What a good question!
And one that I have grappled with for a while, and after months of research I think I have made some sense of all the differing opinions out there.
The truth is that there are actually three different schools of thought when it comes to essential oils and how to use them safely.
- German: The German school of thought is that essential oils should only be inhaled. And studies have indeed shown that essential oils can be beneficial to the human body physically and emotionally through inhalation alone. (The limbic lobe of our brain is able to process the therapeutic properties of the essential oils very effectively through inhalation alone, so don’t discount this method!) The German school of thought is the most limiting of the three aromatherapy models.
- British: Besides for inhalation, the British encourage topical usage of essential oils as well. However, they are very cautious and conservative and maintain that ALL essential oils should be diluted well. Interestingly, many of their studies regarding safe usage of oils were done on animals, who are often more sensitive to oils than humans.
- French: This is the most aggressive model by far. In addition to inhalation, they support the usage of high quality essential oils orally, topically (some undiluted), rectally (diluted), and vaginally (diluted). Many studies done in France support all methods of use, as long as a high quality, unadulterated oil is used.
This is important information to know. Most aromatherapy books available in the US today have been written from the British perspective. While these books are perfectly valid and full of great information, they do not take into account the fact that many studies have been done in France using essential oils internally and topically (undiluted) and have proven to be quite safe and effective.
Most of the larger essential oil companies in this country support the use of essential oils topically – sometimes undiluted – and internally. At the same time, many of the smaller companies do not, and use this as an argument of what is wrong with the larger (often MLM) companies. Using the oils more aggressively is not a result of larger companies just trying to sell more oils, rather a result of Gary Young’s training by the French school of thought. (DoTERRA’s founders were trained by Gary Young, hence they share many of the same beliefs in regards to essential oils usage.) So if you are interested in using essential oils in ways other than diffusing and/or diluted topically, there are studies that have proven that to be safe. But please do some research first – there are some great books and online information available that can help you get started.
Regardless of which model you feel comfortable with, here are a few safely guidelines that all aromatherapy experts agree on:
- Store your essential oils in a glass or stainless steel bottle. Store them away from sunlight, and make sure they are sealed tightly when not in use. Keep them away from children and animals.
- Read up on essential oils and find out which ones should be avoided for certain health conditions. Though the oils will probably only be a problem when used in large amounts even for certain health conditions, it is always better to be safe than sorry! (This goes for pregnant and nursing women as well.)
- Keep a carrier oil nearby in case you do experience any discomfort and need to dilute the oil, and make sure to keep all essential oils away from the eyes!
- Some essential oils are photosensitive, which means sensitive to sunlight. When these oils are applied to the skin they can cause a rash or a burn when exposed to sunlight. So apply them on skin that will be covered by clothes, or stay out of the sun for 12-24 hours after application.
- Always dilute essential oils for small children, and never use them internally for them! (This goes for cats and other small animals as well).
- Do not add essential oils directly to bath water, rather add them to Epsom salts, a gel agent, or another dispersing agent first.