Using Essential Oils Undiluted
How safe is the practice of using essential oils undiluted or in high percentage dilutions?
While there is merit in using SOME essential oils at higher dilutions and in different application methods, what we do have to always keep in mind is that NOT ALL essential oils can be used in this way. Unfortunately, this often gets lost when you are dealing with companies selling essential oil. One can understand their position, if you can get people to use more essential oil, you’ll sell more essential oils.
A selected number of essential oils have been prescribed for internal use or in high dilutions by herbalists and medical practitioners in France (and other countries). However, these practitioners always had their licensing in other modalities to back up their use of essential oils in this way. One should keep in mind that even these practitioners would not use all essential oils in this way. The use of essential oils in many European countries has often been reserved for those in the medical field and it can be almost impossible to find essential oils to purchase unless you too are in that field. Perhaps with the advent of the internet this has loosened up a bit but certainly when I lived in Europe (1985 – 1989 and again 1991/2) that was the case.
As you may know it was M. Maury who introduced the use of essential oils into the beauty industry in England and promoted their use to a wider range of people. Because the oils were being used in a much lower dilutions, the possibility of misuse of the oils by people with little or no training was less of a problem and so the oils became more freely available.
Also please know that classifying an oil as a therapeutic grade oil, is a clever marketing tactic. There is no such official classification. Although we do have official bodies who have very stringent rules on certifying products organic, there is no such body that will, or can, certify that essential oils are of a therapeutic grade. This means that no company has the monopoly on a ‘therapeutic grade’ essential oil. What one needs to understand and to keep in mind is, it is the chemical profile of an oil that identifies it as that oil. For instance Thyme essential oil will still be high in phenols no matter where it is grown. And regardless of where it is grown or how it is labeled if you apply an oil that is high in phenols directly onto the skin without diluting it, it has great potential for damaging the skin. Labeling an oil ‘therapeutic’ does not change its intrinsic character.
I have said this in the past and I will say it again, when deciding on the strength of your essential oil blend and whether it will be undiluted or diluted, there are a number of things to consider when formulating the synergy. These include:
- How the oil/synergy to be applied?
- Where is it applied?
- How large a surface is covered?
- How often will it be applied?
- Over what duration of time will the oil/synergy be used?
Aromatherapy has now been around long enough, with enough people using essential oils on a regular basis, for us to know, and have documented, that there are oils out there that are skin irritants and oils that are sensitizers. There are oils that have potential for great good, but also oils that, when used incorrectly, have the potential for harm. And even mild essential oils can cause problems. It is interesting to note that when it comes to aromatherapists being sensitized to an essential oil, the essential oil in question is more often than not lavender. Lavender, which has for so long been considered safe and gentle enough to be used undiluted and in larger quantities. A lesson for us all that even gentle oils can become a problem if overused.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that not everyone reacts to an essential oil or synergy in the same way. Skin sensitivity can vary quite considerably from one person to another. So for someone to say ‘I have used this oil neat for years without any adverse effect, therefore it is safe for anyone to use neat’ is neither fair nor correct. All it really means is that using that oil neat has not caused them any harm. It does not guarantee that using that particular oil undiluted won’t cause someone else harm.
Using essential oils on oneself is one thing. If there is a problem the only person you affect is yourself and you will learn from the experience. On the other hand using essential oils on someone else is completely different. Anyone working with the general public should have Professional Liability Insurance however, as none of the packages I know of here in North America will cover the use of essential oils internally or neat, if you choose to use the oils this way with your clients and there is a problem, you are on your own with all the responsibility of making sure that both the synergy and the method of application is a safe one being yours and yours alone.
Essential oils are truly wonderful gifts from nature. However they are also very potent gifts and I hope that no matter how you choose to use your oils, you do so with full understanding and great respect.