The Truth About Essential Oils — Are They Safe?
If you’ve ever visited a spa or tried a “natural” perfume, then you’ve probably been exposed to essential oils. These fragrant, flavorful oils are derived from plants and have become a fad among health nuts, yoga practitioners, and even chefs.
Many devotees believe that a few drops of oil added to a diffuser, mixed with food, or rolled onto the wrist can do just about anything, like reduce anxiety and ward off the common cold. In 2019, the global essential oil market was valued at more than $7 billion, and sales are expected to soar above $14 billion by 2026. But there’s a catch: Some doctors now warn that essential oils are not a panacea — and they’re not as safe as they seem.
What do the experts say?
According to Rose Ann Gould Soloway, a clinical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center, essential oils can be safe and beneficial. However, they have harmful side effects when misused. Many oils can cause rashes and even poison users if they’re swallowed or rubbed directly onto the skin. In addition to this, incorrectly breathing in an essential oil can cause pneumonia.
How are essential oils misused?
When it comes to essential oils, there are two big mistakes people might make: They either overuse essential oils with their children or they apply them the wrong way. When essential oils are concerned, proper application and amount can make a life-or-death difference. Nutmeg oil, for example, tastes delicious in food but can cause hallucinations and even comas when mishandled, and eucalyptus oil, which can soothe a cough, can also cause seizures if ingested. Another example is sage oil; it has beneficial applications, but even small amounts can make a child very ill.
How can I use my oils safely?
If you use essential oils or oil-based products, it’s vital that you follow the instructions that come with them and keep bottles of pure oil locked away from your kids and pets. When you’re using oils topically, dilute them with a barrier substance like a non-essential oil, lotion, or aloe jelly; and when you’re inhaling them, use a waterless or water-based diffuser. Finally, when in doubt, do your research! The American Botanical Council’s HerbalGram journal, AromaWeb.com, and databases like ScieceDirect and PubMed Central are great resources. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital also offers an expert safety guide for using oils on kids.