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Are Essential Oils Safe?

Some kinds of essential oils are claimed to be effective in various disease management practices. However, the inappropriate use of essential oils may cause some side effects like skin allergy or even miscarriage

Hong Kong Consumer Council once stated that some types of essential oils might cause adverse reaction. Aside from the quality issue, they may be primarily caused by inappropriate use or overuse. As brand owners, they have to be aware of the features as well as the dos and don’ts of every essential oil. As retailers, how much do you know about essential oils? Have you told your customers clearly what should be aware of when it comes to applications of essential oils?

“Not a kind of dangerous goods, essential oils are safe if they are used appropriately. Otherwise, they may bring side effects or danger to users”

Not 100% Safe

As purely natural products, essential oils have their own effectiveness. Still, there are rules of use. They are likened to the Chinese medicine which cannot be freely consumed despite its purely natural qualities, and seeking advice from professionals is necessary. Likewise, applications of essential oils should be cautious, and even far more cautious than the intake of the Chinese medicine, as essential oils are highly concentrated botanical oils extracted from plants. Not a kind of dangerous goods, essential oils are safe if they are used appropriately. Otherwise, they may bring side effects or danger to users

The Appropriate Use of Essential Oils

Below are some basic principles of using essential oils:

  • At the initial stage of pregnancy (first three months), the use of essential oils are not recommended. From the second to third trimesters, aromatherapy is safe in many cases. But some kinds of essential oils cannot be applied, such as, Clary Sage. To healthy pregnant women, appropriate applications of essential oils can be relaxing while relieving various discomforts during their pregnancy and pain during their delivery. As to pregnant women with prior miscarriage or severe illness alongside women with prior miscarriage but planning pregnancy, being cautious in the use of essential oils is necessary. They may even avoid applications of them during every stage of pregnancy.

  • Babies in their first three months (first 100 days) of life should avoid the use of essential oils. As for premature babies, the first three months start from the original expected due date.

  • Unless under some specific conditions, the topical use of neat essential oils is not recommended. Since essential oils cannot be dissolved in water, they have to be diluted with botanical carrier oil or other agents (such as cream or aloe vera gel) for topical use.

  • Don’t get essential oils into eyes. If so, rinse them with whole milk first, then by warm water. Afterwards, seek medical consultation as soon as possible.

  • Don’t go sunbathing or in the sun within 12-24 hours after applying photosensitive essential oils, say, lemon, sweet orange and bergamot, which are citrus oils cold pressed from the fruit peels. Besides, St. John’s Wort infused oil commonly used in aromatherapy is also photosensitive, caution is the keyword for its application.

  • Oral intake is not recommended

Extra Cautions for Asthma & Epilepsy Sufferers

  • When it comes to the selection of essential oils, sufferers of asthma, epilepsy or severe high blood pressure should avoid the use of very stimulating essential oils, like Eucalyptus Golobulus, as they may trigger asthma and epilepsy.

  • As for highly allergic people selecting essential oils, it would be better for them to have a skin test of essential oils before any application. The simple way for a skin test is to apply a drop of diluted essential oils on the sensitive area of their inner arm. See if there is any allergic reaction in 24 hours.

  • The optimal amount of each consumption and optimal concentration level of essential oils are desirable. It is a wrong conception that the more concentrated the better. Their concentration level would affect their effectiveness. Lavender is a good example, as it can be relieving when it is less concentrated, while uplifting when it is more concentrated.

  • Some essential oils are highly effective for specific use but they can be irritative. A high amount of each consumption or long term application should be avoided. Wintergreen is one of the examples. In case of using these essential oils, attention should be paid on the amount of each consumption and their dilution.

  • Sufferers of severe illness, and patients after a major operation or having a history of chronic use of medicine have to select essential oils carefully. The right choice can assist their recovery or relieve their symptoms. A wrong choice of them may cause some side effects and offset the effectiveness of medicine. Consulting professional aromatherapists are highly recommended.

About the Contributor

Phoenix Li


Phoenix is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner and aromatherapist in Hong Kong and China. She obtained her degree of Chinese Medicine from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, and got her Master Degree of Acupuncture and Moxibustion from The University of Hong Kong. Since 2012, Phoenix has been teaching with Asia Pacific Aromatherapy in the Certificate Course.

Beside the solid educational background, Phoenix has also received traditional training from an ancient lineage originated from Emei mountain in Southwestern China, it has a thousand years of heritage covering a comprehensive system of medicine, qigong practices, martial arts, spiritual studies and other ancient Chinese health cultivation elements.


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