put essential oils in ALL the things! (yeah, NO.)

So, this is me sitting in my house on a quiet Sunday morning. The sun is casting wide beams of warmth and light across my living room and my dogs are blissfully ensconced, each on a dog bed in their own respective beam, at various places on the floor. I’ve managed to scrub and clean the shower in the master bath, so I’ve earned a few minutes in my own sunbeam to catch up on the interwebnet before I tackle the next ninety things that would like to be wiped, scrubbed, polished, cleaned, and vacuumed. After all, the husband is off to play frisbee golf and I’m about to be alone. So I’m taking thirty minutes in which to say something that I think needs saying:

I don’t use essential oils for everything.

I’ve been using essential oils for over two decades. I have over a thousand hours of formal aromatherapy training from reputable, non-MLM teachers including Andrea Butje and Robert Tisserand. I’ve been through Aromahead’s scholar’s program and maintain a clinical aromatherapy practice within the scope of my state’s health freedom act. I have wonderful clients who pay me to discover how they can use specific essential oils in their businesses and lives. I regularly teach workshops on how essential oils can improve the quality of individual and family life.

I love essential oils. And I still don’t use essential oils for everything — or even every day.

Given the almost hysterical enthusiasm emerging on the interwebnet for aromatherapy, particularly from MLM companies, you might think I’m a slacker.

I’ve got all these expensive oils, clearly I’m a chump for not slathering them all over myself, my loved ones, my animals.

Actually, not so much. If you’re paying attention to the hype on social media and aren’t grounded in the safe and effective use of essential oils, you might come away thinking that clearly essential oils should be used in ALL. THE. THINGS — from drinking water to cleaning products. Some people even suggest essential oils can be used for everything from boosting (or god forbid, replacing) vaccines to eliminating the threat of terrible viral diseases. But they can’t. And they aren’t right for everything or every person in every way or every day. There isn’t always “an oil for that” and, even when there is, it isn’t always the approach I choose to leverage.

And while essential oils absolutely have a huge place in my life, they aren’t my religion.

I don’t do ALL the things the internet suggests can and should be done. There are even things that are considered safe to do that I still don’t do because they don’t line up with my personal preferences. I don’t necessarily use them every day. Sometimes, the ways in which I’m not using essential oils surprises people as much as the ways that I do…

Ways I Am Not Using Essential Oils (Not Now, Not Ever)

Tea With Lemon And Ginger As Natural MedicineI never add essential oils to my drinking water, tea, cocktails, or drinks. The potential for harm is too great. Furthermore, my joy in consuming actual lemon water (that’s water + lemon slices) or hot water with lemon and ginger (actual lemon, real sliced ginger…) far exceeds my desire to sear my esophagus, compromise my liver, or expose myself to any risk. In my life, essential oils are not for drinking. PERIOD. 

I personally don’t use essential oils undiluted. Like, EVER. I see no reason to do so. While there are oils one could probably feel comfortable applying directly without a carrier in certain situations, I personally see no reason to go there. Doing so only puts me at risk that can result both in near-term harm and long-term sensitization. Why risk never being able to use an essential oil again because I was overenthusiastic about using it on one random Tuesday for a minor burn? I’d rather dilute my oil to not only protect from sensitization, but also add desired qualities from my chosen carrier to offset my concern. Diluting is also less wasteful, particularly for essential oils with low yields relative to their source plant material and those whose source plants are endangered. Diluting for me is a win-win-win. 

Bath saltsI don’t pour essential oils directly into my bath water. Oil is not soluble in water and I don’t need my lovely lady parts (aka, vulnerable mucous membranes) to bear the brunt of my having hastily added several drops of essential oil(s) to my bath water without diluting them first. Interesting note: one of my very first clients sought me out after she was told to add Peppermint (ohmygod, of all things!) directly to her bath water. She tried it once and presented to me with a whole new problem — and a powerful aversion to Peppermint. NOT GOOD. (Meanwhile, ladies with some knowledge of peppermint and aromatherapy who are now reading this are shuddering and crossing their legs…)

I don’t work with essential oils without wearing gloves. This surprises many of my workshop participants, but it’s an easy choice to defend. As awkward (and utterly unsexy) as gloves are, they protect me from exposure that can lead to long-term sensitization.

When my work with essential oils first began over twenty years ago, I apprenticed with a woman who made aromatherapy bath salts. She’d blend big batches of her salts in buckets and we’d scoop them out with blend-specific measuring cups for sale at various fairs and markets. After decades of working with essential oils herself, my mentor found herself having strong reactions to many of her favorite oils, some of which she’d worked with every day for years: she was no longer able to enjoy the products she delighted in making because she was ultimately sensitized. She made me wear gloves when blending on her behalf to prevent me from ever having a similar reaction.  Since I cannot imagine not being able to work with favorites like Lavender, Jasmine, Balsam Poplar, and Lemon Myrtle again, yeah, I’ll continue to wear my ridiculous looking gloves, thanks.

Ways I Haven’t Used Essential Oils Yet Personally

I don’t personally apply essential oils therapeutically to my feet. Since I don’t have any ailments or concerns that put my focus on my feet (no fungus, no pain), I don’t see any reason to put my expensive, aromatic essential oils as far away from my nose as possible. If a foot-centric concern surfaces, I would go there with an appropriate blend, but that has yet to come up for me. While I can see using essential oils in an aromatic foot bath just to delight my tootsies, I have yet to go there personally, because BATHTUB. I have a decadent, full-size, stand-alone bathtub. If I have given one second’s thought to a foot soak, at two seconds I am figuring out what I can put in my big bathtub to delight my entire body. No judgment on those who use essential oils in foot soaks in safe and effective dilutions; I just have no reason to go there because, again, BIG TUB.

Ways I Am Not Using Essential Oils Any Longer

At one point, I took a series of workshops on energy work with animals. I was excited to discover that there would be an exploration of using essential oils with animals included in the workshops. While I went through the full course and completed the necessary exercises, I no longer apply essential oils to my animals in any way. I now actively limit my animals’ exposure to essential oils in our home. When looking to support their wellness, I look to other holistic means to address their concerns.

Az, our old Rhodesian Rideback, at our wedding. (C) Ginger Russell Photography
(C) Ginger Russell Photography

The use of essential oils with animals is hotly debated. There are aromatherapy practitioners who possess both the education and the experience necessary to advise on how to safely and effectively leverage them, but I am not one of those aromatherapists. While I have considerable education in human anatomy and physiology, I don’t possess an equal understanding of the vast and varied systems of the many animals entrusted to my care. As a responsible steward, I don’t use essential oils directly with my animals personally.

I let my critters sniff me and enjoy my essential oils vicariously as they choose, but I am not applying oils or blends to their paws, fur, feathers, or coats.

Ways I Rarely Use Essential Oils

I don’t often diffuse oils in my house because in our home, the cat doesn’t have anywhere to go if she finds herself overwhelmed. If I want to freshen my home’s scent, I am more likely to buy a bouquet of beautiful, fresh, fragrant lilies than I am to turn my diffuser on for an hour. When it comes to diffusing, I primarily use my diffuser in my massage studio in my off hours when no clients are present because I don’t think it’s appropriate to diffuse without a client’s consent and I have no idea what emotional response an essential oil might trigger. Since my animals aren’t allowed in the massage studio, it’s another win-win-win.

I have on very rare occasions used essential oils internally to address a specific concern, such as yeast infection. We’re talking like FIVE times total in over twenty years of working with essential oils. More often than not, I have a less concentrated and less risky herbal solution to employ or I’ll look to my diet to make adjustments that support my desired outcome.

On the rare occasions I have used essential oils in a blend designed to address an internal issue, they have always been in vaginal or rectal suppository form. (I know, you’re super-stoked to know that about me. It is what is.)  They were always crafted into blends that I was absolutely confident would be safe for my personal use: diluted at very low-levels using oils that were thoroughly checked for contraindications and chosen in keeping with my considerable education. I have YET to create or recommend an internal solution for a client not least because I have yet to encounter the situation where internal use of essential oil(s) was the best solution. There are a host of other, less risky options that I look to first, even for myself.

lemongrassI don’t add essential oils randomly to recipes. While I do occasionally use essential oils in cooking, more often than not I think the source plant is more tasty, more cost-effective, and more appropriate for use. To be used safely, essential oils must be used in extremely limited quantities and leveraged in fat- or lipid-based recipes. What’s more, the distillation and/or extraction process used in creating essential oils creates HIGHLY concentrated substances that can pose health risks when taken internally — and they rarely taste as good in a recipe as the plant or herb from which they are derived.  

To wit, if I want lemon flavor in my cake, I add lemon juice. If I want basil in my pesto, I use fresh basil. If I want a hint of rose or lavender in my cupcakes, I’ll use a teaspoon of the relevant hydrolat in my three cups of frosting. If I want peppermint in my homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream, I’ll add organic peppermint extract or infuse the milk with fresh, crushed mint. If I want Lemongrass in my stir fry, I add actual, real-life Lemongrass, not the incredibly potent essential oil of Lemongrass!

Ways I Don’t Always Use Essential Oils

My clients are sometimes surprised to learn that while I regularly leverage aromatherapy, I don’t necessarily limit my solutions to aromatherapy in my personal life. “You have all these wonderful oils? Why aren’t you using them?!” Well, I AM using them — just not for everything, every day.   My interest in essential oils is born out of my delight in nature and her gifts — and those gifts are not limited to aromatherapy. I also have herbs, flowers, food, meditation, exercise, and self-improvement among the tools that contribute to my wellness and self-care. Essential oils aren’t my end-all, be-all.

I love essential oils, I use essential oils, but I look to other things to thrive and delight in my life, too.

If I am feeling anxious and unable to sleep, I am as likely to have a cup of chamomile and lavender tea as I am to reach for a chest rub with chamomile and lavender in it. (That’s HERBAL TEA with dried chamomile and lavender, NOT tea with essential oils of chamomile and lavender added, y’all.) If I’m low on energy, sometimes I’ll try to rearrange my commitments to allow some time for recovery or self-care before I huff on an inhaler to pick me up. If I want a delicious soak in a hot bath, sometimes I steep a bag of herbs directly in the water as opposed to mixing essential oils in carriers such as oils or salts. If I need to clear my head and get focused, I will sometimes open and simply sniff my bottle of Rosemary, Lemon, or Peppermint without ever pouring a drop out of the bottle.

It amazes me how many people are surprised to hear that something “that simple” works. If I come home after the dogs have been cooped up inside all day and I think, “hmmmm, my house smells like a gerbil cage,” I clean my house, I open a window. I use baking soda to help deodorize my carpets instead of masking the offending odor by diffusing lemon for six hours. (Really, six hours of diffused anything is more than most people should be asked to endure.) When I wash my floors, I use hydrolats, vinegar, and castile soap without essential oils because I have animals who walk across said floors trusting I’m not exposing them to something to which they may have an allergic or adverse reaction.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does put a beam of warm, bright light on some of the most glaring ways in which my use of essential oils sometimes surprises people who have limited exposure to aromatherapy (or those who use them all the time in these and other ways).

What I’ve shared here is just my truth. I don’t judge those who safely and responsibly leverage essential oils in ways that go beyond what I typically choose to do. (Those people that use oils recklessly, carelessly, without regard for safety and sustainability, everywhere in ALL their things, all day, every day? Okay, I may have some strong thoughts about them….)

(Wondering how I *do* use essential oils? Click here to find out!)

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94 Comments

  1. Allena

    I love this! All of this! I am still fairly new to the oily world, but I honestly continue to be shocked at how many people are “drinking the kool-aid” when it comes to safety with their oils. I am curious about application, since you specifically addressed not always applying to your feet. If you have another post that specifically addresses application, obviously on a broad scope, I would love to read it! Again, I’m fairly new to oils and still learning/doing research, but strictly for my family’s benefit. 🙂

  2. vamyc

    Thanks for a great post Kristina. I’ve been a clinical aromatherapist for 18 years, and, like you, I limit my use of essential oils in daily life but I DO absolutely LOVE them!

  3. Jessica Fitzgerald

    Thank you for the post. I have never used any type of essential oils. But am going to start. For mosquito repellant and other things.

  4. Ashley

    Thank you! It really scares me how MLM reps advise people to put essential oils in their water, or take them internally. Furthermore, MLM essential oils smell synthetic and perfumey to me…maybe I’m alone in that.

  5. Carol Lee

    Amen, I am so happy to read this because it validates my experience. Sometimes I go through months of ignoring my oils and I wonder why. I am extremely sensitive and that is what drew me to using oils. I am a massage therapist and I tend to use single notes carefully with clients. I tried some on my dog and he seemed to hate it and I don’t think it helped because he was too overwhelmed. Thank you for your work, I love your blog!

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