In this article, we will be exploring 6 most common misunderstandings about essential oils and its methods of usage. Essential oils are considered safe to use medicinally and cosmetically. They enter and leave the body with great efficiency without the possibility of leaving toxins behind. However it must cautioned that the usage of oils must be done in a responsible and informed manner always.
Myth # 1 - Ingestion of EO is completely safe and without side effects
Some interesting facts about unadulterated pure essential oils:
It takes close to 138 kgs of lavender flowers to make just 0.9 kg of pure lavender essential oil.
It takes 232 kgs of peppermint leaves to make just 1 kg of pure peppermint essential oil.
And a few thousand kgs of rose petals to make just 0.9 kg of pure rose essential oil.
One drop of peppermint oil is equivalent of up to 50 cups of peppermint tea!
With such potency it would be irresponsible to assume that essential oils can be ingested without consequence. It is important to understand that essential oils are a complex chemical mixture containing at times up to 300 substances. Unfortunately there is insufficient formal research done as to the effects of ingestion of essential oils. Although most people have not experienced any negative effects from the consumption of essential oils, it would still be wise to keep it to a minimum due to its high levels of anti-oxidants especially for those with sensitive stomachs. It is important to understand that the dangers associated with essential oils usage is based on the oil itself and not the quality of the brand. The best quality of wintergreen in the world will cause death with just a single spoon when ingested! It is also a common misconception that since a particular herb is utilized and added to our cooking mixture that it is safe to ingest as an essential oil. Knowing your essential oils and its botanical name/species is key to oil usage safety as dangerous essential oil share similar names to the common herbs.
However some safety tests conducted indicates that the utilization of essential oils in low concentrations and through vapour inhalation is normally safe for most people. When inhaled, "the absorption of essential oils by the nose is as fast as an intravenous injection.” said Buchbauer (co-author of Handbook of Essential Oils: Science, Technology, and Applications. Oral ingestion is not as effective as thought as it involves the essential oils passing through the digestive system and coming into contact with digestive juices which affects their chemistry. This limitation applies to any chemical medications.
Although the FDA does not recommend the consumption of oils for safety purposes, The Alliance of International Aromatherapists gives this statement on the internal use of essential oils:
“AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal).”
Myth #2 - disclaimer from company “not for internal use”, “for external use only” on their bottle is an indicator of low quality or unadulterated oils
It is a common misconception that if a particular brand does not advocate the consumption of its oils (in print and verbally) that it would be of low quality or adulterated.
A disclaimer on a bottle is not an indicator of quality or purity but rather for safety purposes. The consumption of essential oils has been advocated (unfortunately at most times not by a proper practitioner/ professional handler) and if ingested in excessive amounts might lead to complications or at times serious damage to the user.
As mentioned before, there are unfortunately not many formal studies done to support the safety on the digestion of essential oils as a whole and its side effects on the human body. It is therefore prudent to remember that essential oils are potent organic solvents and should be respected. The purity or quality of the oil has nothing to do with whether it should be consumed or not.
Myth #3 : A rash or burn after an essential oil application is just a detox reaction
Experiencing a rash or a burning sensation on your skin is simply an adverse reaction to what has been applied and not a harmless detox reaction. It is your body's way of indicating that the oils are unsuitable for you. It is the sole reason why it is highly recommended that a patch test is conducted on a small area prior to application on a larger area. The risk of an allergic reaction varies to the oil type (plant species), amount of oils applied, the concentration of the oils, frequency of application, length of time used and other factors.
Almost all adverse skin reactions can be explained by the natural constituents present in an essential oil. Oregano with its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties contains high levels of carvacrol (70-80% content) which is also a skin irritant. Cinnamon bark oil's potential known allergen, cinnamaldehyde (which is also the reason for its health promoting benefits) is found in potent concentrations of 65-80% and bergamot causes photosensitivity as it contains 0.3% of bergapten. It is also important to know that essential oils (the best quality and most pure available) are prone to oxidation that can further increase risk of adverse reaction.
The popular theory that skin inflammation from essential oil application is a sign of a detox is untrue as scientists suspect that less than 1% of detox happens through perspiration. D. Scott Johnson (author of Evidence Based Essential Oil Therapy) believes that it is, "highly unlikely that anyone who experiences a skin reaction from topical essential oil application is sweating these toxins out immediately after or several hours following application”. Although the exact nature of adverse skin reactions may not be identified indefinitely, it would be best that all application be ceased and a qualified professional advice be sought.
Myth #4 : Real EO without additives will not solidify or freeze as long as there isn't any water in them
Essential oils, much like other liquids will freeze when temperatures are low enough (although different oils have different freezing points). What you will notice is crystallization of the oils, a solid gelatinous consistency or even completely solid essential oils at cooler room temperatures.
For example, high menthol content in an essential oil means that it is more susceptible to crystallization at low temperatures. This same attribute is what is much sought for in high quality peppermint essential oils! Conversely inferior quality peppermint essential oils will not show crystallization at low temperatures as good quality peppermint oils has menthol content in the range of 40-50%. Low quality peppermint oils in the range of around 33%. Therefore the lower the menthol content, the lower the freezing point of the oil.
Myth #5 : Sun exposure immediately after application of eo's is safe
Citrus oils such as bergamot, lemon, lime, grapefruit, bitter orange, mandarin leaf, cumin, angelica root, laurel leaf absolute, rue and taget contain the chemical compound furanocoumarins. Furanocoumarins have sun or photosensitizing properties and are often used for the treatment of skin conditions as it has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Symptoms of photosensitization include severe redness (sunburn), blistering and edema (swelling) on skin when exposed to sunlight. It is recommended that sunlight and tanning bed rays must be avoided for at least 12-18 hours after application.
Myth #6 : It is safe to put essential oils directly in a hot bath
Oils and water do not mix or blend together without an emulsifier. Therefore dropping essential oils directly to your bath will draw the oils directly to the lipids of your skin and potentially cause skin and mucous membrane irritation (mouth, eyes, nose and reproductive organs). A safe and effective way to use essential oils in a bath is to have them mixed with a fatty substance such as carrier oils or milk. This allows for the oils to disperse through the bath water and lessen the possibility of a skin irritation as you will not have a concentrated level of oils sticking to your skin!