Essential oils are a wonderful concentrated form of plants. They are used as natural remedies for an endless varieties of health issues. However, overused or used incorrectly they can be harmful and downright dangerous.
It takes a very large amount of plant material to make just one drop of an essential oil. Of course, not all of the elements from the plant material will be concentrated into the oil; only the oil soluble elements will end up in the oils once they have been processed. Even so, the oils are very strong and need to be respected as such.
It takes a pound of lavender flowers to make a teaspoon of lavender essential oil. It can take about 100 pounds of rose petals to make a teaspoon of rose essential oil. (No wonder it is so expensive!)
The old medical proverb, “the dose makes the poison,” holds very much true with essential oils. One drop of an essential oil is often more than enough when you are treating a problem. But with increased popularity and availability of essential oils it is not uncommon for people to use essential oils in much larger amounts than a drop here or there. Essential oils are commonly multilevel marketed as well. This makes it popular for people with very little experience to be selling and recommending essential oils to others for health issues, without having a well rounded knowledge of herbal medical or having the important health history of the person to whom they are making health recommendations.
Effective herbalists are ones who have studied, used and observed the results of herbs for many years. It would have been normative in small societies and communities for the “healer” to be an older and wiser man or woman who had had decades of experience using herbs and other natural meals of healing.
Certainly today there is value in a friend saying, “Hey, peppermint tea really helped me with nausea.” But a cup of peppermint tea is much less likely to have side effects that the suggestion that one use peppermint essential oil internally on an ongoing basis. Peppermint essential oil is a magnified version of peppermint tea and needs to be respected for what it is. One drop of peppermint essential oil is about the same as 28 cups of peppermint tea!!
More is Not Always Better
If your doctor gave you a prescription and said to use one a day and not more, you would respect that. You would appreciate the importance of moderation. But essential oils are often used in much larger quantities than used to be suggested.
Just because essential oils are natural does not mean that they are safe in every situation.
Side Effects of Essential Oils
Citrus based oils like orange, lemon and grapefruit can cause photosensitivity. They should not be used before you go out in the sun.
Essential oils can affect hormones. There are formulations that are used to correct hormone imbalances, so clearly there is an expectation that they can affect hormones for the better. At the same time, essential oils can make hormone problems worse! Lavender and tea tree essential oil have been linked to prepubertal gynecomastia in boys. (Breast development in boys before puberty!)
While there are some essential oils that can be used topically in moderation, others when used “neat” (without diluting), can actually cause damage to the skin and pain.
Internal overdose1or extreme external exposure to peppermint2 can cause life threatening problems, including coma. While the amount of exposure needed to induce such dramatic symptoms is quite high, the point is that essential oils are strong and should be used with care!
At least one Earth Clinic contributor found that using a diffuser to spread orange essential oil particles into the air on an ongoing basis was causing memory loss!
Essential oils can cause seizures in sensitive individuals.3
What is the Solution?
- Do your due diligence. Study the oils you plan to use. Respect them as strong medicine.
- Do not assume that all essential oils are always safe for all situations. They are not the best answer to every health issue.
- Don’t use essential oils as your “go to.” You would not expect a doctor to give you prescription pain medication at the first sign of pain. You would start with a mild over the counter product. Natural remedies should have that same respect. Start with a milder remedy. Don’t start with the strongest remedy. Save the stronger remedies for situations that require them.
- Use small amounts of essential oils. They are never meant to be used in large quantities and can be quite dangerous if they are.
- Do not use essential oils internally for children or pregnant women.
- Dilute essential oils for topical use. Add a drop of essential oil to a teaspoon of olive oil or coconut oil before applying to the skin.
- Be careful about diffusing essential oils. The oils will be absorbed into the body through the lungs. This can be particularly irritating to sensitive individuals, especially children or those with respiratory problems.
Have you experienced a side effect from essential oils? Please send us some feedback!