Essential oils have different safety 'standards' in different countries; as I've mentioned previously, essential oils in France are dispensed through a pharmacist. In the UK and in the USA, this is not the case. Anyone can walk into a store, or order online, any essential oil regardless of their knowledge about essential oils.
Essential oils, if used correctly, are relatively safe to use - those three words, 'if used correctly' are what makes the difference. Before qualifying as an aromatherapist and having no knowledge of aromatherapy or what essential oils actually were, I did not realise the power held in one essential oil bottle. Since qualifying as an aromatherapist, I am asked all sorts of questions about the use of essential oils which makes me question whether essential oils should be on restricted sale! After all, 'knowledge is power', and the lack of knowledge about essential oils could make a huge difference to someone's reactions to a particular essential oil.
I discussed the safety of essential oils in a previous blog post but thought it prudent to mention some of the 'risk' factors (or contra-indicators) on when not to use an essential oil. Essential oils are made up of different chemical components and therefore the chemical make-up of an essential oil can determine the 'risk factor' of a particular oil. Some essential oils are toxic, sensitizing and an irritant. Some other potential risks of essential oils, and therefore 'contra-indicators', include:
- risk to pregnant women
- risk to children and babies
-risk to those with liver problems
-risk to those with kidney problems
-risk if not used in moderation
- risk if used in sunlight
- risk of skin irritation.
Not all essential oils carry these risks, it is dependent on the chemical make-up of the essential oils; some essential oil 'families' do share common characteristics and therefore similar risk factors. For example, the majority of citrus essential oils are photo toxic, and the high menthone content of most mint oils is a huge risk factor for young children and babies; however, there are often exceptions to the rule (and between different botanical species), making it wise to have some knowledge of essential oils before using them.
For those with little or no knowledge of essential oils, it is important to note that essential oils should normally be administered through a carrier oil; only few essential oils should be used neat, and then only with care and knowledge. There are other methods of essential oil administeration, oral and vaginal among them, but these practices are studied at advanced level.
As I continue to learn about essential oils and their uses, I really do believe that education about essential oils is vital in their correct use. I don't think it is necessary to be 'medically qualified' to administer essential oils but I do believe that having some knowledge about essential oils before using them is important. If you want to know more about a particular essential oil, click on any of the essential oil profiles on the left side of this blog to get started - and take note of any 'risk' factors! I would like to finish by saying that essential oils can be used in most cases relatively safely - 'if used correctly'...