The term Essential Oil has a very specific meaning in the industry and for good reason. The term has a deep and rich historical background. The term "essential oil" actually goes back to the days of the Alchemists in the Middle Ages. Alchemists searching for the "elixir of life" and "the philosophers stone" made many chemical discoveries. Once distillation was discovered it became a symbol of purification and concentration of spiritual forces. Once they started hydro distilling aromatic plants they found "oils" which separated from the water after the distillate was condensed (they aren't actually oils but in the days of the Alchemist anything that separated from water was called an oil). They called this oil the "Quintessence" because they thought they had found the missing 5th element. Since this "Quintessence" was thought to be an oil, the term "essential oil" eventually evolved because it was believed that this "oil" was "essential" to life.
Today, we better understand exactly what the chemicals that separate after distillation really are. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Vocabulary of Natural Materials (ISO/D1S9235.2) defines an essential oil as a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase. The resulting essential oils are the concentrated chemicals contained in the plant that provide the plant the ability to survive. they help the plant to attract pollinators, help the plant compete with other plants, serve as defense compounds against invasive insects, and provide anti fungal and antibacterial defenses to the plant.
Essential oils are extremely concentrated "essences" of the plant from which they are derived. As such, they should, with only a few exceptions, never be used undiluted directly on the body and should not be used internally (See "Are essential oils safe to ingest")
The best ways to use essential oils is through one of the following methods:
All essential oils are somewhat photo-sensitive (affected by light) and can be broken down by heat. Light and heat are the most common reason for oils to lose their potency or become rancid. You should always store your oils in a high quality glass bottle (Amber, Cobalt Blue, or green) and keep them in a cool dry place. Especially avoid direct sunlight and sunlight coming through a window. The rays of sunlight will not only cause light degradation but often, can cause elevated temperatures which will also damage your oils.
Never use plastic (Unless it is PET Plastic) to store any essential oils or any material that contains essential oils. The essential oils can break down the plastic, causing unwanted chemicals to be absorbed into your oils/products.
Essential oils, like most products have a shelf life. Generally speaking ~ 2 years is the recommended shelf life. After that, the oils will begin to lose their effectiveness. Although not necessarily bad, like most medicines, they will not give you the best affects. That said, all natural products can go bad and, if not stored properly, they can go bad quickly.
Products made with essential oils can be at risk for mold and bacterial growth, especially if they have no preservatives in them. Many bath and body products are at high risk because of where and how they are used. consider using natural preservatives if you want to keep your products 100% natural.
If you open any essential oil or product containing an essential oil and it does not smell right, discard it immediately.
See our guide to storing essential oils for more information on storage and shelf life.
One of the most hotly debated questions in aromatherapy is "are oils safe to ingest?'. There are companies and individuals that arbitrarily state that all essential oils, because they are natural, are safe to ingest. That isan extremely dangerous thing to say. We all know that everything natural is not safe. Poisons as well as medicinal materials all can come from natural sources like plants. Simply beng "natural" doesn't make them safe.
Let's consider "Essential Oils". What are they? ALL 100% pure essential oils are an extremely concentrated combination of multiple chemical constituents. While these chemical constituents come from "natural sources" and can do great things to help us with all sorts of issues, they can also have adverse effects if not used with the proper safety and caution in mind.
Continuously taking multiple essential oils internally on a daily basis, can be very damaging to the liver, kidneys, stomach, and intestines, similar to long-term use of many powerful drugs can. Our organs can not process copious amounts of many of these chemical constituents and they can build up in our system and cause failure over time. Tisserand & Young (Essential Oil Safety, 2013) write:
“Medical practitioners who favor the oral route are frequently treating infectious diseases that require heavy dosing…therefore only practitioners who are qualified to diagnose, trained to weigh risks against benefits, and have knowledge of essential oil pharmacology should prescribe essential oils for oral administration.”
Since EOs are highly concentrated chemicals, they can pose significant health risks, especially in higher doses or when used over a long period of time. Due to the risks, ONLY a certified aromatherapist or licensed medical practitioner should ever recommend ingestion. Even then, a certified aromatherapist will usually tell you to consult with your physician before using any EO internally.
You can have the highest quality Wintergreen in the world, and yet one tablespoon is enough to cause death when ingested.
While there are definitely times for internal ingestion in aromatherapy, many of the ailments that we experience do not need such a heavy dose internally and are better suited to be combated through inhalation of essential oils (diffusers, personal inhalers, etc.) or topical application of essential oils (salves, massage oils, baths, etc.). It is best to save the internal use of essential oils for the big guns, when nothing else is working and you have a professional to guide you in your dosage and how to safely use them. There is certainly a place in aromatherapy for ingestion, but just like any powerful synthetic pharmaceuticals, essential oils should be ingested with caution and for only very short periods of time, under the guidance of a professional (not just a sales consultant)
No matter the quality or brand of the oil, are an extremely concentrated combination of multiple chemical constituents and therefore require a certain amount of concern with safety when using them.
First and foremost, No essential oils should be given orally to children. The majority of cases of essential oil poisoning involve accidents with young children, often between 1 and 3 years of age.
Dilution is VERY important for all essential oils but even more so with children. There is no exception in this category. No matter what brand you use, what essential oil it is, or how much you are using, it is not safe to use ANY essential oil neat with children and babies.
There are many applications for essential oils with babies and children, but they should be kept away from a child’s face. Essential oils should not be used in or around the nose in children.
Slowly introduce one oil at a time to look for allergies. Just like foods. it is much easier to determine an allergy when you introduce them slowly.
When considering age:
See our guide in our downloads section on specific oils that are considered safe at each age level, when pregnant or nursing, and for pets.
This question is most likely the most contentious of all questions in aromatherapy and there is no simple answer. The quality and authenticity of the essential oils we utilize are the very heart and foundation of aromatherapy. The quality of essential oils is often a contentious subject bringing up feelings of protectiveness and challenging beliefs. We've been taught to only purchase "Pure Therapeutic Grade" essential oils to ensure their quality.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils is a potentially misleading term. No governmental agency or generally accepted organization "grades" or "certifies" essential oils as "therapeutic grade," "medicinal grade," or "aromatherapy grade" in the U.S. There is no formally approved grading standard used consistently throughout the essential oil industry.
As interest in aromatherapy spread to the retail market and a plethora of essential oil companies arose both in Britain and even more so in the United States, the issue of low quality and adulterated oils has become so much of an issue. This difficulty arises mostly from the clever marketing that happens in the essential oils market and the fact that NOT ONE company out there claims to sell low quality or adulterated essential oils, after all, how could they do so and still have sales. The truth is that there is no such thing as ʻtherapeutic gradeʼ (or grade b, c, or d) in the sense that some organization or higher power has bestowed on an essential oil line. A grading system, quite simply, does not exist for essential oils. It is a product of marketing and marketing alone. Reputable companies use this term to attempt to highlight the quality of their oils. Less reputable companies use this term as a deception. It is important to understand the terms used and what they mean.
Let's look at the Terms used in the industry:
With all this in mind, what then shall we look for? It is a given that the vast majority of aromatherapy practitioners and perhaps even lay practitioners (home users) are seeking genuine and authentic, plant derived, preferably organic or wild crafted, unadulterated essential oils.
As an end user of essential oils, your best bets are:
All of this said, it is acceptable to use oils that are diluted for their aromatherapy properties. Most of us can't afford pure sandalwood. However, a 3% dilution may be affordable. With that dilution, you can achieve therapeutic benefits. Be sure that you know what you are getting though. It should clearly state when an oil is diluted.
A carrier oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fatty portion of a plant, usually from the seeds, kernels or the nuts. They are also known as Base Oils, Vegetable Oils, or Fixed Oils. These base oils are filled with essential fatty acids which is why they are so beneficial and the uses are endless. Most of these oils can be used in cooking, cleaning, skincare, hair care, massage, aromatherapy, cosmetics, homemade beauty and cleaning products, healing and medicinal purposes and practically anything else you can think of.
Carrier oils are also often used to dilute essential oils since essential oils are extremely concentrated and can be harmful if they are used undiluted or improperly. If applied to the skin undiluted, essential oils, absolutes, CO2s and other concentrated aromatics can cause severe irritation, sensitization, redness or burning or other reactions in some individuals.
Choosing a Carrier oil is just as important as choosing essential oils because each oil has its own unique properties and can be used for many different things Each carrier oil offers a different combination of therapeutic properties and characteristics. The choice of carrier oil can depend on the therapeutic benefit being sought.
Natural lotions, creams, body oils, bath oils, lip balms and other moisturizing skin care products are also made using vegetable (carrier) oils. From a simple essential oil/carrier oil blend to a more complex natural lotion, your choice of carrier oil can make a difference in the therapeutic properties, color, overall aroma and shelf life of your final product.
The Quality of your oils are really important and its also important to understand the terms used for processing an oil so you can purchase the best quality.
Cold Pressed: Most Natural State of an oil, Pressed through a machine that reaches no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Highest Quality and Filled with Nutrients. In order to find the best cold pressed oils contact the oil manufacturer and ask them if their oils are considered Raw. If they truly are raw oils they won’t be heated more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The Raw Cold Pressed Oils are the best.
Expeller Pressed: Really similar to Cold Pressing but expeller pressed oils are pressed in slightly higher temperatures between 120 degrees to 200 degrees. The heat comes from the friction of the machine and oftentimes the natural qualities of the oil can become compromised and the oil isn’t as full of nutrients.
Solvent Extracted: Uses a solvent such as hexane to extract oils. Hexane is a possible carcinogen and the solvent used to extract the oil is often found in the oil after processing. Nutrients and Fatty Acids are destroyed. If the oil you are purchasing doesn’t have a label showing that it was Cold Pressed or Expeller Pressed in most cases it was solvent extracted (this goes for organic too).
Unrefined: After the oil is pressed a screen is used to filter and remove dust or small particles from the oil without compromising its nutrients, vitamins and fatty acids. The best high quality oils are unrefined.
Refining or part refining (including “fractionated” oils): These oils are completely different from the natural state of a cold pressed unrefined oil and most of the nutrients have been destroyed. The process is made to preserve the oil for a long shelf life. Colors and odors are removed using high heat, freezing, bleaching, and deodorization which completely damages important nutrients, vitamins, and fatty acids. There are times where refined oils may be desirable. (Fir instance, in a blend that requires a long shelf life). However, if you have a choice between part refined or refined, choose part refined but try to purchase unrefined oils when available.
Extra Virgin, Virgin, and regular (mainly applies to olive oil)- Extra Virgin Oil would mean it has only been pressed 1 time. Some companies press the olives multiple times to obtain more oil and this makes the oil quality less pure. Virgin would mean pressed more than once etc..
As with many other parts of Aromatherapy, there is not necessarily a single right answer to which oil is best. Thought must be given to desired benefits, shelf life, and method of use. Additionally, complex blends of carrier oils can be just as beneficial as the blends of essential oils that go in them.
Shopping For Carrier Oils
Trends are changing, but most typical vegetable oils sold in grocery stores are not cold-pressed. Instead, the oils are processed using heat. For the most nourishing, freshest carrier oils, strive to shop with retailers and suppliers that specialize in the sale of aromatherapy or natural skin care ingredients. Your local health food/nutrition store may be a source for carrier oils, but the oils can often be pricier. Watch for dust on the bottles when buying oils locally. That can indicate the oil has been sitting around for awhile. Look for oils that are not blends of two or more oils and that have no additives.
See our Carrier Oil Properties guide in the Downloads section
With the growth of Essential Oil use for a multitude of purposes, the question always arises on if they are safe for our pets. The answer to this varies depending on the type of animal, it's size, and its overall health. There is a HUGE varying of opinions on the matter. We all know that essential oils can be toxic, and, as such, we should use extraordinary care around our pets, as they rely on us for their safety. Generally speaking, most studies and reports of essential oil toxicity to pets involve misuse of oils at inappropriately high doses. Given that, here are some thoughts:
As a general rule, it is not recommended to use essential oils,even diluted, on very small animals like birds, rodents or on reptiles. There has been very little study done on this and it is a huge risk as toxic levels and build up rapidly in these animals. That said, occasional exposure to diffused or evaporated oils should not pose a problem. Avoid diffusing routinely in areas were these pets reside as they cannot escape the oils.
For purposes of the remainder of this FAQ, we will focus on Cats and Dogs since they make up the majority of the remainder of our pets.
There is a significant differing of opinion on the web and among experts on the safety of essential oils with Cats. What is fact is that Cats do not produce a necessary enzyme that allows the liver to process many toxins, especially when they are at a high strength. Since opinions vary widely, we choose to defer to Robert Tisserand (one of the most highly regarded experts in Essential oils for this topic.
Tisserand states in his article on Cats and Essential Oil Safety (http://tisserandinstitute.org/cats-essential-oil-safety/) that there is a theoretical risk of increased toxicity to cats. However, In general, making long lists of specific oils that are allegedly “safe” or “toxic” to cats doesn’t make a lot of sense. The largest risk comes from application of oils (even diluted) directly to the cat. The rapid absorption can lead to toxic levels quickly. However, even in cats, toxicity is generally from misuse or overdosing with the oils. In our opinion, given the risks, direct application of essential oils, should be avoided in cats except for a small handful of oils and under significant dilution (<0.25%).
For diffusing, Tissarand indicates that it’s more about overall exposure. You can diffuse essential oils around cats safely, so long as there’s good ventilation, you only diffuse small amounts for limited periods of time, and your cat has the freedom to leave the room if it wants. A few parts per million of aromatic vapor in the air is not likely to be harmful, but be careful to avoid build-up of vapors over many hours. Do not diffuse oils with cats in an enclosed area. Keep in mind inhalation intensity + inhalation duration + inhalation frequency = higher risk of adverse reactions
Although we won't post a specific list of oils that are unsafe for cats, it is best to avoid skin application of most oils, especially those with high Limonene, Phenol, and/or Ketone content as they pose a higher toxicity risk.
In summary, If you chose to use oils with your cat, know there are risks. If your cat starts to show evidence of sickness, stop any and all EO use immediately and contact your vet.
Due to their size, dogs are more sensitive to EOs than people. Many issue can be addressed with inhallation vs. skin application. However, when inhalation is used, still dilute your oils. don't use EOs as a preventative health item. Keep it to what they need and when they need it. Never give EO's to your dog in their food. With a very few exceptions, this can lead to toxicity. Never use EOs with puppies under 10 Weeks.
For dogs, the risks are much lower than cats. Oils can effectively be used for a variety of conditions like arthritis, skin conditions, small cuts/bruises, fleas/ticks, and general pains. However, when using EOs, it is not recommended to exceed 1% dilution for emotional issues and 2% dilution for physical issues without consulting a professional. Higher doses should only be used for very limited periods. Also, limit treatment to the areas affected and don't slather it everywhere. this will limit unnecessary exposure.
A note on Tea Tree and dogs. There is a wide opinion on the toxicity of tea tree with dogs. However, if you evaluate the actual research used to make this claim, it always involves inappropriate dilutions (or none) and use in amounts that would never be considered safe. If you follow the dilution guide of Tea Tree a 0.25%, Tea tree is a safe and effective oil for you dog.
For a list of safe oils to use on your pet's skin directly, check our our Essential Oil Safety Guide.
Remember, NEVER use any Essential Oil undiluted for your pet. As an alternative to Essential oils, you can always consider hydrosols. they are much less concentrated and can provide similar benefits.
EO's can provide great benefits to our pets just like they do us. They must be used even more carefully than they are with people and under strict dilution guidelines to avoid potential toxicity. Ultimately, the choice to use Essential oils with your pet is up to you. Common sense is the key as it is with any EO use. If your pet shows abnormal behaviors or sickness, discontinue use. If you are unsure, follow the rule - When in doubt, just don't use it. It's better to be safe with your furry friends.