Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils (2024)

Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils (1)
Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum,MD on September 29, 2023

Written by Paul Frysh

Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils (2)

What Are Essential Oils?


They're made from parts of certain plants like leaves, seeds,barks, roots, and rinds. Makersuse different methods to concentrate them into oils. You may add them to vegetable oils, creams, or bath gels. Or you might smell them, rub them on your skin, or put them in your bath. Some research shows that they can be helpful, if youknow how to use them the right way. Always check the label and ask your doctor if you’re not sure if they’re OK for you to use.

Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils (3)

DO Try It if You’re Anxious


Simple smells such as lavender, chamomile, and rosewater may help keep you calm. You can breathe in or rub diluted versions of these oils on your skin. Scientists think they work by sending chemical messages to parts of the brain that affect mood and emotion. Although these scents alone won’t take all your stress away, the aroma may help you relax.

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DON’T Just Rub Them Anywhere


Oils that are fine on your arms and legs may not be safe to put inside your mouth, nose, eyes, or private parts. Lemongrass, peppermint, and cinnamon bark are some examples.

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DO Check the Quality


Look for a trusted producer that makes pure oils without anything added. You’re more likely to have an allergic reaction to oils that have other ingredients. Not all extras are bad. Some added vegetable oil may be normal for certain more expensive essential oils.

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DON’T Trust Buzzwords


Just because it’s from a plant doesn’t mean it’s safe to rub on your skin, or breathe, or eat, even if it’s “pure.” Natural substances can be irritating, toxic, or cause allergic reactions. Like anything else you put on your skin, it’s best to test a little bit on a small area and see how your skin responds.

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DO Toss Out Older Oils


In general, don’t keep them more than 3 years. Older oils are more likely to be spoiled because of exposure to oxygen. They may not work as well and could irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction. If you see a big change in the way an oil looks, feels, or smells, you should throw it out, because it has probably spoiled.

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DON’T Put Edible Oils On Your Skin


Cumin oil, which is safe to use in your food, can cause blisters if you put it on your skin. Citrus oils that are safe in your food may be bad for your skin, especially if you go out into the sun. And the opposite is true, too. Eucalyptus or sage oil may soothe you if you rub it on your skin or breathe it in. But swallowing them could can cause a serious complication, like a seizure.

DO Tell Your Doctor


Your doctor can make sure it’s safe for you and rule out any side effects, like affecting your prescriptions. For example, peppermint and eucalyptus oils may change how your body absorbs the cancer drug 5-fluorouracil from the skin. Or an allergic reaction may cause rashes, hives, or breathing problems.

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DO Dilute Them


Undiluted oils are too strong to use straight. You’ll need to dilute them, usually with vegetable oils or creams or bath gels, to a solution that only has a little bit -- 1% to 5% -- of the essential oil. Exactly how much can vary. The higher the percentage, the more likely you are to have a reaction, so it’s important to mix them correctly.

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DON’T Use On Damaged Skin


Injured or inflamed skin will absorb more oil and may cause unwanted skin reactions. Undiluted oils, which you shouldn’t use at all, can be downright dangerous on damaged skin.

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DO Consider Age


Young children and the elderly may be more sensitive to essential oils. So you may need to dilute them more. And you should totally avoid some oils, like birch and wintergreen. In even small amounts, those may cause serious problems in kids 6 or younger because they contain a chemical called methyl salicylate. Don’t use essential oils on a baby unless your pediatrician says it’s OK.

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DON’T Forget to Store Them Safely


They can be very concentrated and may cause serious health problems, especially if used at the wrong dose or in the wrong way. Just like anything else that little hands shouldn’t be able to reach, don't make your essential oils too handy. If you have young children, keep all essential oils locked away out of their sight and reach.

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DO Stop Use if Your Skin Reacts


Your skin might love essential oils. But if it doesn’t -- and you notice a rash, little bumps, boils, or just itchy skin -- take a break. More of the same oil can make it worse. Whether you mixed it yourself or it’s an ingredient in a ready-made cream, oil, or aromatherapy product, gently wash it off with water.

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DO Choose Your Therapist Carefully


If you look for a professional aromatherapist, do your homework. By law, they don’t have to have training or a license. But you can check to see if yours went to a school certified by a professional organizations like National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

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DON’T Overdo It


More of a good thing is not always good. Even when diluted, an essential oil can cause a bad reaction if you use too much or use it too often. That’s true even if you’re not allergic or unusually sensitive to them.

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DON’T Be Afraid to Try Them


Used the right way, they can help you feel better with few side effects. For example, you may feel less nauseated from chemotherapy cancer treatment if you breathe in ginger vapors. You may be able to fight certain bacterial or fungal infections, including the dangerous MRSA bacteria, with tea tree oil. In one study, tea tree oil was as effective as a prescription antifungal cream in easing symptoms of a fungal foot infection.

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DO Take Care if Pregnant


Some essential massage oils may make their way into the placenta, an organ in your uterus that grows along with your baby and helps to nourish it. It’s not clear if this causes any problems, unless you take toxic amounts, but to be safe, it’s best to avoid certain oils if you’re pregnant. Those include wormwood, rue, oak moss, Lavandula stoechas, camphor, parsley seed, sage, and hyssop. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure.

Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils (2024)


What essential oils should you not use? ›

Avoid the following essential oils: aniseed, basil, camphor, cinnamon bark, clove bud, clove leaf, eucalyptus radiata fennel, hyssop, juniper, lemongrass, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley seed, peppermint (under 12), pennyroyal, sage, savory, tagetes and thyme.

What essential oils cannot be mixed together? ›

The combination of Peppermint and Thyme may lead to stomach irritation. There is also some evidence that skin irritation may be caused by the combination of Peppermint and Ylang Ylang, or Grapefruit blended with Lemon.

What precautions should be taken during aromatherapy? ›

Keep essential oils away from the eyes. Essential oils are highly flammable substances and should be kept away from direct contact with flames, such as candles, fire, matches, cigarettes, and gas cookers. Make sure your treatment room has good ventilation.

What are some contraindications precautions when using essential oils? ›

Contraindications for aromatherapy

Aromatherapy should not be used by children, pregnant women or breastfeeding women unless approved by a doctor. Aromatherapy should be used cautiously by people with a history of epilepsy, high blood pressure, and asthma.

What are the negative effects of essential oils? ›

Inhalation of certain essential oils can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals. Strong odors, such as those from essential oils, may act as irritants and lead to bronchoconstriction (tightening of the smooth muscles around the airways), coughing, or shortness of breath.

What oils should you not diffuse? ›

Care should be taken with the following essential oils as they can be very irritating to the eyes, nose and throat: basil, Ceylon cinnamon, tarragon, wintergreen, clove, helichrysum, peppermint, compact oregano, mountain savory and thyme with thymol.

Is diffusing essential oils safe for your lungs? ›

If you don't have an existing respiratory health condition, you can be sure that using an essential oil diffuser at your property is perfectly safe for you as long as you are not using too much essential oil. Unless you have allergies the external use of essential oils on your skin isn't dangerous to you.

What is a caution when using essential oils? ›

The use of undiluted essential oils on sensitive skin or in the nostrils can irritate or burn. Susceptible people may also develop an allergic reaction and a skin rash.

What is overexposure to essential oils? ›

Incorrect or over-use of essential oils can cause an allergic reaction, especially if you have asthma or are prone to environmental allergies. They can also pose health risks for pregnant women, children and pets.

When should you not use aromatherapy? ›

Should anyone avoid aromatherapy? Pregnant women, people with severe asthma, and people with a history of allergies should only use essential oils under the guidance of a trained professional and with the full knowledge of their doctors. Pregnant women and people with a history of seizures should avoid hyssop oil.

What to avoid in essential oils? ›

Popular essential oils that should be diffused with caution, because they're mucous membrane irritants:
  • bay.
  • cinnamon bark or leaf.
  • clove bud or leaf.
  • lemongrass.
  • peppermint.
  • thyme.

Who cannot use aromatherapy? ›

Dr. Block advises against diffusing lavender and tea tree oils because of the potential complications, particularly in children and teens. Pregnant women and people who have hormone-related medical conditions such as diabetes should talk to their doctors before using essential oils topically or with a diffuser.

What essential oils raise blood pressure? ›

Hyssop essential oil should be avoided, as it has isopinocamphones, which are known to raise blood pressure. It would also make sense for people with high blood pressure to avoid stimulating essential oils, such as rosemary and citrus (lemon and grapefruit) oils.

Which oils should you avoid? ›

The oils which should be avoided for cooking are oils like soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, and safflower. These oils have unstable fats and will decimate the nutritional properties of your food. Oh, and they'll give you a big fat health risk in the meantime.

What are the bad ingredients in essential oils? ›

Hazardous Essential Oils
List of Hazardous Essential oils
BasilShould not be used by pregnant women.
BergamotPhototoxic, If used on skin and then exposed to the sun, severe sunburn may result.
CamphorProlonged inhalation may cause a headache.
Cinnamon Leaf or barkSkin irritant, never use it on the skin.
18 more rows

Why should you not put essential oils on your skin? ›

Just because it's from a plant doesn't mean it's safe to rub on your skin, or breathe, or eat, even if it's “pure.” Natural substances can be irritating, toxic, or cause allergic reactions. Like anything else you put on your skin, it's best to test a little bit on a small area and see how your skin responds.

What is the safest essential oil for skin? ›

If you are going to use essential oils on your skin, especially your face, it is recommended by many to use natural oils with no fragrance such as rosehip, coconut, and almond.

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