Essential Oil Safety: Using With Confidence
Every single day I am fascinated by earths wonders, and some of the most magical wonders surrounding us, are plants. Outside and inside we see our beloved plants, and they bring harmony and balance into our lives. When I got into herbalism and started studying plants intensively, I didn't expect the rush that would come over me. Plants bring many health benefits to us, and some of the worlds most advanced medicine first derived from plants. I am a firm believer that everything we really need, is outside, and mother earth provided it to us for a reason.
There are hundreds of ways that we can use plants in our lives to bring us some kind of therapeutic and physical relief, it truly just depends on how you wish to incorporate the amazing health benefits from mother nature. Majority of us prefer herbal tea and essential oils to take in the therapeutic relief from plants. I can't blame you, what a great way to start your love for plant medicine! The earliest record of essential oil use was around 2000-3000 BC in Egypt, China and India. It's no surprise that in those times many cultures were looking for relief from many conditions that they faced daily, and their first go to was always the plants that surrounded their land; it's no secret just how useful plants were for them.
However, in modern day we have noticed how much our use for plants have evolved, and for the most part, for the better. Thanks to scientific studies, we know just a little bit more about plants and plant safety more than we did back then. Although, it's no secret that we still have a lot to learn. Let me ask you something- have you ever felt worried about a product that you bought at your local drug store or grocery, then wondered if it was truly the safest thing for you and your family? I know I have, and that's no fault to you. We live in a society where a lot of things are out of our hands, and we are just now starting to learn that we need to put ourselves in the middle and ask more questions.
The viral Essential Oil controversy
I must admit, it's hard for me to see and hear how uneducated the public is when it comes to essential oils. Allow me to say one thing first- I still don't put you at fault. Without finger pointing, I do have a little bit more of a pumped up reaction today due to something I saw going viral on the internet. Should I put my third plug in here that I am truly not blaming this particular person either? I am not at all, but I am upset, and I hate seeing other people upset and then afraid of essential oils, because they are very much so beneficial to our health in many ways.
If you are wondering what I am talking about, or if you have a speculation of you knowing where I am going with this, let me give some more back story to this situation. This is not the first time where I really felt like I needed to write about essential oil safety, but this did push me towards urgency. A particular post showed up on my Facebook feed about a woman named Sue, who was worried about her daughters cat, Ernie, as he recently started acting strange, and the first thought that came her to mind were the essential oils recently purchased off of Amazon. Sue said that her cat was acting lethargic, unstable on his feet and was drooling. All of which are very vague symptoms, as her cat was also much older-he was 16. She also mentioned that there was some congestion going around in the household, and on the back of her essential oil box that she recently purchased, it said that eucalyptus would ease the symptoms. She had no hesitation to put some drops in her diffuser. She also mentioned that the diffuser was by her bedside going on for hours and days on end, and her cat loved sleeping with her.
Unfortunately, it is unclear how many drops were used, and the ratio of water used in the diffuser. Instantly, the internet went crazy! This post has recently been removed by the user, but the latest report was that the post was shared over 700,000 times! Everyone was freaking out because they too diffuse oils in the house and have cats, and were worried that they were putting their cats in danger. I don't blame anyone for feeling this way, because there is some truth in this. Before we get deeper, I do want to say that Sue should be applauded for then taking the cat to the vet to be treated for the symptoms, and for recognizing the first change she made to her routine, which were oils that could have potentially played a factor in Ernie's strange symptoms. However, he was treated with antibiotics, which caused some confusion with his treatment, and what the vet felt was truly going on with the cat. They are the experts! As I am writing this, reports have come out that Ernie is stabilized and doing well!
First things first
While I am happy to hear Ernie the cat is doing well, I do know that all of this could have been prevented. If we go back to the 3 times I said that I do not fault anyone at all here, it's because we have been set up for disaster. Allow me to explain..
Essential Oils have been all the rage lately, and almost everywhere I go, I see oil diffusers and essential oils. Literally, everywhere! A big part of me that lives, breathes and dies for plants, and wants to share my love for them to the public daily, makes me really happy to see them everywhere. I'm like "Wow, everyone is getting into essential oils! How great! I love them, and they are so beneficial to our health whether that is aromatically or physically". However, the other part of me is really disgusted with the industries who are promoting and selling essential oils at places like Amazon, Walmart, Krogers, Walgreens, Rite-Aid.. etc. I just want to take them all off of the shelf and throw them in the nearest dumpster. I really do! Going back to Sue's viral post, the first mistake that me and my fellow herbalist friends agree with, is that her first mistake was purchasing essential oils off of Amazon. Unfortunately, almost anyone these days can sell on Amazon, and no matter what the item description says, we can easily be fooled by the trigger words like: Therapeutic Grade, or All Natural. I get it, we see those words on packaging and we say "Okay, seems good. I'll buy it." However, the truth is that anybody can label their packaging how they want to. When it comes to purchasing essential oils, there are some things we need to consider. While even some of the best quality oils say Therapeutic Grade, or All Natural, it's still important not to be fooled by every claim. I hope you get my point! I know.. there is a lot we need to cover. Go grab some tea, we really need to talk about this!
Purchasing High Quality Essential Oils
We all hope that when we are purchasing items for our family, it will do us no harm. We all agree with that, right? Totally! I get it! I hope so too. However, it hasn't been until recently-maybe the last 3 years, that I have really paid attention to what items I put into my household, and what food items I choose to ingest. When it comes to the essential oils we see at our local grocery or drug store, we unfortunately do not have history on that oil. We do not know where it came from, how it got here, how the oil was distilled, and if/what the oil is cut with. Most oils at these type of companies are what aromatherapists and herbalists call "adulterated", because they are not high quality, pure essential oils. I hate to do this, but I compare it to how drug dealers on the streets cut their product. They will add an additional substance to the product, in this case oils, to expand their quantity. While doing this, we degrade and damage the product. However, it puts more money into their pocket.
Another factor that you want to think about when purchasing essential oils, is it too good to be true? That means, if you see a pack of essential oils at your local store, and they are $20 for 6 oils- most likely they are not pure oils. I can actually bet you big bucks they are not pure. Like all good quality products, they come with a price, and that is very true for essential oils. If you refer to my Bulgarian Rose Water post, I mention that Bulgarian Rose essential oils are one of the most expensive essential oils that you can find, and part of that is because Bulgarian Rose is only, and should only be derived from-you guessed it-Bulgaria. Also, getting only 10ml of essential Bulgarian Rose Oil takes hundreds upon hundreds of rose petals. It's not an easy process, and that small bottle can sell for $60-$70. While there are much cheaper, pure essential oils out there, like lime or lavender, it's still important to take cost into consideration as you could still be paying $7-10 for some of the cheapest essential oils, and that is only in the 5-10ml bottles that you mostly see. However, I do want to say that I have about 20 oils in my stash now, and none of them have broken the bank. They can be very reasonable when you take into consideration the process and rarity of the plant.
Another point you want to lookout for when purchasing essential oils is what is called a GC/MS test. This stands for Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry. This test shows the compounds within a substance, and can show when and where a substance was collected. This is incredibly important when purchasing an essential oil. You will want a company to be completely honest with you, and have them willing to disclose that they do indeed test all of their oils, and some companies will either put the test in PDF file next to the oil you are about to purchase, or they have it on their drive, and you as a consumer, can ask for the testing information on the product you are looking for before you buy. If they have nothing to hide, they will provide this information to you. I've asked for it many times with different companies, and they either will show you, or come up with an excuse as to why they can not.
Here is a round up, and extra quick tips when purchasing quality essential oils:
Look for a GC/MS test of approval seal, or file.
Notice the price of the oils you are looking at. Each company can price their oils differently, but if it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Take note of the discription of oils, and take note of the famous false claims.
Look for the organic seal of approval.
Look for the Non-GMO seal of approval.
Understand the background of the company, and their mission. It can be easy to understand a company's mission!
Safety & Confidence
Remember when I said that there is truth in essential oils potentially being harmful to animals, and in this specific case, cats? That's because it's true. It's also very much true that even human beings need to be careful when using essential oils because it can cause many issues when not careful, or when you are simply not using oils properly. While we talked about how adulterated oils are extremely dangerous, it still holds true for the most purest oils because of how potent they are. For example, there are some oils that hold specific qualities that react with it's surroundings like Lemon Essential Oil (or citric oils). Lemon creates what is called a phototoxic reaction, and this occurs when you are exposed to sunlight after applying or using lemon essential oils for whatever reason you are using it for. Mostly, lemon essential oils are used for antibacterial properties. When the lemon oil is exposed to sunlight on your skin, it can cause what looks like a bad sunburn or rash, and in severe cases it will need to be treated. Yes, it can burn you if you are not careful with the dilution and post-exposure steps. Now, it would be almost impossible for me to talk about every single oil out there on how to use it, what it's used for, and what your disadvantages are when using it, in this particular post, but- I just wanted to be completely transparent here about how complex essential oils are. Take accountability.
Cats & Dogs
Real Quick: I have studied essential oils and aromatherapy in the past, but I am not an aromatherapist. Currently, I am going through herbalism courses to become an herbalist. While these topics do intertwine, and I do learn about essential oils and their safety, I am in no shape or form considered an aromatherapist, nor will I be after I finish my studies. There is a difference between me being an herbalist, and being an aromatherapist. Herbalism dives deeper into medicinal plants and clinical work with clients. If you have questions, feel free to email me and I can direct you to proper information!
I am unable to speak for any other animals as I am not currently comfortable in the data around essential oils and.... hamsters.. for instance (maybe one day), however for most of us the pets we have around in our house are cats and dogs. Also, the internet is going wild right now over cats specifically, but I am sure we wonder about dogs as well. They are wonderful companions and are considered children to most of us. We would hate to ever have anything happen to them, and we will do everything in our power to keep them well and healthy. I do the same for my two cats. They are my world!
If you at all choose to use essential oils topically on your pets, you should only do so when accompanied by an aromatherapist, and have relations with a vet you trust. This goes for a lot of alternative medicine practices, like herbalism or aromatherapy- for a small example, it is a compliment to your health, and in this case, your pets health. Also, if you are wanting to diffuse essential oils for your pets specifically, and want to help ease any tension they have like PTSD for instance, you still need to talk to your vet and aromatherapist. It can be very dangerous to apply essential oils topically to our pets without the proper care and knowledge, and as well as diffusing essential oils for their specific benefit because as we know, animals like to move around, and when we start to enclose them in a space, without the willingness for the animal to move around so they can take in the aroma benefits of essential oils, we could cause a lot of harm without dosage knowledge as well as what essential oils are good, or not good for animals. When you talk to your vet and aromatherapist, and wish to use essential oils topically for your pet, your aromatherapist is going to heavily dilute the oil they think is best for the animal, and most times, topical applications will be where the animal can not lick. So, in short- if you are at all going to use essential oils specifically for the animal, and not you, always talk to an expert and your pets health official.
While I have you here, I want to make clear that there are certain essential oils that should never be used for your pet without the proper care. Most hot oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, tea tree, cinnamon and thyme are dangerous to them, (this is not an inclusive list). Perhaps they are not harmful to us when even we use proper steps to use them, but cats and dogs have a very unique sense of smell unlike us and it can be extremely overwhelming for them, especially if we are putting too many drops of EO's in our solvent based diffuser (water). Most importantly, cats and dogs livers are much different than ours. Their livers lack the ability to properly metabolize various compounds in essential oils. Toxicity in cats can occur very quickly, through an internal or external application, or over a longer period of time, through repeated or continuous unventilated inhalation of essential oils and in severe cases cause liver failure or death.
Always talk to your vet and aromatherapist before using essential oils for your pets, specifically.
Never enclose pets in a room while diffusing, unless accompanied with a professional.
Understand what oils can cause damage when using for your pets (this is where a professional also comes in).
Always have your essential oils locked up or put away where your animal can not reach, and potentially ingest.
what about our own personal use around the pet?
I am sure that when you are asking about your own personal use, and your pets being around, you are most likely referring to you using a diffuser in your house, while your pet is residing in it. As long as you have a well ventilated home, and your pet has the ability to roam around and leave the area if they wanted, or you have an outside space, you are going to be okay. I have been using proper essential oils in my diffuser for years around my cats without any issues. However, remember that I am using pure oils, and I am following the proper dosage guidelines. I would never diffuse in an area where my pets could not leave if they felt the need to. Your pet knows how to communicate with you!
Have a well ventilated home.
Never diffuse in a room where the animal can not willingly leave.
Have an outdoor space for any pet that is willing to be outside safely.
Understand dosage when diffusing. Water vs EO's.
Use an essential oil inhaler if you are using a hot oil, and wish to relieve a common ailment, like the cold.
Essential Oil Safety for me?
EO's are extremely potent substances, and can cause harm to us as well. There are a lot of discrepancies around the use of essential oils no matter how you look at it, because unfortunately without the regulation from the government, our communities are not getting the reliable information they need. Again, countries like the USA, are allowing the sale of adulterated oils, and these companies are making false claims. We need to start talking to our herbalists, alternative health practitioners and aromatherapist when it comes to these important conversations. Sometimes Facebook shouldn't be your resource for information!
A lot of people ask me if they can ingest essential oils. Short answer, yes. Long answer, it's very complicated (...very). I would never, and I can not recommend oils that I think you should use in your beverage. To most who view it, it goes against the nature of plants. The essential oils are a scent, intended to have an effect on its surroundings. Also, the oil is a highly concentrated plant part, not containing the plant as a whole with all the constituents available to balance out any negatives. Which in return, can be used for physical relief, but perhaps internal is a slippery slope we don't want to go down, unless we are talking with a professional, and it's highly diluted. Remember that hot oils like the ones mentioned above, have burning properties, and the oil can coat your esophagus, and in return could potentially cause burns. We must be cautious.
However, I use essential oils topically and aromatically all the time! I put oils at the bottom of my feet, in my bath, behind my ears, in my diffuser, on my pulse points and more. Essential oils are very therapeutic, and depending on the plant, it can relieve migraines, joint pain, tension headaches, cuts, scrapes, promote relaxation, sleep.. and more! The most important note though, is that when using EO's topically, they must be used with a carrier oil like organic coconut, evening primrose, olive, and/or used with water or epsom salts. If you can take anything away from this information, it's to remind yourself to always put something in the middle of you, and the oil.
Even potent oils can cause harm, we must study the plant.
Never ingest an oil without the knowledge, and care from an oil expert.
Never apply directly to the skin without a carrier substance.
Only purchase quality oils.
I can hear you sighing in relief now that you have the information you need to use essential oils with confidence. Do you understand now how complicated, complex, and beautiful these plant substances are? With the proper information, and steps needed to take when handling these compounds, the only thing EO's will do for us and our family, is help you find balance, and support you along the way. There is a lot of bad information out there, and I am sorry, but this is what makes my job so important, and I absolutely love doing it. Educating the public on the health benefits of plants is my passion, and part of my life purpose.
If after reading this you have noticed that you have done a lot of things unsafely, thank yourself for taking the time to acknowledge that maybe you didn't understand the complexity in the first place. If you also think, or notice that the oils you currently have at home are not quality oils, toss them. It might be hard, but even when diffused in your home, you are potentially causing devastating harm to you and your family. It's simply not worth it. If you are not sure on if your oils are keepers or duds, please email me and we can dig a little deeper. Most times people feel this way when they bought their oils at a local market, or if it was purchased off of a personal distiller.
I hope this was a weight off of your shoulders.