Essential Oil Safety

The basics


Essential oils are very powerful and contain highly concentrated volatile compounds, so they should be used with care and if you apply them to your skin you should only do so diluted in a carrier to avoid rashes, phototoxicity, sensitization, or other skin irritations.

Tisserand Institute

Within the essential oil industry, the safety guidelines established by Robert Tisserand and the Tisserand institute are highly regarded and, as far as I know, the ones most backed by actual scientific research.

The following rules are a shortened guide meant to get you started if you’re an essential oil newbie. For a more thorough guide, please visit the Tisserand Institute’s Safety Guidelines

Rule #1:

Never apply an essential oil “neat,” or right out of the bottle, on your skin


If essential oils are going to come in contact with the skin at any time, we need to dilute with what is called a carrier. For a carrier to be effective, it generally needs to be composed mostly of oils or fats. Aloe jelly is NOT a carrier. Neither is witch hazel. Adding a few drops in water and shaking the bottle just before using it is also not the same thing as diluting. 

Examples of carriers are vegetable oils like Olive Oil, Almond Oil, Grape Seed Oil, and rich body butters and lotions.

Different uses require different dilution rates.

  • Facial use: 0.2 – 1.5%
  • Body massage: 1.5 – 3%
  • Bath and body products 1 – 4%
  • Specific problems 4 – 10%
  • Pain, wounds 5 – 20%

Rule #2:

Never ingest an essential oil

Essential oils should never be taken internally unless administered or prescribed by a qualified health care professional trained at an appropriate level in the use and administration of essential oils. If and when you do ingest, make sure you only use organic and are sure that the plants were grown without pesticides or chemicals.

Rule #3:

Consult your doctor before using essential oils if you are on medication, pregnant, or breastfeeding


Even when used diluted and used with proper dosage, some essential oils can interfere with medication or have the potential of creating very negative effects or interactions. Some examples of these medications include (but are not limited to) blood thinners, diabetic medications, heart medicine, and antidepressants.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should use with care.

Rule #4:

Not all oils are for everyone

Some essential oils are not safe to use on children or around pets. You may also be allergic to some essential oils. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe by doing your homework:

1. Only diffuse or apply oils that are safe for kids if you have little ones at home (or pets, especially kitties). Before purchasing any essential oil do a bit of research to know if it is safe to use around your kids or pets. Personally, I would avoid using them altogether around kids younger than 10 or animals… but that’s just me.

2. Do allergy tests in a small patch of skin to check for possible allergic reactions (dilute to 3%, then apply to a small area in forearm and wait 24 hours to see if there is any reaction).

3. Keep essential oils away from the reach of children. They can be lethal if consumed even in small quantities

Rule #5:

Only purchase quality oils 


 Be careful when purchasing your essential oils. Virually anyone online can claim to have the purest and best essential oils out there. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Select well-known high-quality brands from reliable purveyors.
  • Don’t be so quick to purchase oils that say they are “natural,” “pure,” or “Therapeutic-grade.” These terms are unregulated and basically anyone can claim that for their oils. Sadly, there is also no company or agency that officially certifies essential oils for their quality.
  • The price of the oil should be in line with similar companies. If the price of a “high quality” oil is significantly cheaper than the same oils from similar companies, your oil may not actually good quality.
  • The label should clearly state the botanical name of the plant. Many plants have the same common name, unless the botanical name is included you could purchase the wrong oil, and in some cases that could be very dangerous. Any reputable company will include this.
  • It is additionally good to see the country of origin of the plant, and means of extraction on the label, though some companies supply that on their websites. Be wary of companies who don’t supply this kind of information.
  • If possible DO invest in organic certified oils
  • Science stuff: Good brands will perform gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) testing to analyze the constituents in oils. It is also good when you find that third parties have tested their oils (check consumer reports like this one for a VERY thorough and helpful breakdown by brand)

Rule #6:

Citruses and phototoxicity

Though they smell amazing, they may be toxic to your pets.

They’re also generally considered phototoxic, which means that when uv hits them they will cause a negative reaction on your skin (like a very bad sunburn) due  to the presence of certain compounds called furanocoumarins (FCs). It is generally thougtht that cold pressed citrus oils tend to contain more of the phototoxic constituents, while their steam distilled counterparts do not. This is a good starting point, but to be safe, I usually keep my use in topical applications to the minimum until I can verify that the oil I am using does not contain FCs. Read more info here.

Again, this is a very condensed guide to get you started. Research and do the homework, but in the end you should always use your best well-informed judgement and consult your physician if you have any questions about using essential oils.