PAUL
                BOIZOT AROMATHERAPY

SAFETY

BACKGROUNDGENERALHOW MUCH TO USE?
 SKIN IRRITATIONNOT SAFE FOR HOME USE
  PREGNANCY - OTHER CAUTIONS -
BOOKS ON SAFETY

BACKGROUND

Safety is an issue because essential oils contain naturally occurring chemicals - sometimes several hundred in one oil! Thus aromatherapy is not one of those therapies where dogmatic sceptics can sneer that "there is nothing in it". True scientists, of course, do not do this. They first examine the data, rather than saying that their current theories mean that there can be no relevant data - "we know homeopathy can't work because there is not a single molecule of the original chemical left in some homeopathic remedies, therefore any reports of it working are inaccurate, coincidence, or fraud".

ADULT EDUCATION COURSE

A Question Of Health

 September 29, 2011, 1.30 - 3.30 p.m. for 10 weeks, Hurst House, 11 Abercrombie St., Chesterfield, S41 7LW. Discussion-based course looking at principles and politics of health.

"If it's natural, it must be safe" is not true - deathcap fungus or deadly nightshade are very natural.....

Not all therapists agree what is unsafe, partly as some issues have not been fully researched, partly due to different background and training, partly due to the repetition of some assertions in various sources without always fully checking original references. I have placed a question-mark by several of the warnings given in standard aromatherapy books, but for which authors who have examined the scientific proof (e.g. Guba, Watt, Tisserand & Balacs, Burfield) find no evidence - I have also removed several such warnings entirely.

Nevertheless I would still rather warn you off something safe than vice-versa - especially as this list can be used for home use by those with no formal training. If all the cautions and warnings seem daunting, do remember that serious complications from use of essential oils are rare - unlike the situation with conventional drugs and surgery from the "experts" which kill thousands each year - and usually come from ignoring basic safety advice. Follow the basic precautions, and where sources of information differ, err on the side of safety at first.

See the aromatherapy section at LINKS for some other sources. Ultimately you are responsible for your own use of essential oils.

GENERAL

  • DON'T USE ESSENTIAL OILS NEAT ON THE SKIN - dilute in a carrier oil or moisturising cream (lavender in small amounts may be used neat by some people).

  • DO NOT TAKE OILS BY MOUTH.

  • KEEP OILS OUT OF THE EYES.

  • KEEP OILS AWAY FROM CHILDREN.

  • ESSENTIAL OILS ARE INFLAMMABLE; they may also damage some surfaces, e.g. paintwork, plastic baths.

  • DON'T USE UNCOMMON OILS YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

  • DON'T USE MORE THAN IS RECOMMENDED; twice as much may not be safe, and won't give you twice the benefit anyway. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe!

  • DON'T USE THE SAME OIL CONTINUOUSLY over long periods; vary oils every 3 or 4 weeks in long-term treatments, or take a break for a week.

HOW MUCH TO USE?

  • IN BATHS; MAXIMUM OF 6 DROPS. If using more than one oil, the total number of drops is up to 6 - not 6 drops of each oil! Swirl the water around well before getting in, to disperse oil.

  • MASSAGE OR SKIN CREAMS; MAXIMUM 3% DILUTION. This is 3 drops of essential oil to every 5 ml. of base. A medicine spoon or full size teaspoon holds 5ml. Normal dilution is 1½-3%. 

  • BURNERS; 6-8 DROPS MAXIMUM.

  • STEAM INHALATIONS; UP TO 4 DROPS. For asthmatics, try steam only at first, for very short time. If no adverse reaction, then try with a drop of oil, then gradually increase quantity and time on each successive inhalation, to a maximum of 2 to 4 drops for around 3 minutes. 

  • USE SMALLER AMOUNTS FOR CHILDREN AND BABIES, PREGNANT WOMEN, ELDERLY INFIRM, ASTHMATICS AND ALLERGIES. Children under 12 half adult quantity, under 2 even smaller amounts e.g. ½% in massage, 1 drop in bath possibly diluted in a carrier oil.

SKIN IRRITATION

Some oils may be skin irritants in normal dilutions, but be safe in smaller amounts. Tea-tree may irritate some sensitive skin. Use max. 3-4 drops in bath and/or dilute in carrier oil, don't use on sensitive skin, with; lemon, melissa, lemongrass, orange, peppermint, pine, basil, ?grapefruit. Same restriction, and also use max. 2% in a massage blend, with cinnamon leaf, fennel, fir, thyme. For some spice oils, e.g. ginger, black pepper, use1-2 drops only in bath, 1% max. in massage. Use cinnamon bark in burners only, in small amounts. Clove bud may be used on the skin in small amounts, but clove leaf and stem may irritate - if in doubt use in burners only. Old citrus and pine oils may cause irritation or sensitisation. Benzoin may be a sensitiser - not sure about skin use at present.

NOT SAFE FOR HOME USE

Sage (use clary sage instead), wintergreen, aniseed, camphor, cassia, thuja, lemon verbena, mustard, oregano (origanum), pennyroyal, rue, mugwort, savory, and any other uncommon oil not listed in reference books or leaflets. Use basil?, hyssop, and nutmeg only sparingly. 

PREGNANCY

Consult a therapist or reputable book, but in any case use lower quantities, e.g. in massage 1% - 1½%. Avoid angelica?, arnica, basil?, birch, camphor, clary sage?, clove, cedarwood?, fennel, ho wood (camphor chemotype only), hyssop, labdanum (rock­rose), lovage, marjoram?, mugwort, myrrh?, nutmeg, oregano (aka origanum), parsley, pennyroyal, rosemary?, sage, Spanish sage, savin, savory, tarragon, thyme?, wintergreen. Some sources recommend avoiding juniper, but this seems to be due to past confusion with savin oil (juniperus sabina). 

Jasmine is supposed to stimulate labour; avoid during first 4 months and last 4 weeks; avoid completely until labour is established in anyone with a history of premature labour. Do not use in labour if you have previously had a caesarian.

 BACK TO TOP

OTHER CAUTIONS AND CONTRA-INDICATIONS

PHOTOSENSITISATION - do not use on the skin, even in normal dilutions, before exposure to ultra-violet light e.g. sunbeds or sunlight). Bergamot, lime (expressed), lemon (expressed), bitter orange, angelica, cumin, tagetes (marigold), verbena.

Grapefruit is a milder photosensitiser and is likely to be safe if you stick to normal aromatherapy quantities. The orange oil normally sold in shops is sweet orange which is OK. The degree of skin reaction to phototoxic oils depends on which oil is used (some are more phototoxic than others), the amount of oil used, the strength and duration of the ultra-violet light source, and the amount of time elapsed since the oil was applied to the skin. In a blend, a combination of 1% each of two equally phototoxic oils will still present roughly the same problems as 2% of one oil. 

ASTHMA - benzoin? Although some books recommend using benzoin for asthma, it contains benzoic acid which, when used as a food additive, may be contra-indicated for asthma.

EPILEPSY - avoid fennel?, hyssop, sage, rosemary?, wormwood.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE - several well-known sources suggest avoiding avoid rosemary, sage, thyme, and hyssop, presumably based on their supposed ability to raise low blood pressure. But Tisserand & Balacs could find no evidence that they caused problems.

ANIMALS essential oils have been used to benefit other animals, but you should seek specific information. In particular, some sources suggest oils should not be used on CATS as they react to some of the chemicals differently from humans and might be harmed - see The Lavender Cat or try a web search on this one! Tea-tree (probably old or poor quality) has caused temporary paralysis in DOGS.

CLARY SAGE should not be used soon before/after drinking ALCOHOL. There have been reports of nightmares.

OREGANO aka origanum. I have recently (March 2004) had orders for oregano from people who saw a TV item about using it for warts. Tisserand and Balacs (Essential Oil Safety, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1995) list it as a moderate skin irritant and strong mucous membrane irritant. See separate oregano page for more info.

BOOKS ON SAFETY

These are detailed works suitable for practitioners.

Robert TISSERAND & Tony BALACS, Essential Oil Safety, Churchill Livingstone, 1995 £26.00, 280 pages. Well reviewed replacement for Tisserand's previous Safety Data Manual, which was for some years the basis for most normal safety recommendations. Recommended for the serious student of essential oils.

Martin WATT, Plant Aromatics - A Data & Reference Manual, publ. by the author. As of August 2010 this is no longer on the market, but I have kept the listing in case you find a secondhand copy. Martin's website is at www.aromamedical.com. Ring binder plus separately available sets of charts, with some text, listing test results on humans for irritation, toxicity, etc.  Overlaps with Tisserand's data. Useful for practitioners.

See LINKS2 for other aromatherapy and general health websites.

BACKGROUNDGENERALHOW MUCH TO USE?
 SKIN IRRITATIONNOT SAFE FOR HOME USE
  PREGNANCY - OTHER CAUTIONS -
BOOKS ON SAFETY

Paul Boizot. Information revised 24.08.10. Page update 28.09.15.

All content on this site COPYRIGHT Paul Boizot 2002-2014 unless otherwise stated, either on the visible webpage or in HTML.


My address from 30.04.12 is 14 Holly Bank Grove, York YO24 4EA, U.K.

contact me on: 01904 621510 info@paulboizot.co.uk
This website is best viewed at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels - at 640 x 480 everything will look bigger, at 1024 x 768 you may need a magnifying glass. I have tested it on Opera 7.11, Netscape 6.2 and Internet Explorer 6. It may not display properly in older browsers that do not support CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) -  it will lack text formatting, background colours, etc.