Essential oil safety


Essential oils when used as recommended are generally safe. However, because they are very concentrated, there are general guidelines which need to be abided by in order to ensure safe use.


  • Never apply essential oil directly to the skin unless directed by a clinical aromatherapist. Some books say that you can apply different essential oils in their undiluted state to the skin; the most notable ones are lavender and tea tree. Any essential oil used in this way, even the most gentle oil such as lavender, has the ability to sensitize (for what this means click here link to sensitization), which may mean that you will never be able to use that oil again without having an allergic reaction. With an oil like tea tree, research studies have shown that using a dilution as low as 1% is very effective in treating acne, for example.


  • Do not use an essential oil without having referred to its contraindications (when it should not be used). This is especially so if you are pregnant (click here) and for use with children (click here). Link to aromatherapy in pregnancy and use with children


  • Do not internally consume essential oils, unless you have been instructed by your doctor.


  • Keep essential oils out of reach of children. Click here to see which oils can be safely used with children. Link to use with children page


  • Try not to use the same oil for periods longer than three months. Try to vary the oils in order not to sensitize yourself to a particular oil.


  • Do not apply essential oils before sunbathing or using solar beds. This is especially so for bergamot (Bergamot FCF is safe though) and citrus oils.


  • If you have sensitive skin, patch-test the oil blend before use. You may also patch test any oil that you have not used before to ensure it will not cause irritation or an allergic reaction. Use the inside of your elbow, breastbone or behind ear. Use the oil at the same dilution as you intend to use. Wait 12 hours for any reaction.


  • Store essential oils in a cool dark place. Never leave the lid off and do not sniff from the bottle. When you are ill and want to inhale an oil, pour a couple of drops onto a tissue and tightly close the bottle. The more the oils are exposed to oxygen the more the chance they have of degrading, but also of evaporating. Essential oils are very volatile which means they must be stored correctly at the right temperature in brown glass bottles and if opened too much or for too long, will evaporate and oxidize.


  • If using an oil burner with a candle, do not leave it unattended, especially when pets or children are around. Also do not leave the candle burning overnight. Make sure there is water in the top of the burner- not just pure oil. Consider investing in an electric oil burner.


  • Do not use essential oils in a product that will be very close to the eyes.


  • Although essential oils can be used on pets for certain conditions, essential oils must not be used on cats. These substances are toxic for cats as their liver can not metabolise them.

What is sensitization?


This is a type of allergic reaction. The oil may not produce any reaction on the first contact, however once the allergen has penetrated the skin, the body’s immune system reacts to fight off causing a rash on the skin. Sensitization reactions can also take the form of inflammation, breathlessness, nausea or headache. It is actually possible to become sensitized to any essential oil.  Hawkins, B. (1999) Aromatherapy 101 course notes.


When buying essential oils be sure to buy good quality oils from a reputable seller. Essential oils are very easy to adulterate. They are also not cheap, although the prices vary according to the oils yielded from the particular plant, the season and the commercial availability and demand. Make sure that the latin name is listed and that it contains a date when bottled. Many essential oils have a two year life, except for citrus oils which have a shorter life. Some essential oils, although not many, though get better as they age.