Whether you’re a long-time essential oil lover or you’re just trying them out for the first time, there’s one point I cannot drive home enough: essential oils are safe for internal use. Period.
Interestingly, as more people begin using essential oils, it’s not surprising that the safety of ingesting essential oils (taking them internally) has come under scrutiny. Somewhere along the lines, however, that scrutiny got off track. Some misguided people are trying to instill fear into essential oil users, claiming these precious compounds are somehow unsafe for internal use. But it’s just not true.
In fact, there are no scientific, evidence-based, anatomical, physiological, or even logical reasons to say that essentials oils are unsafe for human consumption. With proper use, the benefits of essential oils far outweigh any potential side effects.
Misguided Concern over Ingesting Essential Oils
It’s important to remember that, although essential oils are natural, they are still manmade, and things can go wrong. I get questions and inquiries regularly into the internal use of essential oils, and it is obvious to me there is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic. Since myths breed myths and uncertainties breed uncertainties, this vicious cycle will continue unless I speak up.
For some reason, aromatherapists appear to be at odds with themselves regarding the internal use of essential oils. This makes no sense to me and continues to confuse the casual essential oil user even further. Even large organizations, such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), have come out in support of safe, internal use of essential oils.
“Essential oils may be applied on the skin (dermal application), inhaled, diffused or taken internally. Each of these methods have safety issues which need to be considered,” NAHA said.1
Makes sense to me.
Like all things, we can overdo it on our use of essential oils in any way – orally, topically or otherwise. It’s important to remember that a little goes a long way, especially with ingesting essential oils. Many aromatherapist schools, both locally and online, train and certify students in the safe practice of internal essential oil use.
Here’s what really throws me for a loop: People continue to speak out against internal use of essential oils despite scientific studies to the contrary and in direct opposition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That’s right, the FDA says essential oils are safe for human consumption. In fact, the FDA has clearly delineated which oils are safe and which are not. For the exhaustive FDA-approved list of Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) oils that you can check out here.2
Essential Oils: Dos and Don’ts of Internal Use
Before you dive in and start consuming essential oils, you need to know some basic dos and don’ts.
- DO use essential oils aromatically in a diffusor, inhaler, spritzer, and other fun ways.
- DO add essential oils in your daily body care regimen.
- DO be careful – and learn the basics.
- Don’t consume essential oils for “prevention”
- Don’t think you can approach all health conditions the same way
- Don’t believe “There’s an essential oil for that”
I have studied essential oils and their impact on our overall health and wellbeing for years. However, much of what I know about essential oils I learned through trial and error. And the more I learn about essential oils, the less I consume them.
In fact, unless I am sick and am trying to combat a specific health condition, I limit my essential oil consumption to my makeshift 7-Up recipe that you can find below.
Why I Limit Essential Oils for Internal Use
For years, I regularly consumed essential oils in my food and drink. I adhered to the common, “take several drops of essential oils under your tongue (or in water) daily,” myth. It turns out the internal use of the essential oils was irritating my esophagus and caused me to develop acid reflux.
Now, I want to reiterate that I still consume essential oils, especially when treating specific health-related issues − just far less than I used to. And, no, it doesn’t matter how “pure” or “therapeutic” they are. Daily consumption is NOT the most effective (and medicinal) way to use them. This “revelation” has taken me years and literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of research. You can learn a lot from my mistakes.
Aromatherapy: How to Use Essential Oils Properly
Essential oils have been in use for centuries; however, the aromatherapy profession has helped bring them back into mainstream thinking. Of course, the essential oils of centuries ago were nothing like what we have today. Today’s distillation techniques are relatively new.
A Greek physician and poet by the name of Nicander (183BC —135BC), “Spoke of the extraction of perfumes from plants by what we should now call a process of distillation.”3 The words aroma and therapy combined to form aromatherapy, indicating therapeutic benefits using fragrance. While this remains at the heart of aromatherapy, it has been expanded for many uses and, yes, internal consumption is one of them.
The main categories of use for essential oil are:
Essential Oil Use #1 – Inhalation
Inhalation is not only the oldest form of essential oil use, some argue it is the safest, especially when diffused in water. The higher the diffusion, the safer the oil is to inhale. You can also inhale essential oils straight from the bottle, or by placing a few drops on a cloth and breathing in. This carries the volatile oil directly into your respiratory system and mucous membranes, dispersed throughout the steam or air molecules.
Essential Oil Use #2 – Topical Application
Massage therapy, for example, uses topical essential oils in a similar way as aromatherapy. Topical use is much more direct because you can focus on specific areas of the body. Inhalation uses a more broad distribution through air droplets. However, topical oils must work their way through the protective layers on our bodies known as our skin. Inhalation can move quickly through thinner mucous membranes. Knowing your oil and the goal you have in mind can help you determine which application is more appropriate. While you can use some essential oils on the skin undiluted, dilution is still the safer application.
Essential Oil Use #3 – Ingestion
Internal use of essential oils remains the most controversial method, but many oils are completely safe for ingestion. Culinary use is the most basic form. Cinnamon oil, for example, can be used in cake batter, but only a small drop is needed. Compare that to a tablespoon or more of cinnamon bark powder. Or, if you’re like me, you might want to use essential oils in your drinks. I use a drop of lemon oil in sparkling water to create my own “soda.”
Keep in mind, however, that oil and water do not mix. Simply adding a drop to water will leave that drop undiluted. Some oils are irritants and all oils are strong. It is always best to dilute your essential oils. Let common sense be your guide.
Tips for Safely Ingesting Essential Oils
It is important to realize that people consume essential oils all day without even realizing it. Where do you think your processed foods get their flavor from! Virtually anything that is naturally flavored most likely contains essential oils.
If you follow these practical tips for safe internal oil use, you should be fine:
- Most people can tolerate gentle oils like frankincense, lemon, and orange essential oil taken directly under the tongue for quick access into the bloodstream, but this is not a long-term strategy. Limit use to a few days at a time and always discontinue use if irritation or reflux occurs.
- Hotter oils like oregano oil and clove oil should ALWAYS be diluted with a carrier oil. One (1) drop per teaspoon of coconut oil and a little bit of raw honey is not only usually safe for most people, but super tasty!
- Putting 1-2 drops in a capsule will help you avoid esophageal irritation. Again, this is not supposed to be a daily habit. This strategy can be enjoyed up to twice a day if you’re trying to fight a specific health condition, but no more than 3-4 weeks at a time. Long term use is never advised as it can potentially cause liver damage and your body may develop resistance.
How to Make a Healthy Alternative to Sodas Such as 7-Up or Sprite
Put 1-2 drops of a citrus oil like lemon, orange, or lime in a 32-ounce glass of sparkling water and add some liquid organic stevia extract. The stevia acts as an emulsifier, and it sweetens up this make-shift soda nicely. I used to be a 7-Up fan before I was converted to the natural health lifestyle. My lemon, lime, and orange oils are a nice substitute! Play around with different combinations to find your favorite blend.
Cooking With Essential Oils
Cooking with quality essential oils is an extremely effective way to enjoy the health benefits as well as the aromatic experience through your taste buds. Here are 4 ways to cook with essential oils:
- 1-2 drops of cilantro or coriander with 1-2 drops of lime goes wonderfully with your homemade guacamole
- Try 1 drop of cumin in your curry next time
- Or 2 drops of black pepper in virtually anything savory
- And don’t forget 1 drop of peppermint essential oil in your homemade, naturally sweetened peppermint patties!
Some people claim that essential oils are somehow unsafe for internal use. But there are no scientific, evidence-based, anatomical, physiological, or even logical reasons to say that essentials oils are unsafe for human consumption. With proper use, the benefits of essential oils far outweigh any potential side effects.
Even large organizations, such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), have come out in support of safe, internal use of essential oils.
The FDA has clearly delineated which oils are safe and which are not. You can find the FDA-approved list of Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) oils here.
The main categories of use for essential oil are:
- Internal (ingestion)
Even though essential oils in general are safe, you still need to follow some basic safety precautions and Do’s & Don’ts when it comes to ingesting essential oils − See article for details