Hidden Dangers In Essential Oils

Hidden Dangers In Essential Oils

Despite the hidden dangers in essential oils, they have become a multi-billion dollar industry.  

Maybe you are using them as an alternative to commercial fragrances or just to make your home smell good.  Or perhaps, you are using them to help you with your mental well-being.  And many of you may be ingesting essential oils because they can supposedly help with all sorts of ailments and illnesses.  Many aromatic essential oils have well-documented therapeutic actions when used in aromatherapy.

You have been told since essential oils are derived from plant material, they are completely safe to use, including ingesting the essential oil.  There are even some companies who sell USDA-certified organic essential oils (including us) – which means the essential oils are free from toxins and are completely safe to use right?

The common assumption is that

if a product = NATURAL, then it is SAFE.

If the product = SYNTHETIC, then it is TOXIC

The problem is there are many hidden dangers in essential oils that many companies who sell essential oils do not want you to know about.

In this article, we will explore some of the misconceptions and dangers concerning essential oils.

Myth # 1 “Since they are natural, there are no hidden dangers in essential oils. They are safe to treat various conditions or to use as a replacement for various ointments and medications”

 

As far as medications, many people believe that taking a natural product is effective, safer, healthier, and better compared to synthetic drugs.

Unfortunately, many natural health products have failed to show their claimed benefits.  As an example, a popular belief is that the herbal plant known as echinacea can help fight the common cold among many other claims.  Numerous studies have found there is insufficient evidence of any benefits from taking echinacea.

This does not mean the health claims concerning echinacea are not true.  It just means that despite numerous studies, there is still insufficient evidence to substantiate these claims.

Plus, many natural medicines have adverse side effects, including profoundly serious side effects, including death.  Unfortunately, that includes essential oils.

Also, people believe that essential oils are free from chemicals, so essential oils are safe to ingest since many people equate chemicals as meaning toxic or synthetic.

Do you know what essential oils are made of?  You guessed it, chemicals – a diverse amount of chemicals. 

To date, over 2000 chemicals have been found in essential oils.  Some essential oils have been found to have over 500 chemical compounds!  Since there are so many chemicals found in essential oils, the hidden danger of essential oils is not fully understood.

Some of these highly concentrated chemicals can be harmful to your health, your pet’s health, or the environment, even in small amounts. 

Many of these chemicals have not been studied enough to understand their effects and toxic levels on the human body. 

There have been many in vitro studies done on essential oils that show they are great at killing all sorts of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.  The problem with in vitro studies, is these are studies done in glass dishes, test tubes, and lab benches.  These results do not equate to being effective in the human body.

Many companies selling essential oils will reference in vitro studies.  Remember, that does not always mean the essential oil will work the same way in the human body.  In vivo studies are studies done on the human body.  These are the most important studies.  Unfortunately, there are not many in vivo studies available for essential oils. 

As an example, tequila is a natural product with high alcohol content (between 45% – 75%).  Because of the high alcohol content, in vitro studies show tequila is excellent at killing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites on surfaces, including your hands.  But it does not matter how much tequila you consume; tequila is not going to cure you of the common cold or bacterial infection. 

Another great example is bleach.  Common bleach is a common household cleaning and disinfectant product found in pretty much every home.  Made of chlorine gas, caustic soda, and water, bleach is manufactured from natural ingredients.  Through a simple chemical process, sodium hypochlorite is created.

Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) makes an excellent disinfectant and cleaning agent.  But do not think of ingesting bleach or even applying undiluted bleach topically.  Bleach is highly corrosive and can cause severe damage to your gastrointestinal tract, severe burns, and death.

Many essential oils are no different.  Reports of essential oil poisoning are on the rise.  In Australia, their poison control center says that 63% of their essential oil poisoning cases involve children.

The most common problem reported from using essential oils is various skin irritations or contact dermatitis. 

Nearly half the calls reported are for one essential oil – eucalyptus.  This is because ingesting just a few milliliters of eucalyptus can result in serious complications including stomach pains, nausea, convulsions, and death.

As a quick reference, 1 tablespoon is equal to 14.78 milliliters. 

Most essential oils have not had any long-term safety studies conducted, despite the large number of chemicals found in them.  It is important to consider the long-term effects because many products are unsafe because of long-term exposure.  The hidden dangers in essential oils are no exception.

Talcum powder is a perfect example.  Despite being a natural product used for years, some talcum powder has small amounts of asbestos in it, which is a known carcinogen.  Now it has been discovered that some women who used talcum powder regularly on the genital area have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

When using essential oils in a diffuser, there are very few health risks.  But when you ingest essential oils or even use them topically, those risks greatly increase. 

The following table is a partial list of essential oils that should not be ingested along with symptoms of possible poisoning. 

This is not an exhaustive list, and it does not include every possible symptom or any long-term complications from ingesting these essential oils.  We also do not list the amounts required to cause poisoning.  Just because it is not on the list does not mean it is safe to ingest.  There are many factors involved including your age, medications, allergies, etc.

25 essential oils you should never ingest or if you do, use EXTREME caution if ingesting

Essential OilSymptoms
BirchInhibits clotting, convulsions, vomiting, fever, rapid and labored breathing, cyanosis, tachycardia, respiratory alkalosis, tinnitus, deafness, death.
Bitter AlmondVomiting, delirium, difficulty breathing, feeble pulse, cold skin, convulsions, death.
CamphorCentral nervous system stimulation which may include delirium and convulsions, followed by depression (ataxia, coma), nausea, vomiting, vertigo, confusion, respiratory failure and death.
CassiaInhibits blood clotting, dizziness, double vision, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, and death.
CedarContractions of the uterus, asthma, gastrointestinal irritation, central nervous system stimulation, spasms, seizers, hallucinations, liver damage, death.
Cinnamon barkA burning sensation in the mouth, chest and stomach, dizziness, double vision, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, and death.
CitronellaVomiting, shock, frothing at the mouth, fever, deep and rapid respiration, cyanosis, convulsions
CloveAcidosis, deteriorating liver function, CNS depression, deep coma, convulsions, ketonuria, low blood glucose, death.
EucalyptusCentral nervous system stimulation, depression, drowsiness, coma, abnormal respiration (shallow or labored breathing), pinpoint pupils, ataxia, vertigo, epigastric pain, vomiting, weakness in the legs, cold sweats, headache, death.
JuniperSevere gastro-intestinal inflammation of the stomach and bowels, diarrhea, convulsions, death.
HyssopConvulsions
MugwartConvulsions, gastroenteritis, hypotension, hallucinations, uterus contractions, increased urination,
Mustardcardiovascular issues, respiratory problems, diarrhea, coma, death.
NutmegPsychotropic effects including hallucinations, heart palpations, blurred vision, agitation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, death.
Parsley/apioleFever, severe abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea.
PennyroyalFever, delirium, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma, tingling and numbness of the extremities, hemorrhage, death.
PineDrowsiness, delirium, headache, nausea, ataxia, tachycardia, paresis, gastroenteritis, toxic nephritis, renal failure, death.
RosemaryVomiting, headaches, muscle spasms, skin flushing, seizures, coma, excess fluid in the lungs, menstrual bleeding, irritation of stomach and intestines, death.
Sage (Dalmatian)Convulsions.
ThujaConvulsions, gastroenteritis, flatulence, hypotension.
Sassafras Shock, vomiting, central nervous system depression which may cause inadequate respiration and blood circulation, death.
Tea TreeConvulsions, ataxia, drowsiness.
Wintergreen/methyl sallcylateConvulsions, vomiting, fever, rapid and labored breathing, cyanosis, tachycardia, respiratory alkalosis, tinnitus, deafness, death.
WormseedGeneralized edema, skin and mucous membrane irritation, headache, vertigo, tinnitus, double vision, nausea, vomiting, constipation, deafness, blindness.
WormwoodSeizures, stomach cramps, kidney failure paralysis, vomiting, muscle breakdown, death.

Also, keep in mind that many essential oils are dangerous if used topically.  For example, peppermint should never be used on infants since it can cause life-threatening breathing problems.

If you are allergic to nuts, you should avoid using any essential oil derived from nuts.

Using essential oils repeatedly can also lead to temporary or permanent allergic reactions. 

If you are using your essential oil topically, you should always dilute your essential with a carrier oil. 

The following are some good carrier oils to use

Apricotjojoba
AvocadoGrape seed
Borage seedMarula
CanolaOlive
CastorSesame
EmuSunflower
Evening primroseSweet almond

When using an essential oil topically, it is best to dilute the essential oil to where there is no more than 2% of the essential oil.  The other 98% should be your carrier oil.

Essential oils that can be dangerous if used topically

AjowanAllspice
Bay LaurelBirch (sweet)
Bitter AlmondCassia
Cinnamon barkCinnamon Leaves
CloveGarlic
FennelFir needle
LemongrassMugwart
MustardOnion
OreganoParsley
PennyroyalSage
SpruceThyme
WintergreenWormseed
Wormwood

Hidden dangers in essential oils used topicallyBesides these oils that can cause skin irritations, some essential oils can cause photosensitivity – making your skin more sensitive to the sun.  This is mainly caused by a chemical called furanocoumarin. 

Essential oils that include furanocoumarin are:

Angelica RootBergamot
CitrusCumin Seed
GrapefruitLemon – cold pressed
Lime – cold pressedMandarin
Orange, bitterRue leaf

Do not underestimate the danger.  This can turn into a serious problem.  There are cases where people have received second and third-degree burns after applying an essential oil to their skin and then either going out in the sun or being exposed to UV light from a tanning bed.

Keep in mind that if you are taking essential oils internally, there can be known and unknown interactions with various medications.

For example, if you are taking the blood thinner Coumadin (Warfarin), Some essential oils will increase bleeding when you are taking warfarin. These include ginger, garlic, sweet birch, wintergreen, and onion, to name a few.  Just using birch and wintergreen topically can have an adverse reaction to warfarin.   

 

Myth # 2 “Organic essential oils are safer to use compared to non-organic essential oils because organic essential oils do not have any added chemicals”

 

First, let us get some definitions out of the way.

USDA Organic

  • Produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
  • Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
  • Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
  • Contains 100 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural)
  • Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be designated “100 percent organic.” 
  • Many value-added farm products with no added ingredients—such as grain flours, rolled oats, etc.—can also be labeled “100 percent organic.”

Organic

  • May include USDA organic seal and/or organic claim.
  • Must identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) via asterisk or another mark.
  • Must contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water).
  • The use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering (genetically modified organisms or GMOs) are prohibited.

For more information about what is allowed in organic and USDA organic products, please see the Article from the U.S. Department Of Agriculture.

Here is the list of synthetic substances that may be used in organic crop production:

As algicide, disinfectant, and sanitizer

AlcoholsEthanol
IsopropanolCalcium hypochlorite
Chlorine DioxideHypochlorous Acid
Sodium HypochloriteCopper Sulfate
Hydrogen peroxideOzone gas
Peracetic acidSoap-based algicide/demossers
Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate

As herbicides, weed barriers

Herbicides – soap basedMulches
Newspaper or other recycled paperPlastic mulch and covers (petroleum based)
Biodegradable biobased mulch filmSoaps, ammonium – for animal repellent
Ammonium carbonateAqueous potassium slicate
Boric acidCopper sulfate
Elemental sulfurLime sulfur
Calcium polysulfideSome oils
Sticky traps/barriersSucrose octanoate esters
Pheromones – for insect managementVitamin D3 – Rodent Control
Ferric phosphate

For Plant Disease

Aqueous potassium silicateCoppers – copper hydroxide, oxide,oxychloride
Copper sulfateHydrated lime
Hydrogen peroxideLime sulfur
Peracetic acidPotassium bicarbonate
Polyoxin D zinc salt

As plant or soil amendments

Aquatic plant extracts – potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxideElemental sulfur
Humic acidsLignin sulfonate
Magnesium oxideMagnesium sulfate
Micronutrients – Soluble boron, sulfates, carbonates, oxides or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt.Liquid fish products – can be PH adjusted with sulfuric, citric, or phosphoric acid.
Vitamins B1, C, and ESquid products – from food waste processing.
Sulfurous acidEthylene gas – as a plant growth regulator
Sodium silicate – for tree fruit and fiber processing

 

Myth # 3 “My essential oil company states their essential oils are safe to ingest because their essential oils are the purest and of the highest quality”

 

The more a person uses their essential oils, the more often they need to purchase essential oils. 

The best way for companies to get people to purchase their essential oils is to get them to believe their essential oil is the purist.  These companies say that since their essential oils are pure and natural, their essential oils are safe and can heal all sorts of ailments naturally if you ingest the essential oil.  But you must purchase the essential oil only from their company.

Many of these companies may even direct you to a study or two that indicates a certain essential oil may have a positive effect on the body when ingested. 

They may even tell you that taking essential oils internally is an effective way to get the oils to be absorbed into the body to promote health and wellness of your body. 

Ingesting essential oils that are toxicHere is what they don’t tell you: “All essential oils are toxic”.

It does not matter how pure essential oil is.  Many of the natural compounds found in the essential oil itself are toxic. 

But if used correctly and in the proper quantity (usually much smaller than you think), essential oils can be safe to use, and some can be ingested.  But should you be ingesting essential oils?

The companies that most often tell you their essential oils are safe to ingest are multi-level marketing companies.  They will even make a big hoopla about how they control the entire growing process.  But remember, essential oils naturally have toxic chemicals in them, even if all organic growing practices are followed. 

But how about professional aromatherapists that do not work for these companies?  What do they say about ingesting essential oils?

Overwhelmingly, most aromatherapists that do not work for multi-level marketing companies will tell you they do not recommend ingesting essential oils – even essential oils that are of the highest quality.

The reason is simple.  Everyone has different bodies, different chemical makeups, different needs, different circumstances, and is on different medications, along with many other factors.  All these need to be taken into consideration before ingesting essential oils. 

The average person is not trained to know how essential oils will be affected by all these different circumstances, not to mention that not all the compounds found in essential oils have been studied enough to know what effects they have on the human body. 

Most aromatherapy works through the inhalation of essential oils.  The next common way of using essential oils is through dermal absorption.  And finally, the third way is through ingestion. 

The amount of essential oil absorbed through the skin is not well understood.  The largest reason for this is that most essential oil absorption studies on humans have failed to prevent the person from inhaling the essential oil. 

As a result, it is unknown if the positive effects were achieved through skin absorption or inhalation.

I have gone through numerous essential oil absorption studies, but not a single study I have looked at had the test subject isolated on a separate air source.  There is no way of knowing if the test results occurred from absorption or through the olfactory (smelling) of the essential oil.

For a nice summary of skin absorption studies of essential oils, please read this article from the Aromatherapy Global Online Research Archives.

And finally, studies have shown that taking essential oils internally is the least effective way to receive the therapeutic properties of the essential oil.

The reason is simple.  The oil ends up in the digestive tract where most of the essential oil is broken down before it reaches the bloodstream.

 

Some essential oils can be endocrine disrupters

 

Research has shown that some essential oils can act as an endocrine disrupter, even when used in a diffuser.  These essential oils can cause numerous issues in the human body.  Some of these issues involve the disruption in the development of young children, including reproductive changes.  For example,  exposure to lavender (including from a diffuser) can cause early development of breasts in young girls and some essential oils can interfere with the immune system. 

Both lavender and tea tree have been linked to prepubertal gynecomastia (the development of breast tissue) in boys.

Check out this Article from Endocrine News for more information. 

There are four chemicals found in both lavender and tea tree that have estrogenic (estrogen enhancing) and/or anti-androgenic (testosterone blocker) properties:

  • Eucalyptol
  • 4-terpineol
  • Dipentene/limonene
  • Alpha-terpene

There are another four chemicals found in either of these essential oils that also have these properties:  These chemicals are: 

  • Linalyl acetate
  • Linalool
  • Alpha-terpinene
  • Gamma-terpinene

Studies so far have found 62 essential oils that include known endocrine disrupters. 

The top 4 essential oils that are known to be endocrine disrupters are:

  • Lavender
  • Tea Tree
  • Clary Sage
  • Thyme

Some of the health problems caused by endocrine disrupters include:

  • ADD (attention deficit syndrome) in children
  • Breast cancer and uterine fibroids
  • Developmental effects on the nervous system of children
  • Early puberty
  • Non-descendent testes in young males
  • Prostate cancer in men
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Thyroid troubles
  • And others.

For further reading concerning the dangers of essential oils acting as endocrine disrupters, here are a few articles you may wish to read. 

Article 1 “The New England Journal Of Medicine” 

Article 2 “Franklin Health Research” 

Article 3 “Science Daily” 

Essential oils can cause allergic reactions

Allergic reactions from essential oils are usually minor.  Typical reactions include itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, running nose, and congestion.  When used topically, reactions such as red skin, itchy skin, hives, and swelling of the skin can occur. 

Some allergic reactions can cause asthma-like symptoms, even in people who do not suffer from asthma. 

And finally, in some rare cases, allergic reactions can become life-threatening.   

When trying out a new essential oil, start by using a small amount.  Even if you switch companies.  You do not know what is in that bottle.  Even if the essential oil has not been adulterated, many factors can alter the chemical makeup of essential oil. 

The chemical makeup of the essential oil can even change between batches.  Many factors can cause these chemical changes in essential oils including growing location, when it was harvested, watering conditions, soil conditions, various other environmental factors, processing, storage, age of the essential oil, etc.

 

Related questions

Can I ingest essential oils if I am pregnant?

You should not be using or ingesting essential oils if you are pregnant unless you are working with an aromatherapist.  

Some essential oils can be used safely while pregnant.  Both the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) and the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA) agree with this assessment.  For more information, please read this article published by the IFPA 

Are essential oils safe for kids to ingest?

No children should be ingesting essential oils, especially children under the age of six, unless under the supervision of a trained professional. 

Do not use an essential oil on a child because a website said essential oils are safe to use on kids.  Always seek the advice of a health professional or certified aromatherapist (not one affiliated with a multi-level marketing company) before giving a child essential oils internally. 

Are GRAS essential oils safe to ingest?

These products have ONLY  been deemed safe for flavoring and only in very specific quantities, typically measured in parts per million – not the amounts you receive in a drop of essential oil.

GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) is a designation assigned by the FDA for products that are safe to use as flavorings in the food industry.  Put it this way.  An essential oil that has received the GRAS designation means that it is safe to ingest that essential oil when it is diluted to 1 part in a million.  That is about 1 drop of essential oil in 150 bottles of water.  Not 3 drops in a cup of water.

When a company uses the GRAS designation as proof that its essential oils are safe to ingest, this is highly misleading.  But by telling you this, you think it is safe to ingest the essential oil and you will need to keep purchasing more essential oil from them.

Are essential oils safe to use around pets? 

Unfortunately, many essential oils are not safe to use around pets.  In our article “Essential Oils For Odor Elimination”, we touch on this subject and include lists of essential oils that are safe and not safe to use around cats and dogs.  Also, some essential oils are safe to use with your pet fish.  We have an entire article called “Are Essential Oils Safe For Fish?” devoted to this subject.

Conclusion

Most essential oils are safe to use when used properly.  Research has shown that many essential oils do have health benefits. 

It is up to everyone to do their research before using essential oils. 

Over here at Enchanted Aromatics, we sell essential oils and diffusers.  But we do not try to oversell our products by providing you misleading information or by not informing you.

Enjoy your essential oils but be informed and use them properly and especially, be safe.  Our advice is to not rely on the internet for your information.  There are too many companies trying to push their essential oil brand on their customers.  If you have questions, the best person to ask is a licensed aromatherapist.   

DISCLAIMER:

Information provided in this description is for educational purposes only.  For possible treatments of physical or mental diseases, please seek a trained and licensed health professional.  Enchanted Aromatics is not responsible for any adverse side effects resulting from the use of any suggestions, products, preparations, or procedures mentioned or from following historical uses of essential oils.

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