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

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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95 thoughts on “put essential oils in ALL the things! (yeah, NO.)”

  • I very much appreciate this post! I am just starting my journey with oils, I have taken a couple of classes so far and have been using oils at home for some things for about a year. I knew that some of the things I read about oil usage seemed off somehow, so I have been very cautious and conservative in starting out. It’s so refreshing to find a few people who are not so gung-ho!! Thank you.

    • Thanks so much! It’s SO wonderful to know that someone finds this encouraging as opposed to discouraging. 🙂 There’s a difference between something being wrong and something just not being right for you–and I’m thrilled that the nature of my path resonates for people. THANK YOU.

  • You go girl…you go! This post is very thorough and I don’t think you left anything out for those who would question how to use essential oils for their families. Thank you for the wise advise. I also do not use my essential oils very day or even every week. I am healthy and find no need to slather, smear, stiff or sip essential oils by any method of application for every little ailment or pain that comes my way. I plan on sharing your post with my Facebook friends!

  • Finally, the voice of reason, or should I say common sense! Thank you for your personal and educated view on this subject. If only this good advice could be the mandatory label on every bottle of essential oil sold. I am not a user, but do enjoy botanicals and gardening very much. Like you, I prefer fresh lemon slices in my water or tea and fresh herbs for cooking from the actual plant source. But hey, that’s just me 🙂

  • yep – makes sense! I am not nearly as savvy as you are, but there are so many other good things to use .. . . why JUST use essential oils!!

  • Thanks for this post. I have my own range of essential oils that are all Australian and I am very careful how I suggest using the oils. I always recommend seeing an aromatherapist and always tread with caution! Now I can recommend your blog too!! 🙂

  • In very good faith and writing honestly, I just don’t understand your comments. Why would you comment about not using oils ? You state that you don’t use them on your feet as you have no reason to, ditto every part of the body ! Re animals and pets, well most people know that dogs have a much higher sense of smell than humans and therefore would not even consider using them on or around animals as it could be considered abuse. Pets don’t have a choice. Essential oils are certainly very anti-microbial and anti-viral and should be considered for external application in instances of infection. The only reason they have not been researched and developed as anti-microbials, and new anti-biotics is because the mighty drug companies cannot patent them and make billions of pounds profit from them. To be quite honest, in over 25 years of researching essential oil sciences I have never before come across comments relating to their use in beverages. Whole plants or plant parts are used in the UK. Ditto recipes – I have never seen a recipe advising ginger essential oil instead of fresh (or dried) ginger ! For cleaning, essential oils are effective (anti-bacterial), biodegradable and most often cheaper. Surely it is preferable to use oils rather than powerful chemicals which accumulate in seas, oceans, water-ways ? Unlike anti-biotics, bacteria cannot become resistant to essential oils as the recipe of components, in the plant, changes from second to second. I have to say, with very good nature, that you sound as if someone is forcing you to choose essential oils ? Best wishes Jane

    • Jane-

      THANK YOU! I am SO grateful for your thoughtful and honest comments as they call out the very reasons I felt it was necessary to write this post in the first place… If you had told me ten years ago that I would ever need to defend how I’m NOT using essential oils, I’d have thought you were mad…

      I agree with every single point you’ve made and shared. Why on earth would one put essential oils on one’s body anywhere one didn’t realistically need to leverage them for a specific concern? Why look to the feet as go-to for application? Why take a concentrated and aromatic item and use it in conjunction with the wellness of an animal whose sense receptors are vastly more powerful than one’s own, an animal who is not empowered to communicate clearly when they experience discomfort as a result of that application? Why start pouring lemon essential oil in water or adding lemongrass to a stir-fry when there are real lemons and real lemongrass at hand at the grocer’s? I can’t imagine, it boggles my mind. I don’t have a single book on my resource shelf that suggests drinking essential oils is practical, safe, or advisable. Yet, these are the very practices that are not only gaining momentum in the U.S., but beginning to eclipse the deliberate, thoughtful, and conscientious use of essential oils that has such a rich history and such extraordinary potential.

      The points I make here about how I’m NOT using essential oils are designed specifically to debunk some of that growing hype (and resulting “advice”) You suggest in your comment that the only reason essential oils haven’t been devoured already by pharmaceutical companies is that they aren’t profitable and patentable. I completely agree! Regrettably, savvy capitalists in the U.S. have found a way around that challenge: several companies are marketing essential oils as nutritional supplements and taking them out of the context from which their safe and successful use was born. Those companies’ profits are directly related to the volume of essential oils people consume, both internally and externally; their profits also depend on existing customers finding and keeping new essential oil consumers under the umbrella of their brands. I thought it was absurd when it first started. Now, it’s not funny at all.

      And so it is that I am seeing essential oils suggested for use in ways that are completely absurd here in the United States–on the feet, in drinking water, diffused 24 hours a day. Not just here and there and not just for a few silly things. I am meeting people whose introductions to oils have come from a salesperson who advised them to drink essential oils every day as preventative medicine. I have friends I thought would know better who want to know what essential oil to add to their dog’s food when he has diarrhea. As someone grounded in an approach that most likely mirrors yours, I’m shocked. And saddened. And I was at a bit of a loss as to how to meaningfully share that there are other ways to use essential oils (and ways in which it’s okay not to use them at all….).

      The things I have called out about how I’m not using essential oils (and why not) are designed to directly challenge the model being promoted by companies and individuals who are sadly either not aware of or not invested in aromatherapy’s rich history of safe and effective use. If you haven’t seen the kinds of things that I’ve seen, the things that made me feel like this post was even necessary, you are blissfully protected from the tsunami of misinformation that is surging in the U.S. as a result of marketing and social media. (And I kind of wish I lived where YOU live.)

      One clarification: when I say I respond to an adverse smell in my house by cleaning my house, I am saying that I don’t choose to mask whatever the offending odor is by just diffusing an essential oil. And when I clean my house, I *am* using essential oils, hydrolats, vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap; I’m not cleaning my house with chemicals because I’m in complete agreement with you that it’s preferable to leverage the antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties of the essential oils I have at hand!

      Thank you again for your thoughtful comments–they are a powerful reminder that this madness may be limited to the U.S. I hope the tsunami of misinformation never makes it to your shores.

      Blessings,
      Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

  • I have felt bad for spending a lot of money on oils and not using them every day, or even every week, and this made me feel so much better! EOs are a tool to be used when needed, not just because they smell good or “just because.” I’ve been using them for over two years, but I’m pretty conservative in my use, so it’s very reassuring to see I’m not wrong in using them sparingly. Thank you!

  • Love this post! So much common sense. Definitely sharing! You make me want to take classes (the non-MLM kind 😉)

    • Thanks, Jessica! And, YES, take classes! There are a host of reputable educators who can share their passion, experience, and wisdom. There’s so much to discover–and there are so many unique perspectives based on different backgrounds and experiences. I take every class I can!

  • Other than the use of lavender, I am really new to essential oils. There is a lot to learn. I do approach them with caution, treat them as medicine. I started learning more to treat some pretty nasty headaches that I often get. I appreciate your honesty and also for mentioning the other gifts that nature has for us to use. Simply changing what I eat or sipping some fresh ginger tea can make a world of difference. I will be reading more on your blog as I feel I have found a trustworthy source of information, Thank you!

  • Great article. I do buy my oils through an MLM because I feel confident in their quality, but I don’t necessarily feel confident in their advice. I’ve tried to research as much as I can on proper and safe practices, but would love to take a class from a certified aromatherapist. How could I find such a class? Thanks!

    • Hi, Colleen–thank you for your comment! I love the fact that you are seeking out resources on safe and proper use and challenging some of the advice you’ve been given. 🙂

      Your question regarding how to find a class taught by a certified aromatherapist is tricky to answer because it shines a light on another of the challenges facing aromatherapy in the US: there is no licensing body at the federal or state level to provide firm context for aromatherapy practice, titles, schools, or teachers. Certification in the US typically means that the school providing the aromatherapy education also provides a certificate of completion. The quality of the associated education–and the value of the resulting certification–depends entirely upon the quality of the program. There are some amazing schools that choose not to “certify” precisely because they feel the title of “certified aromatherapist” is muddied by that lack of context. Pointing you exclusively to educators who have emerged from a certifying school immediately limits the spectrum of aromatherapists from whom you might benefit, learn, and grow. Certifying schools will often list their graduates, which can be a starting point, but there are also many WONDERFUL instructors and educators who operate on a very small scale, without a formal certificate, teaching INCREDIBLE classes, maybe even in your hometown. But they can admittedly be hard to find.

      If we were sitting across a table from one another sipping tea, this is what I’d probably recommend: begin your search with your end in mind. First, know yourself and entertain the kind of aromatherapist, practitioner, or essential oil user you want to be empowered to be. That will give you some of the information you need to know to move forward in your search. There are a HOST of qualifying questions to ask yourself before you even start questioning your prospective teachers, be it an instructor for a one-hour introduction or a three-month course: is an online versus in-person program right for you? Do you want/need the depth and breadth of clinical blending as a foundation? While there are a host of esteemed teachers and programs that can be found from internet searches, there are also WONDERFUL TEACHERS offering INCREDIBLE (and tiny) classes in their hometowns. So where you are can also broadly inform what direction you take. I know, I’m not much help here… and I’m sorry.

      The simplest advice I have given to others who have directly asked me this question (and with whom I’ve had a chance to dialogue more intimately) is this: find someone who already has a reputation for being the kind of aromatherapist you want to be and ask that person what classes, which teachers, and what resources (including books, blogs, and FB pages) helped them get there. (I could keep you here for DAYS in answering that question from my perspective…) You can, of course, also search the graduate databases of certifying programs, but, again, that might limit the connections you make. The thing that ended up being the most valuable to me was asking reputable educators who ELSE they recommended, besides themselves–I quickly got a picture of which schools, which teachers, and which classes, programs, and resources were built on the kind of foundation I wanted for my own practice.

      I sincerely hope that helps! <3

      Kristina

  • As far as the feet, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about reflex points? That is what I had learned foot application was for. As well as it being the place on your body with the most open/biggest pores.

    • Hi, Heather–I agree that essential oils can be used effectively on the feet in conjunction with reflexology and/or meridians as laid out in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). I would both hope and expect that the individuals leveraging essential oils in that context have some training as reflexologists and/or are grounded in some knowledge of TCM to anchor and inform that use. I sometimes use essential oils on my clients’ feet in my massage practice, but only for those clients who seek outcomes directly supported by that use. What’s more, the boundaries I have in the scope of my application in my practice reflect the limitations of my own education in reflexology and TCM.

      The big challenge I have in entertaining the feet as a go-to point for application of essential oils outside of reflexology and TCM lies in the fact that while the feet do technically have large pores, those pores serve primarily as sweat glands, meaning they support an outward exodus of materials from the body. If I’m looking to experience a benefit from application of essential oils that encourages my body’s uptake of applied oils, I am likely to entertain an application that is more direct and relevant to my driving concern. Since many benefits can be had directly through the inhalation of essential oils, I’m also more likely to engage them in a way that encourages their engagement with my nose.

      Hope that helps to frame my perspective and answer your questions!

  • I’m not in complete agreement with all you have said but I do appreciate your desire to inform people about the overzealous temptation of EOs. I appreciate your cautions in using them straight and ingesting them. I also appreciate your info on over sensitivity, especially to those that use them frequently. Your comment on using oils properly in baths is wonderful too. I do find some of your remarks curious though, you mentioned practicing consideration of your massage clients and pets by diffusing off hours or not at all. Yet, you mentioned incense and body sprays. Now incense in a specific private location if you’re not going to see anyone else for several hours I can understand. However, body sprays will go everywhere you go. There are actually offices I’ve visited that prohibit use of any sprays, perfumes, etc. Hence, application to the foot is sometimes in consideration of other people not wanting to smell the EOs as well as sometimes not wanting to smell them yourself (kind of like pharmaceutical meds, what works doesn’t always taste/smell great).

    • Thanks for your comment–I can’t find a reference to incense and body sprays in this post. If you mean in the broader scope of what I create with essential oils, I do make, use, and occasionally sell both incense and body sprays, but I don’t use or wear them in conjunction with my massage practice as, to your point, many people have chemical and/or emotional sensitivities to them. By way of context, my massage practice is the smallest arm of my business, so I don’t see clients every day. I just avoid using scented products on the days that I do; I have a fragrance-free African black soap in my shower for those days. As for incense, I don’t really use it in my massage studio because the smoke gets into the otherwise pristine sheets and can linger long after a stick has burned.

      I can see how someone wanting to leverage the benefit of essential oils who is limited by a fragrance-free environment might have to consider application to the feet. I’m fortunate that my circumstances make it easier for me to navigate those kind of considerations on daily basis. 🙂

  • Thank you for your informed post. As someone who is doing research on using essential oils, I greatly appreciate your balanced approach. If I were to purchase essential oils for use in my home, for cleaning, and for topical (diluted) use, is there a place you would suggest that is not through a MLM company? I have struggled to decipher which oils are quality, since there is not a clear governing body in the US, and each MLM company has a different standard as well.

  • Thank you for this post, it is a breath of fresh air. I have only been using essential oils for four months, so am a newbie. First I thought they were a fad, but at the same time believed they had natural, positive properties that I would like to incorporate into our family. The last six months I have been removing toxic items from our home and health supplies (toiletries, cleaners, etc.). So, I decided to try them.

    However, I have definitely gotten caught in the EO whirlwind. Through my friends, FB, Pinterest, and several health blogs I feel pressure to use oils for most things. And I have been caught in the panacea myth heavily spread by MLMs and uninformed users. My desire is to incorporate EO into my health and home routines, but not misuse them. As a newbie, one thought I have had is why only inhale the oil’s aroma when I could drink some and maybe fix the problem faster. And, if so many people online and in books have never had a problem ingesting them, then why should I be concerned. I am not saying these thoughts are OK, but they have crossed my mind.

    One big frustration in my EO journey has been the huge mix of opinions! I am a big researcher and like to read a lot of info and practices before I choose what to do. It is hard to make a safe, informed decision when the options are so mixed. People say they are safe for ingestion and others say they are not. People suggest different blends and different methods of use for the same symptom. I feel like I am swirling just typing this 🙂

    Since reading your post I also want to learn more about other options like herbs. One of my regular uses of EO is spritzing a blend of roman chamomile and lavender on my pillow before going to bed. I believe this helps my sleep. I know about teas with the herbs but I thought the oils’ aromas would be more effective. I will try the tea though.

    Your post discusses many ways that you don’t use the oils, but what are some of the ways you do use them?

    Do you have suggestions for books or resources that explain how essential oils have historically been used, before the recent, big trend? Thank you again for the helpful info, it has given me much to think about.

    • Thanks for your kind comments. And welcome to the world of aromatherapy! There’s lots to discover–and many voices (and opinions!) to both inform and confuse that discovery. 😉

      I have links to some (though not all!) of the books I reference on the “books, links, and more…” page of this blog. Towards the top, before the big bulleted list, you’ll find some of my recommendations for the books I regularly recommend. You can go straight to the page via the following address:
      http://wp.me/P2VI5F-1R

      Keep exploring!

      P.S. I often spray lavender and chamomile hydrosol on my pillows before sleep–still counts as aromatherapy, just not essential oils. 😉

  • I have been using Lavender behind my son’s (8 yr old) ears and vetiver on the back of his neck or the bottom of his big toes three times a day to help with focus and concentration. He has ADHD. It seems to be extremely helpful! I can tell when we have forgotten to put it on. After reading your post, it makes me wonder if it is possible for him to develop sensitivities to them. I began using after researching natural solutions to ADHD. I came across several studies that demonstrated success using these oils for ADHD. I don’t want to create problems though by using them.

    • Hi, Sharon–thanks for your comment.

      Speaking broadly (and not specifically with respect to your son), there is a potential for sensitization with use of essential oils, but there’s way to know when or if it will occur. Some people work with and/or apply oils regularly and never experience it; sadly, some people do, sometimes even after relatively little exposure. That shouldn’t discourage their use altogether, however. Reducing exposure by diluting essential oils is one potential way to reduce the risk. Inhalers (which are just sniffed and don’t involve topical application) are another option.

      To address your concerns for your son in particular, I’d encourage you to continue to seek out information that not only provides suggestions as to what can work, but also resources on how those solutions can be safely leveraged in the context of his age. To safely address his unique circumstances, I’d also recommend a consultation with a qualified clinical aromatherapy professional. S/He can help you craft (or confirm) a solution specific to him. Lora Cantele and Nerys Purchon’s book has recipes that might also be worth considering; their recipes have been vetted for safety and they include age-specific blends. You’ll find a link to their book below:

      http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Aromatherapy-Essential-Handbook-Everyday/dp/0778804860

  • Thank you! Oh goodness. I have been looking into essential oils for years now. I love to research certain things (Ok, only 2 things. Adoption and delicious recipes) but things as complex as Oils is way over my head and so very overwhelming. I only recently purchased my first set. (Then immediately freaked out because everything I was told to do contradicted every article I read. So I sold them at a fraction of the cost. Out of panic. I regret it now) I have slowly been collecting them again. Only to freak out again and swear up and down that its not worth it, they are too scary. But reading this post (Sent by my sister who is my “why are essential oils so terrifying!” lending ear) I think I can do this safely. I am sticking with you for a while. Thank you so much.

    • Hi, Cori-Lynn–thank you for your kind comments!

      I know the information can be overwhelming; I encourage you to stay curious and let your confidence grow. There are more ways to use essential oils than any one person can even imagine, but those ways are not all created equal in terms of their efficacy or their potential risks. As your confidence grows, you can expand the ways in which you use essential oils comfortably and safely. Many of the things I’ve made have come from pure inspiration based on my energetic response to an oil–and much of my learning has come from the desire to know how to confidently use them safely in new ways.

      While I’m delighted to hear you’ll be sticking around, don’t let me be your single source for information. The best of what aromatherapy has to offer is born out of the diversity of experience, application, perspective, insight, and relationship offered by aromatherapists around the globe. Find as many voices as you can that reflect, inform, and challenge your relationship to essential oils and you’ll be richer for it.

      Blessings,
      Kristina

    • Thank you, Keryn! It’s true–arsenic is natural, cyanide is natural, lead is natural…. that doesn’t mean they’re good for us or safe. Even peanut butter can kill people who are allergic! We’re wise to be deliberate in our thinking and our use. 😉

  • I tend to always feel most comfortable with the very most conservative and safe approach when it comes to health and wellness because of having sensitive noses and skin in my house. 😉 I find your post to support a very safe approach from a very learned and studied background. I’ve never taken any sort of class nor have I read anything other than YLSearch.com testimonials and the EO Pocket Reference Book that I have. Would you be willing to recommend two things for me, please? One, I’d love to have a reputable book that I could read/own and reference for a safe approach to using oils. Two, if I happen to think that some MLM companies are a racket, could you recommend where I might go to purchase oils instead? I hate the MLM prices and pressure to continue purchasing monthly. HELP? I’ve been taken by the OILS. FOR. EVERYTHING. propaganda and you’re the voice of reason that I’ve been craving! Thank you!

    • Hi, Ann–thanks for your compliments and comment. 🙂

      I’m being inundated with questions about both books and essential oil suppliers. With respect to books, there are a HOST of books available. Which one is the best fit will depend upon your preferred approach to aromatherapy and how you hope to be empowered to use oils safely in your life. I most often recommend Lora Cantele and Nerys Purchon’s book, The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Guide for Everyday Wellness, for people who have begun a relationship with essential oils but are rethinking their use after challenging some of the things they’ve heard and seen. Lora and Nerys’ book is recently updated, includes profiles on individual oils, and has a TON of go-to recipes crafted with safety and efficacy in mind. The recipes outline potential contraindications, the book offers substitutions for those with a limited spectrum of essential oils in their cabinet, and offers clear solutions for unique age groups including children.

      As to where I recommend you buy oils, THIS is by far the question I am asked most often–it’s also the question I am least comfortable answering. I purchase most of my essential oils from a handful of suppliers who reflect my specific wants and needs, but there are others who offer amazing essential oils that I’m not engaged with, others who have great reputations that I just haven’t tried yet. It wouldn’t be fair or appropriate for me to provide a pat answer about where you should shop. Since the question keeps coming up, I WILL nevertheless be sharing a post in the next few days about HOW I choose my suppliers to help people get a sense of what matters to me. So, I’ll sort of be addressing the question of where to buy essential oils soon….

  • Applause and thank you!!! one thought (after reading all the comments…) those who wish to gain the benefits of aromatherapy and are in a ‘fragrance free’ work environment should look into creating a personal inhaler. I carry one with a blend of oils that help my chronic COPD, one could be created for any purpose or goal…and used without ‘offending’ those nearby. They are truly private and personal. Going to share a link to this article on the Nature’s Gift FB page. Thank you for writing it. It’s wonderful to see some sanity in the online world of extremes… either bathe the baby in neat oils, or never ever use an EO in any dilution…

    • EXCELLENT ADVICE, Marge! Inhalers are a discreet and powerful way to leverage essential oils, especially in a fragrance-free environment or where application isn’t practical, appropriate, or safe.

      Thank you, too, for your kind comments. They are deeply appreciated coming from someone like yourself. Hearing words of encouragement from an industry expert, a provider of quality essential oils, a champion of aromatherapy, and an advocate for safe and thoughtful use like you means the world to me. <3

  • i also have enjoyed your post and would love to have you email me with a recommendation of where to buy quality trustworthy EO’s. I conservatively use EO’s from a MLM company. I have tried to research different companies that sell EO’s but really have no idea who to really trust. Thank you for your advice!!

    • Hi, Larissa–thanks for your kind comments.

      I did email one person to provide some insight into where I buy oils, but it honestly isn’t feasible (or fair or appropriate) for me to keep doing that. I have very specific things that inform where I purchase–and there are more reputable suppliers than those I am engaging. I’ll be sharing a blog post soon about the kinds of things I look for and the questions I ask my suppliers to help provide some insight. 🙂

  • I’ve read your blog post but do have one question: how do you use your essential oils? I’ve used EO’s for years so I’m just curious…. Every way that I use them or have used them, you don’t! Thanks in advance!

  • Nubie here, and feeling silly having to ask, but what is a MLM company? What does MLM stand for?

    • It’s not a silly question–it’s refreshing to find someone who *doesn’t* know what MLM means! 😀 MLM is shorthand for “multi-level marketing.”. It refers to the marketing strategy, sales team organization, and compensation plan of a company. In broadest terms, Wikipedia defines MLM as:

      Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a marketing strategy in which the sales force is compensated not only for sales they generate, but also for the sales of the other salespeople that they recruit. This recruited sales force is referred to as the participant’s “downline”, and can provide multiple levels of compensation.

      There are several multi-level marketing companies playing in the aromatherapy field; their emergence has changed the way many people discover, learn about, and engage with essential oils.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Thank you for this post, I will be sharing it with everyone I know. I’ve been using lavender and tea tree oils a long time. But started looking into all of them and their benefits a few years ago. I’ve been grabbing up as many good books (all have been recommened by trustworthy professionals) as I can. And I am also saving up to take some real classes, not just on aromatherapy but also for herbs (if only I paid more attention when my grandmother was trying to teach me about herbs and their benefits as a kid lol). I also agree you don’t need to use, drink, bathe in, diffuse oils daily to get their benefits. There are many times I only need to just open the bottle and smell it. Thank you again

  • oh yay! Finally an article that advocates sensible and safe use of EOs! I love essential oils and use it for diffusing my bedroom from time to time, in my home made hairgel and body lotion (diluted! A few drops goes a long way!) and once for when my foot got a big bruise.

    It is a indeed disturbing to read so many articles promoting EOs for almost everything! some even promote how safe and natural the oils are….BUT EOs are soooo highly concentrated…and i dont think its safe to put such oils directly on your skin cos if you are lucky, your body might be able to tolerate it for a while but over time, it might push your body over the edge. Further some individuals have adverse reactions to what another person can tolerate. I read someone received 3rd degree burns by using undiluted lavender EO which is supposedly ‘safe’.

    and i shudder when anyone uses EOs on animals. Cats especially are super sensitive and their liver cannot break down many of the oils ….even if they merely inhale it! not kidding. That is how sensitive they are as they are just biologically different. for this reason, i buy everything unscented for the cats stuff. Also when i diffuse EO in the bedroom, they are not allowed in. and if my body lotion has anything scented, i avoid touching them or letting the, rub against me since i dont want to accidently end up poisoning them. When nothing happens, its called paranoid…but i sure do not want anything happening to them. Imagine the vet bills!

    Many have good intentions…for their own health or for others…but EOs need to be properly handled and usage without proper understanding may actually end up harming instead of healing them.

    p/s: from one cat lover to another….lilies are highly toxic to cats…. hope the lilies are in no way reachable to your precious furball!

    • Hi, Charmaine–thanks for kind comments! My animals are more sensitive than most (that seems to be criteria for the joining our animal family at this point…). Lots of allergies and respiratory challenges among them. We take care to make sure as we’re in the better-safe-than-sorry camp! 🙂

      P.S. My lilies only go in my bathroom, where the door is almost always closed because we have a dog who likes to eat them. :\ They’re an occasional indulgence, but they are a dream in a vase beside an aromatic bath….

  • I love your thoughts here! (I especially appreciate your desire to look out for your pets with essential oils – I refuse to diffuse in my small home because my kitty lives there, too!)

    I hope this is okay – I loved one of your quotes from this post that I shared it on my Herbs/Oils Pinterest board (giving credit and a link back to your site, of course!) https://www.pinterest.com/pin/104286547598597697/ I wanted to remember your quote and hopefully spread some of the wisdom you’ve shared around the interwebs!

  • Lots of interesting info here. I am fairly new to oils and I love them. I started by using oils from one of the popular MLM. I just ordered some from Mountain Rose Herbs and from Native American Nutritionals. Looking forward to seeing if I like them as well as the ones from the MLM. While I was reading your article (and I agree with much of it), I kept asking myself… “so what DOES she use oils for”? Just curious 🙂

  • HI! I didn’t read all the comments (as there are a lot), so I am sorry if you have addressed this already. Have you written a post on how you do use oils? And what oils? I hear all the time that you use can use them internally, but I haven’t yet, especially since I am pregnant. I did make a toothpaste and was thinking of making a mouthwash, though. Any thoughts on that? And in what ways would you use them internally? Thanks!

  • Well written. I have tried to tell people much of this and they just assume oh you use oil and so you must drench yourself and your kids daily. ahh NO I respect oils enough to only use them as necessary. Thank you for the article.

  • Thanks for being the voice of reason on this issue. From my observation, this can be something that splits families apart. We struggle with enjoying our visits to my sister-in-law’s house because of the strong oil scents that have saturated everything. If she or one of her kids rides in my car, my kids can tell by the telltale odor that they had been in our car. And if she brings an item of clothing to our house and it’s sitting around, anyone can know exactly where it came from by the smell. Sometimes when we’re at her house and she is diffusing in the dining room right where everyone is eating it’s hard to even taste the food over the diffusion. My husband has allergies and going over there sets them off. And if anyone is ever sick, her unsympathetic reply of “Duh, lemon oil on the feet” is enough to make a person grit their teeth. When she’s sick, (and she is sick at least as often as everyone else) she thinks it’s unfair because after all, she is using oils and everyone knows that when you use oils you shouldn’t be sick. Anyway, thanks for the article!

  • thank you! thank you! Am going to share this with others new to oils and tempted to do things they ought not to be……

  • Thank you!!!! I have oils and use them when I feel the need arises but don’t everyday and don’t proclaim my love for them all over Facebook. I have done some research and stick to my guns on those points. It’s refreshing to read this as I often feel like I am the ‘Debbie Downer’ of my ‘oily’ friends because I’m not slathering, swallowing, and smelling them everyday.

  • I love your post it says one thing really loud……Take Care and Moderate yourself to your needs. I am at the start of a road in making Essential oils and this has highlighted a number of issues that i could see regards safety and control around the distillation process. Thank You from one that is learning.

  • THANK YOU!! And amen and amen and amen. Will be posting a link to this so very sensible article. The lack of key safety information has been driving me batty (Hey, MLM person, that eucalyptus you tried to give me? Yes, that will give me a seizure, so back off, thankyouverymuch). I mean, a lot of the safety information is OUT there, but they aren’t bothering to inform their salespeople, and many of the salespeople just say what they were taught instead of researching for themselves. It’s disturbing to me (an almost-certified aromatherapist, yay).

    (Also, I BOUGHT gloves but haven’t started using them – certainly will now!!)

  • Good read. My Mom has friends heavily into YL and it scares me a bit. I felt like it was all woo, for a bit, but I have a couple of friends who are soapmakers, one who is also a trained aromatherapist. They’ve helped me understand the benefits. I’m going to share this on FB and hopefully some of the YL folks I know will read it. Thanks for the levity.

  • Thank you for sharing this information! I’m similar to many of the previous posters in that I am new to oils and am always trying to find unbiased, research-based information. As others mentioned, it is very difficult to come by this information. I am curious though, what your thoughts on using an oil daily to help with ailment as opposed to medicating? For instance, I find the Lemon/Lavender/Pepppermint combo very helpful with my chronic sinus issues during this time of year (and I’ve tried many remedies!). Normally, I’d take Zyrtec but since I am nursing, I am unable to, and I’m trying to move away from pharmaceuticals for daily use. Similarly, I find my children sleep so much better using certain oils before bed, and some oils can truly help my hormonal anxiety. I’m just curious what the risks are of daily oil use? If an oil blend can help keep me from using pharmaceuticals for my allergies, or by preventing illness in my kids (which in turn would prevent needing an antibiotic), would they be worth the risks? (I should add that I always dilute oils in coconut oil before applying, and we don’t ingest.) Thank you for any insight!

  • YES. Thank you! I will share this on my professional fb page tomorrow- I agree with all the points you made and think it’s important info to get out. I cringe when I see some of the things my MLM oil friends post on facebook.

    I usually tell my patients that EOs are like supplements on steroids. As careful as I am with supplements, I’m about 10x more careful in prescribing EOs. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it can’t harm you or create undesired side effects!

  • Thank you for your well thought out and presented post! I am relatively new to EO’s and found my way to them about a year ago through an MLM. I am taking an aromatherapy course now and am very concerned about many of the teachings by the MLM. I am a Health Coach and plan to integrate EO’s into my practice. I’d be most interested in what EO’s you use and trust. Thank you!

    • Hi, again, Crystal! 😉

      It would be unethical of me to throw out a pat answer on what I’d use for the issue you raised; I’d want and need to know much more about the situation before responding. That would fall into the scope of my practice and out of scope of the blog. 🙂

      Blessings, Kristina

  • I use essential oils occasionally. I enjoy them but don’t know a ton about them. I love them in the bath… How do you dilute them properly for bath water? I’ve only ever noticed a negative reaction to camphor and simply use only a drop or two of any not already in an oil like jojoba. Enlighten the ignorant :)?

    • Hi, Mela!

      There are number of carriers one can use with essential oils in the bath–those that incorporate at least a little carrier oil are my favorites as I like the luxurious texture. I’ve used jojoba, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, avocado oil–even heavy cream!– and/or natural salts including Epsom salt, Himalayan pink salt, of natural sea salt. I typically use about 5-6 drops of essential oils for every ounce of carrier(s); I sometimes use even fewer drops of heavily aromatic (and expensive!) essential oils like Ylang Ylang. If you’re using 1-2 drops in an ounce (or even a half ounce) of jojoba, you’re playing the right range. 🙂

      The key is to keep the dilution rate safe (I almost always stay under 2% in any event), understand potential contraindications unique to both the essential oil and you, avoid highly sensitizing essential oils (such as Peppermint), and stay away from potentially photo toxic essential oils where you might be exposed to the sun/UV rays within 12-24 hours after application.

      Blessings,
      Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

      • Thank you for your thorough reply. All of that is completely doable. I have jojoba and Epsom salts right next to my bath. 🙂 I will keep all of this in mind for future use

  • I have the same philosophy about Essential oils as you do however I have spring allergies and I find the only way I get great relief is if I take the allergy trio in a capsule. Do you think digesting them, diluted, that way is still doing harm? There is so much information out there some say it can be harmful, others say it isn’t. I am just curious about your opinion. I tried oils to hopefully avoid a bunch of pills, sprays and drops.

    Thanks!

    • Hi, Heidi.
      I think there is potential for harm, especially if the blend you are ingesting hasn’t been vetted by a qualified practitioner in the unique context of your health history, specific concerns, demographics, etc. If you’re determined to continue using the same blend the same way, I’d encourage you to seek out a well-educated aromatherapist with relevant experience who can appropriately consider the risks with you. Avoiding ingestion doesn’t have to mean jumping to pharmaceuticals, either. Candidly, the very best solution I have found for spring allergies is also one of the least risky: a simple inhaler! It’s more direct, poses fewer systemic concerns, and avoids the concerns of ingestion altogether.

      Blessings,
      Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

  • Years ago my mother introduced me & my sister to essential oils. We all bought our own copies of Worwood’s book and Tisserand’s book. Then we just dabbled on and off, always diluting, never ingesting and really with a less is more approach, and no adverse issues. Years later, a weird thing had happened. I had fallen in love with a couple of blends I smelled in a spa, from Lab of Flowers (Michael Scholes) and over a period of 5 years, on and off, I diffused them occasionally in my home and business. The last time I replenished my stock and diffused these blends I got really bad headaches. I tested this a few times and each time, the same thing happened. So I just stopped using oils altogether. I love aromatherapy and found other ways to fill my space with the magical scents of essential oils. I purchased products that were scented with EOs, like soaps, and candles and had no further issues (except for a few customers who didn’t love the aromas). But I was always puzzled why those particular blends which had once filled my house and business space with such a wonderful scent caused me such headaches later on. I’m keen to use essential oils again, but am a bit worried that I can’t tolerate them anymore. I appreciate all the cautionary information here. Thanks.

  • its funny that you eat all kinds of plants everyday and don’t realize the essential oils you are using from you makeup to your lemon in your tea… They are just everywhere and you use them for everything. The MLMs are pretty harmless and most people use them as buying clubs. So, I just don’t understand why people think they are harming anyone.

    • Hi, Lisa. Thanks for your comment…. I respectfully disagree. Essential oils cannot be procured without some form of distillation or extraction. A single drop of essential oil is FAR more concentrated than a reasonable volume of its source material. One is absolutely exposed to the source material on the daily if one is consuming herbs, citrus fruits, etc., but there is a huge volume difference between adding fresh lemon to one’s drinking water and adding several drops of essential oils. To create an equivalent, you’d need to press HEAPS (I mean many, many, MANY pounds) of lemon peels (no juice!) and add what you got to a mere 8 ounces of water. If you’ve ever accidentally gotten a spray from lemon peel in your eye, you can probably appreciate how intense even a small amount of oil from the peel is, even un-pressed. Fresh lemon in water versus several drops of lemon essential oil is just not a reasonable comparison. It’s not apples to apples for me, it’s more like apples to socks.

      There’s no harm in creating a structure by which people who use essential oils can both profit and save via MLMs as buying clubs. The tricky thing is, MLMs are partly responsible for creating the perceived parallel between ingesting essential oils in drinking water and leveraging their source material (drinking essential oil versus using fresh lemon); it’s partly a result of their having specifically labeled essential oils as nutritional supplements for internal use. The potential safety risks associated with such use is exacerbated when some MLM representatives focus more on using their MLM as a selling club. Because the more people consume, the more a rep sells sell–and the more they make.

      The most harmful thing is the vacuum of reasonable risk dialogues and safety information. The very structure of MLMs, by virtue of having “independent” representatives, makes it difficult to hold the companies themselves accountable. And while there are MANY MLM representatives who have grounded themselves in safe use, sadly, many others are simply passing along marketing jargon and hearsay that fly in the face of what is generally accepted as safe use. I don’t necessarily think MLMs are harming people, but I do believe some of the practices they actively promote or passively allow present real risk to consumers. That’s true of ANY company, MLM or not, that does not provide a complete picture of both the essential oil in question and methods of use in general.

      Just my two cents. 🙂

      Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

  • Great article. One thing I’d like to point out; you said you wouldn’t diffuse oils constantly because of your pets, including cats, so you use lilies instead. Lilies are extremely toxic to cats. Just walking through the pollen on the counter is enough to poison and possibly kill them. Please keep lilies away from your cats!

    • Hi, Sarah, thanks for your comment. 🙂

      I am aware that lilies are toxic to cats–the only places lilies go in my house are where the cat can’t go–either the bathroom or the mud room, both of which are kept closed. I also only purchase lilies about once a year–they were only referenced because I was given some the day before and I could smell them in the house the day I wrote the post. Believe me, I wish I’d picked a different flower off the top of my head…. Lots of people think I am trying to kill my cat with lilies now. I promise, she’s good. <3

      Kristina, the Untamed Alchemist

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