped up and rinsed. The reaction stopped right away.
So be careful when it comes to your kids and using essential oils.
18. You shouldn’t use essential oils on your pets without checking with your vet.
You have to protect your furry babies too. And some essential oils – like eucalyptus, mint and tea tree – are toxic to pets.
According to the ASPCA, eucalyptus and more specifically eucalyptol is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. If your pet does ingest this oil, chances are they’ll be salivating excessively, vomiting and have diarrhea, depression, and weakness.
This study also showed that using too much tea tree oil on your pets can result in depression, in-coordination and muscle tremors.
Check out everything the ASPCA has published on essential oils here.
Essential Oil Safety for fast cures and promises
19. You shouldn’t use essential oils to cure Ebola.
With the 2014 – 2015 epidemic of Ebola, some essential oil companies attempted to capitalize on public fears by suggesting some of their products were able to cure the deadly virus.
The claims were so wild and unsubstantiated that the USFDA got involved. The FDA sent out warning letters like this one, identifying specific violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The companies did retract their claims after the warning letters were issued. But like all things on the internet, it never really goes away. Here’s one of the claims.
Image credit: Washington Post; original is now deleted from theoildropper.com.
20. You shouldn’t use essential oils as your source of vitamins.
According to an article published on davidwolfe.com, peppermint essential oil contains vitamins A and C. The thing is there aren’t any vitamins in essential oils… Not peppermint … not tea tree … none.
So get your vitamins some other way… fruits and veges, maybe?
21. You shouldn’t use essential oils in ways recommended by sales reps or friends without doing your homework.
Not just homework. You have to check with your doctor or medical practitioner to make sure it’s safe to use essential oils in the way you’re considering.
Next you should consider advice from experienced aromatherapists and not necessarily sales reps. Sales reps generally aren’t medical experts so understand their advice could be wrong… very wrong.
And finally you have to do a patch test first to make sure you aren’t allergic. Allergic reaction to essential oils really are terrible. And remember, just because an oil works great for one person doesn’t mean it’ll work great for you.
22. You also shouldn’t use essential oils according to blogs or videos without doing more homework.
Don’t follow groups, videos and blogs blindly. Always do the necessary research first. I’ll reiterate over and over again. Dilution is key. Ingestion isn’t advised. Doctors should be contacted. And patch testing should be done.
In case you’re thinking that you can 100% trust a group or a video, consider this report to Aromatherapy United made in 2015:
“…so [it was in] the Spring of 2014 that I became really interested in essential oils. I had no knowledge of essential oils and thought that this group of gals (that blog about [brand name withheld] essential oils) knew what they were doing. WRONG!
It was only after I started studying aromatherapy that I really took a hard look at some of the recipes that these gals share freely on their facebook pages. One of their popular headache blends used 90 drops of various [peppermint, lavender, frankincense, wintergreen and birch] essential oils (that filled up half of my 10mL roller bottle) and the instruction said to “top off with fractionated coconut oil.” [i.e. 5mL of essential oils to 5mL of carrier oil]
I looked at that bottle and realized that no matter how I tried to work the numbers, the dilution rate was just waaaay off of the charts. I mean, if a 25% dilution for 10mL of carrier oil is 50 drops, good gosh, this blend was 90 drops for about 5mL of carier oil!! These women are going to kill someone someday with their craziness. “
23. You also shouldn’t use essential oils based on the claims of essential oil companies without doing proper research.
Just like I said in the point before, you’ve got to do your homework properly, check with your doctor and patch test before using essential oils in ways suggested by essential oil companies.
Remember the Ebola cure promise (#19)? Essential oils companies have made false claims before. And some are now being reprimanded by the USFDA. Still, anyone can say anything at anytime. And for you, following the advice without proper research and consultation is a serious risk!
Consider this report made to Aromatherapy United. In 2014, a 50 year old woman noted a company:
advertises a Morphine Bomb to alleviate pain and the protocol was to use 4 drops each of the oils mentioned above [Frankencense, Copaiba and Balsam Fir]. They advertised it could be used via inhalation, on skin or ingested. I trusted this combination would relieve my pain due to their claims.
It should also be mentioned that the woman suffered from pain due to a host of ailments like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy, cervical spinal stenosis, and bulging discs in her spine. Now it’s unclear if she was on any medication at the time of taking the morphine bomb; but here’s what happened:
Within a few hours of ingesting the oils I began having racing heart, shortness of breath, pressure in my chest that radiated to my back, up my left jaw, and down my left arm, cold sweats and nausea.
The woman was hospitalized and an EKG, blood work and a CAT scan was done. The prognosis: a heart attack! Yes, she had a heart attack!
Now, I’m not saying the oils caused the heart attack. But this case shows you just how important it is to talk to your doctor, instead of following the advice from companies that don’t know you, your medical history or the medication you are using.
24. You shouldn’t use essential oils just because you’re told they’re 100% pure, all natural, and you can’t overdose while using them.
Well we covered this in a few of the above points. But let’s use these reports from Aromatherapy United to reiterate it:
- A 34 year old woman noted:
I was repeatedly told that it was impossible to be allergic to [essential oil company] oils because they are only 100% pure therapeutic grade oil. Coincidentally my mother and sister experienced a severe allergic or allergic type reaction from just being in a small area when I had the oils on.
- A 29 year old woman reported:
when I went to my upline in the MLM oil company [about reactions to frankincense oil and another blend] … some other ladies that sell it laughed at me and told me that I was just detoxing and that there’s no way to be allergic or have a bad reaction to the oil[s] since they are natural.
Essential oils are potent! Understand the risks! And learn about essential oil safety and proper usage techniques!
25. You shouldn’t use essential oils if you’re being told ‘they’re removing toxins’ or ‘you’re detoxing’
I mean really? If you tell someone that you broke out in hives or have giant red burns on your skin after using essential oils, and they tell you not to worry, you’re just detoxing, hang up the phone. Unfriend them even! They don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, it’s sales rep rhetoric they’re regurgitating to you. And you need a doctor instead.
There are so many cases like this! Some are even mentioned above. Just remember an allergic reaction to essential oils is not uncommon. And it isn’t your body’s way of detoxing!
26. You shouldn’t use essential oils while on prescription medication without talking to your doctor.
Ever heard about drug interactions? Yeah it could happen when using essential oils and it’s a serious cause for concern. So always check with your doctor.
Consider this as a word of warning: a 2012 study looked at aniseed essential oil and noted that it may interact with drugs that act on the central nervous system. As a result, using the oil and these types of drugs simultaneously should be avoided.
And that’s just aniseed alone. There are many other drugs that can interact with essential oils.
Essential Oil Safety for open spaces
27. You shouldn’t use essential oils in your diffuser if you or your guests may be allergic.
Yes you can react badly to diffused essential oils. And if you’re diffusing your oils at a party or in a public space, you may cause adverse reactions in other people (or yourself). If you use high concentrations of the oils, especially in a poorly-ventilated space, you may also experience undesirable effects.
A 31 year old woman reported to Aromatherapy United that she was exposed to diffused peppermint and clove essential oils for 6 hours a day for 3 days. Unfortunately, she experienced “face burning, blisters on nose and lips and vomiting” for several weeks.
So you should be cautious and considerate when diffusing essential oils in public spaces, offices, etc.
28. You also shouldn’t stay in the same space with essential oil spills.
If there’s been a large spill, yes you should clean it up safely. But you should also ventilate the space and leave the room! Too much essential oils in the air can cause severe reactions – we just saw some above!
Here’s another story submitted to Aromatherapy United: A 29 year old woman reported in 2014 that she received a shipment of roman chamomile essential oil – but some bottles were broken. She cleaned the spills up (got some on her hands too) and noted the smell was still incredibly strong in her kitchen. She then experienced:
headaches, tiredness, and violent vomiting all night and two days after when exposed to a small amount of the same oil again
This could have been an allergic reaction or an overdose, but it is important for people to be careful. In my case the bottle broke in shipment, but hindsight is 20/20 and I would have cleaned it up and kept everything outside had I realized what would have happened…
So clean up spills asap and leave the room so you don’t put yourself at risk to possible adverse reactions.
More Essential Oil Safety Tips
29. You shouldn’t use oxidized essential oils
Compounds in essential oils tend to react when exposed to heat and air. And the resultant compounds created from these reactions may affect the essential oil’s safety.
That’s why it’s so important to keep your essential oils away from sunlight and to close your bottle caps properly. Also, older essential oils tend to have more oxidized compounds than newer bottles. So yeah! You shouldn’t use oxidized essential oils.
Consider this 2015 study that looked at lavender essential oil. The study showed that the main components in lavender – linalool and linalyl acetate – can oxidize on contact with oxygen in the air to form sensitizing hydroperoxides. These compounds were tested on patients and about 2% of those tested showed positive allergic contact dermatitis to the compounds.
So even lavender, one of the most popular and mildest essential oils, can cause side effects when oxidized.
30. You shouldn’t use essential oils on your skin and then go touching your friends and family.
I’m being serious. Don’t touch your partners, friends or even your kids. There’s a chance you could expose them to essential oils in this way, and if they are allergic, then they may experience serious adverse reactions.
And this actually happened! Here’s a report made to Aromatherapy United in 2014 by a 25 year old:
“My partner has never been around essential oils until he met me. As a blender I work with essential oils in their pure state and either apply small amounts to my skin (neat) for testing or have residual amounts on my skin from working with them.
My partner, is a geneticist and has had his personal genome sequenced. He has an inherited allele that makes him prone to psoriasis though he does not display the symptoms (and never has). Hence he just has sensitive skin which may be related to the allele. Although it is not the case for all the blends I’ve worked with, many times he has had a dermal reaction from touching him after I have worked with the oils in a pure state (forgetting to wash my hands).
I’ve made note of the oils (cassia, cinnamon, lemon, lemongrass, myrtle, juniper, and many others) that cause this reaction but it is hard to tell which oils exactly since they are blends. Curiously enough diluted application (ex. back massage with diluted blend[s]) does not cause a reaction.”
Um yeah! You shouldn’t touch your loved ones with essential oil hands, especially if they may be allergic!!
There it is – 30 Ways You Shouldn’t Use Essential Oils! Which ones are you guilty of doing? Share them with us in the comments below. Let’s all learn from each other proper essential oil safety and practices!
Also, check out the follow to this post: 21 More Ways You Shouldn’t Use Essential Oils.