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Essential Oil Safety to Avoid Skin Issues

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Do you know how hard it was to find a picture of the skin that wasn't racy, sexual or offensive? Almost impossible! Safety is of the utmost importance when using essential oils, especially for the skin when using topically. Sharing with all of you my English Composition paper written this past semester.

Essential oils are amazing substances that provide benefits to their users. However, a basic understanding of the product is necessary because it is considered a medicinal substance to many. As essential oils gain popularity, safety needs to be at the forefront; whether they are used topically, internally or inhaled. According to the injury database on Aromatherapy United’s website, essential oil injuries are steadily increasing every year (Essential Oil Injury). Every reported injury is avoidable. All essential oil users need proper education, especially when supporting the body to facilitate healing. Essential oil consumers should understand safe practices to avoid skin issues.

Throughout history, essential oils have had a definite presence. They are mentioned in the bible even though it is not quite the same substances we have today. Ancient Egyptians were known to use them as perfumes, medicine, religious ceremonies, meditation and to help cover the smell of a decaying body during the burial process. Oils of cinnamon, myrrh and frankincense were considered the most valuable and became well known in the trade industry. These oils were highly sought after because they were not only beneficial to many things, it was also social status to have them.

Over the past ten years essential oils have become increasingly popular. People want alternatives to prescription medications causing multiple and serious side effects. Even though essential oils are natural, with very little true side effects, they still have risk. Since they are so concentrated, a skin or adverse reaction may occur when used improperly. Many consider skin reactions a side-effect; however, these reactions generally last a shorter period than what medications produce. In most situations, the reaction occurs less frequently. Proper use reduces the possibility of these unwanted issues.

Each oil purchased needs to be studied and investigated to reduce reactions. Quality is important because an inferior oil containing additives will react differently; usually negatively, causing different reactions. Reputable companies will provide consumers with a GC/MS (Gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry) report to prove their purity. Gas Chromatography shows a linear graph charting individual components, while mass spectrometry provides the percentage of each component in the oil. These specialized reports show additives and ensure the consumers are getting what they pay for. GC/MS reports are conducted by third-party testing facilities to avoid misconduct and false reports. In turn, supplied to the buyer by the company where the oil was purchased. Adulterated (unwanted additives) oils are common in the marketplace as they fetch higher prices for an inferior, lower quality product. When additives are present and the quality lower, the chance of skin reactions increase.

Reputable companies providing a GC/MS report show the consumer each percentage of chemical components present in that oil. Understanding these chemical components will help avoid burns, other skin issues and unwanted pharmaceutical interactions. The components, called chemical constituents are why oils act therapeutically and support the body well during healing. Chemical composition of each oil identifies how to use the oil to achieve maximum benefits, while determining additional safety consideration. Some harsher chemical constituents can cause a skin reaction, while others do not.

Essential oils rich in the chemical constituent aldehyde like cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), or phenols like wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima) and clove (Syzygium aromaticum), are more skin irritating. On the other hand, oils high in monoterpenols like lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and rose (Rose damascena) are more skin nourishing. Depending on where the oil was grown, weather conditions during growing season, altitude and more all affect these chemical constituents. Although lavender is skin nourishing, where and in what conditions grown will directly affect the naturally occurring chemicals, changing the therapeutic effects. Extremely hot and dry years produce different chemical constituents than wet and cold. Disregarding the chemical composition in essential oils is likely to produce reactions, often hurting the user. To avoid this, consumers should read each GC/MS report provided. If the company does not provide this report, they may be trying to hide something, find a different source for these products.

It is assumed naturally plant based essential oils are safe to be used by anyone. That simply is not the case. Arsenic, belladonna, hemlock and strychnine are all natural; however, direct exposure is likely to cause death. Anything with healing power also has the power to harm, even water. Highly concentrated essential oils need to be treated with the utmost respect. Natural does not equal safe, especially when one drop of peppermint essential oil is equal to twenty-five cups of herbal tea. The concentration makes them much more potent than the herbal version, yet consumers treat them similarly.

To help keep consumers safe, aromatherapists advise to write a date on the bottle when the essential oil is received. This provides a reference date because some of the chemically lighter oils like citrus can become problematic after a year. Always check each oil before use making sure nothing changed or has given reason to become suspicious of its quality. It should smell and look the same as when received. If not, best not to take chances and throw it out because these oils can cause an unwanted issue. Many oils only last around a year so dating them gives piece of mind.

Professional organizations like the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) offer information written by aromatherapists to educate and reduce preventable injuries. They publish quarterly journals, have monthly webinar training and educate on their website and blogs. Look for classes in the community given by professional aromatherapists. Many teach through community colleges or high school community education programs. If none are available, look online starting with AIA. AIA also has a list of qualified aromatherapists willing to answer basic questions on dilution, oxidation, storage, and body application. (Resource for Aromatherapists)

Safety is so important!!! It is always appropriate to dilute an essential oil to avoid unwanted skin issues. Depending on the person, the standard dilution rate is between one to five percent. As an example, when making a two percent blend in a 10 ml bottle, only 4 drops of essential oil are used. The rest is filled with grape seed oil, fractionated coconut oil (liquid form, not the solid) or other skin nourishing option. Even though some essential oils are gentle enough to apply neat (undiluted), it is not advised. As the dilution rates increase; consequently, so do potential skin reactions. A lot will depend on where the oil is applied, sensitivity of the person using it, and the individual essential oil or blend. Reactions are not uncommon with stronger oils like oregano, lemongrass and cinnamon even when properly diluted. Dilution is no guarantee but it reduces the chances of chemical burns.

Chemical burns can also happen when essential oils get old or are stored improperly causing oxidization. Heat and oxygen exposure can cause an oil to oxidize faster; changing the scent, color, and giving it a cloudy appearance. Oxidized oils tend to burn the skin easier and irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth, and upper respiratory tract. Knowing when the oil was purchased and storing it tightly closed, in a cool, dry place (especially the refrigerator) will extend shelf life, reducing deterioration. As the essential is used, pour it into a smaller bottle, minimizing head or air space and reducing oxygen exposure.

There are no one size fits all options with health, healing or medicinal substances. A basic understanding of chemical composition, dilution and safe use is needed with such a powerful healing modality. Essential oils are amazing when used properly but can be harmful when used with improperly. The skin is the largest organ and the first line of defense for the body. It needs to be protected at all costs! Remember, when in doubt, a professional aromatherapist is only a phone call away.

In conclusion, education is key to keeping injuries low and access to these beautiful substances available. There is no need to fear essential oils; although, having a healthy respect for them is important. Check for classes offered locally by professional aromatherapists. If there are not any, look online. AIA is an excellent organization to become a member of. They publish quarterly journals, have monthly webinar training and promote safe usage on their website and blogs. Less is always more when it comes to essential oils. If in doubt, do not use it or hire a professional.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at Have a wonderful day!

Love and light,


“Essential Oil Injury Report Summary 2018.” Aromatherapy United, 2018.

“The #1 Resource for Professional Aromatherapists.” Alliance of International Aromatherapists, 2018.

This information is not meant to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified medical practitioner. Since the actual use of this product by others is beyond our control, no expressed or implied guarantee as to the effects of their use can be given nor liability taken. Use at your own discretion. Any application of the recommendations is at the user’s risk. Sweet Willow Spirit, LLC disclaims any liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of this information and assumes no responsibility for any actions taken. This should not be used in place of traditional therapies but solely as a complementary means for bringing well-being. The FDA has not evaluated the statements on this website. No claims are made as to any medicinal value of any oil or healing modality.

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