Do you ingest essential oils?
Whether you do or don't, you may have noticed… it's a controversial topic!
However, it's still possible to know and understand the issue. Let's explore what certified aromatherapists have to say — their recommendations on what is safe and what isn't.
The Making Of Essential Oils
First, a little background…
Essential oils are extracted from plants — either the seeds, roots, leaves, bark, fruit, or flowers. Distillation or steaming allows the water-based compounds of the plant to evaporate away, leaving the concentrated oils, also known as essential oils. (Source.)
The oils themselves contain microscopic molecules that actually penetrate cells. When used topically or internally, these molecules cross the blood-brain barrier. (Source.)
Always Use Caution With Essential Oils
It is wise to be cautious. Even inhalation of certain essential oils can be dangerous. For example, do not diffuse or use eucalyptus essential oil with children.
Citrus oils (among others) should not be used in skincare products and then worn out into the sun. They are phototoxic and cause skin to be more sensitive to ultraviolet rays.
Furthermore, many essential oils are harmful during pregnancy. And not all essential oils are made with equal care and quality.
When in doubt, play it safe. Educate yourself on the essential oil you wish to use and what its contraindications are. Choose a reputable essential oil company that uses both the common and the Latin name, gives the country of origin, chemotype (when applicable), and shares their farming practices and production methods.
As aromatherapist Tony Burfield says,
“[M]ost commercially offered essential oils are safe to use for the purpose intended in a domestic, professional, or clinical environment.”
Is It Safe To Ingest Essential Oils: An Introduction
The consumption of essential oils is controversial partly because of their concentrated and powerful effects. Furthermore, essential oil experts tend to err on the side of caution, advising against the internal use of essential oils. This is because the majority of lay people may not be educated enough to ingest them safely.
So, is it safe for individuals not trained as aromatherapists to research and decide for themselves if essential oils are safe to consume and use?
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy,
“…essential oils may be applied on the skin (dermal application), inhaled, diffused or taken internally. Each of these methods have safety issues which need to be considered.” (source)
To consume essential oils safely, study and understand each essential oil individually.
Additionally, peppermint essential oil has made great strides in treating IBS — yet can be irritating to the skin. These examples serve to illustrate the multi-faceted nature of essential oils.
Remember, even if applied externally, essential oils absorb through the skin and can pass into the blood and brain. Adverse reactions can occur simply from topical use. (Source.)
Although this article will mainly focus on the ingestion of essential oils, the principles of safe topical application do shed light on safe ingestion, as well. Let's explore this further, below…
Safely Using Essential Oils Topically
As a general rule, when using essential oils externally, always dilute with a carrier oil. These include vegetable oils like castor, coconut, olive, jojoba, or avocado. Never dilute with water — water and oil don't mix!
Aromatherapists emphasize the importance of diluting essential oils to a range of 0.5 to 5%. Exact dilution depends on the patient, their age, health circumstances, and also the oil in question.
In some instances, you may topically apply essential oils NEAT (without a carrier oil). I have done this with clove essential oil, for example, to remove moles and warts. This method can be very effective, yet does risk an allergic reaction. This is because essential oils are rich in aldehydes and phenols which can irritate the skin.
Furthermore, NEAT applications do evaporate more quickly. Carrier oils help the medicinal properties of the essential oils to “stay put” and work their magic for longer. (Source.)
According to author and aromatherapist Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt,
“[A]nother option is to blend such irritant oils asymmetrically with other essential oils, which mitigate their irritant effects.” (source)
Of these 2 options — using a carrier oil or blending an irritant oil with a non-irritant oil — the former may be preferable for the majority of lay people. It combines gentle healing with ease!
Is It Safe To Ingest Essential Oils?
The Internet is full of stories about essential oils causing injuries, often due to unsafe application. Were the essential oils consumed undiluted, or improperly diluted in water?
Yes, this means that adding essential oils to a glass of drinking water is an improper, potentially unsafe application.
There's no doubt that essential oils by themselves, or when improperly diluted, can harm gut flora and the mucosal lining of the digestive tract. However, if properly diluted, do they still pose a problem? If many essential oils are antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-fungal, might they kill beneficial bacteria as well as the bad — diluted or not?
The truth is, not enough research has been done to say for sure how essential oils impact our gut microbiomes in the long-term. Still, many aromatherapists still prescribe the use of essential oils internally, and with good evidence, too.
With conditions like IBS, SIBO, and E. coli infections on the rise, scientific studies point to the wisdom of ingesting essential oils for medicinal purposes. I propose the safe usage of essential oils in the short term, while implementing a long-term healing plan to slowly introduce beneficial strains of bacteria to recolonize the gut. (Learn how to heal your gut here.)
How To Ingest Essential Oils Safely
Well-respected essential oil expert Robert Tisserand considers it safe to ingest 1 to 2 drops of essential oils daily. He pictures a scenario where essential oils are used in moderation either for flavor in cooking, or medicinally in the short term (source).
Similarly, I asked an acquaintance aromatherapist about the bulletproof steamers I make. These contain hot milk or coffee, lavender or peppermint essential oils, butter or coconut oil, and maple syrup (source). She said that this high-fat emulsion is the right idea.
While she does not recommend the daily consumption of essential oils, she does consume essential oils occasionally in her home — and always diluted in fat. She also has clients who use essential oils internally, both daily and short term, depending on their health situation, the dilution, and the essential oil in question.
As you can see, proper dilution and moderation seem to be the keys for safe ingestion of essential oils.
Medicinal Vs. Culinary Essential Oil Ingestion
Many agree on the safety of essential oils used medicinally. What about using essential oils as flavoring in food? Is it wise? Ultimately, this is a personal decision. It remains controversial.
Keep in mind that food is medicine. Just as culinary herbs like thyme, oregano, and basil boost the immune system, essential oils are medicinal and nutritional powerhouses as well! I want my food to be healing. Essential oils are one way (of many) to achieve that.
For example, they might advocate for the use of 1 drop of cinnamon essential oil — one of the more controversial oils to consume, since it is a dermal irritant — in your cake batter, emphasizing the benefit over the potential for harm. Blended with a high-fat batter, this oil may indeed be safe. Yet, as this example illustrates, we must weigh each unique essential oil individually. What are its risks? What are its benefits? Does one outweigh the other?
*To be clear, both Dr. Axe and Dr. Zielinski occasionally advocate for the ingestion of essential oils diluted in water, which I and others discourage.
Personally, I don't consume essential oils daily. Yet I do enjoy them weekly, blended into a high fat base (whether steamer, soup, or batter). I know firsthand the benefits of essential oils — oregano for pathogen overgrowth, lavender and peppermint for culinary purposes (even occasionally basil and lemongrass). Learn the top 5 essential oils for cooking here!
The bottom line? Essential oils are safe — when used properly. If you aren't going to call upon an aromatherapist to assist you, educate yourself. Always dilute!
Do you ingest essential oils? Why or why not? Leave your answers in the comments below!
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