Safety Precautions Of Essential Oils
While essential oils are quite safe to use as compared to traditional medicines, consideration absolutely needs to be taken when using them. While in and of themselves traditional medications have more dangers, they also come labeled with correct usage, possible signs of negative reactions, what to do in the case of an accidental overdose etc. Essential oils come labeled with none of these details, and thus, even though they may be inherently safer, they can actually be more dangerous in the hands of people all over the world, because many have been lead to believe the reason this type of information isn’t found on the bottles is because non, or at the least very little harm could possibly come to anyone from using these natural, plant based oils. This is far from the truth. Many essential oils are extremely toxic if ingested, and others, who may be safe in food flavoring amounts can cause significant damage to the liver, the intestinal wall, stomach etc., if ingested even in relatively small amounts over a long period of time. Many of the precautions that come with using essential oils vary depending on which oil you are using, and for this reason it is important to have some good, quality resources that explain possible dangers, and what to do if an accident should occur that exposes you, or your family to more essential oil than is safe. Essential Oil Safety, by Robert Tisserand is THE best book on essential oil safety that is available on the market today. However, is is a very large text book type publication, that is quite expensive as well, and many people find it a bit hard to follow or understand as it goes into great details regarding the chemistry of oils, and how this affects their safety. However, there are other books out on the market, that may not go into great detail, but can provide you with some of the most common cautions associated with each essential oil that can help you use them safely. Any good essential oil book, should not only have all the benefits, but also list cautions if there are any potentially serious ones associated with the oil in question. Because the safety of essential oils depends so much on which specific oil you are using, it is impossible in a class format such as this, for me to go into detail about specific safety issues. However, there are a few basic guidelines that will help prevent mishaps, and can help you avoid many of the most common injuries that occur from using essential oils incorrectly.
Second, ALWAYS dilute. Unless you are 100% certain that the oil can be applied neat, (and there are very few oils that should EVER be used undiluted on the skin) just go ahead and add a carrier oil to it to make sure it isn’t going to irritate your skin, or cause other unwanted reactions. How much dilution is required is dictated by the application method, the essential oil that is being used, many times the age of the patient, and the condition being treated. Some situations will dictate that you use more carrier oil, such as when you are applying the essential oil to already irritated skin, or a sensitive area of the body. Many aromatherapists suggest unless you have particular knowledge of the oil and it’s safety precautions that a 2% dilution for adults, and a 1% dilution for children is a good average dilution ratio to go by. However, like I stated above, the dilution amount required varies based on the situation. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of over-dilution rather than under-dilution. And it is interesting to note here that dilution isn’t always just a matter of safety or prevention of irritation. With many oils, studies have shown that a 1% dilution has the greatest effects on the human body. Essential oils are extremely powerful, and often one drop is equal to multiple pound of the herb or plant matter. Our bodies were not designed to be exposed to such concentrated substances, but using a carrier oil with your essential oil can help the body process it far more effectively. So always remember, more is often not better, and in many cases less-is-more is very true with regards to essential oils. Also, the body can much more easily absorb essential oils diluted in a carrier oil, because this allows the very concentrated essential oil to be spread over a larger area of skin, which aids in absorption. Some Aromatherapist also site that using a carrier oil slows down the evaporation rate allowing the essential oil to be absorbed more effectively also. Essential oils evaporate extremely fast when exposed to the air, a carrier oil will help ground them. So undiluted application is RARELY the safest, or the most effective.
Epilepsy: Due to their powerful effect on the nervous system, avoid fennel, hyssop, rosemary and sage.
These are just a few conditions, and a few oils that should be avoided if you suffer from either high blood pressure or epilepsy, there are many other health conditions that would contradict with using certain essential oils, or at a minimum make it unwise to do so.
Once again, I cannot emphasize this enough: PLEASE know ALL cautions associated with the essential oils you use. So many books and sites focus only on the wonderful qualities of the oils, and while this is great, knowing the cautions not only helps you be safe, it also gives you confidence when using them. Often knowing the cautions of an oil can help you understand the benefits much better as well. When you know rosemary should be avoided by those with epilepsy because of its strong effect on the central nervous system, you can begin to see areas where this strong effect might be extremely useful, in helping mental alertness, and situations where stimulating the central nervous system would be very helpful. So, please educate yourself. It is the best way to protect you and your family, and help you effectively use these oils.
Using Essential Oils On Pets
Now we are going to take a look at some basic safety information, ideas, and helpful tips on using essential oils to benefit your pets.
Essential oils can be used very safely and effectively on many pets. Animals naturally medicate themselves with plants in the wild, so adding in the element of plant oils for their health and healing is not a far stretch. I personally have used essential oils and herbs on my pets and other farm animals for years now with great success. They can be used to treat bites, burns, irritations, ticks, fleas, mastitis, all types of stomach or digestive disturbances, hyperactivity, anxiety, and various other types of injuries and illnesses.
It is important to remember that many oils that are safe for humans are VERY un-safe for certain animals. Be aware of what oils are safe for the different types of animals that you are working with, and avoid administering essential oils internally for pets. Don’t assume if an oil is safe for you it is safe for your pets. Just like onions are quite harmless to us, but are poisonous to dogs, so herbs and essential oils have quite different effects on us and our furry friends. NEVER administer an essential oil undiluted on a pet. Because of their heightened sense of smell, as well as their body metabolizing essential oils differently than our own, toxicity, irritation, and reactions are much more likely when using essential oils on pets, than they are when using them on yourself. Also, because of their sensitive sense of smell, an essential oil that seems very light and barely fragrant to us, can be overpowering, and uncomfortable to your pet, and cause a lot of anxiety, or aggressive behavior. Never apply essential oils to a pet and then lock them in a crate, or a small space. Don’t assume that just because your pet seems to like a smell, or doesn’t leave the room if you are diffusing an oil that it isn’t hurting them. Sometimes animals instincts kick in and they know when something is potentially harmful and they will leave, other times they are unaware. Dogs have been known to lick up essential oils when a bottle was left open, or a container with some diluted oils was left about, and they have become deathly ill, or lost their lives. So it’s nothing to mess around with. Always keep your oils up, and away from any possible exposure to your pets.
Here is a list of some oils that should NEVER be used on any animal:
anise, clove leaf/bud, garlic, horseradish, juniper, thyme, wintergreen, or yarrow, to name a few.
A general rule of thumb with pets is that essential oils should be used for first aid purposes only. So in other words, short term use, such as helping with a bite or cut. Don’t use oils continuously over a long period of time with any animal, as this can cause some undesirable results.
Some oils that may be safe for dogs: lavender, frankincense, spearmint, lemongrass, tea tree.
Be aware that dogs have a much keener sense of smell than humans, and a fragrance that is strong to us, can be overwhelming to your canine friends. Always dilute essential oils and apply them in a well-ventilated area. Again, do not apply essential oils to any pet and then place them in an enclosed space such as a pet carrier. This can cause toxicity, irritation to the membranes of the nose and eyes, and anxiety in pets.
Here are a few ideas of ways you might use essential oils for your dog:
Soaking an injured paw in some warm water with a drop of lavender to soothe, and promote healing.
Mixing some lavender and tea tree with a carrier oil and applying it the inside of the ears for ear mites, bites, or irritations.
Putting a mixture of oils and carrier oils on a cut or bite. Oftentimes, the smell of an essential oil (even VERY diluted) applied to a certain area will keep a dog from constantly licking and biting at an injury, and will help facilitate healing. If your dog stops picking at the cut or wound when you apply the oils, and then a few hours later resumes biting it, apply the oils again. Sometimes the benefit that comes from using an essential oil is more about keeping the animal from continuously irritating the wound, than it is from the actual healing properties of the oil. I have found essential oils to be far more effective than the traditional cone around the head to keep an animal from picking and biting.
Mixing some lavender oil with a carrier oil, and then putting a few drops of the mixture around the ears and on the head of your dog can help with anxiety. If you know your dog reacts to certain situations with anxiety, (for example, fireworks or thunderstorms), apply this mixture to the dog, preferably a half hour or so before the anxiety-producing event occurs. If you find yourself in an unexpected situation that triggers an anxiety response in your pooch, apply the oils immediately. In some instances, simply exhaling an essential oil can help calm an anxious dog.
Again, please remember that ALL use of essential oils should be greatly diluted with ALL pets. 1% dilution or less. (that’s one drop of oil to 99 drops of carrier oil)
There are many other ways to use essential oils on your dog, but this gives you a few examples of how essential oils can be very helpful.
Cats are a whole different story. They are extremely sensitive to the use of essential oils. Many vets and aromatherapists caution against using essential oils, even as cleaning products in a home with an indoor cat that is unable to go outdoors and get away from the vapors. But as long as there is proper ventilation, and the cat can escape outside, or to another area clear of the vapors, using essential oils off and on in your home, should be ok even with a cat in the house. But again, remember their sense of smell is so much more sensitive than ours is, and diffusing oils in the house, if a cat does not have constantly available access to go outside is unwise.
Cat’s livers are unable to properly break down essential oils when applied to the skin, so caution should be taken if applying an oil directly to a cat’s skin.
There are some situations where using essential oils on cats could be perfectly safe and effective, but because of the delicate nature of the subject, research needs to be done on each oil, and careful attention needs to be given during administration if you desire to use essential oils on or around your cat. I personally don’t recommend using essential oils on cats at all.
Birds are even more sensitive than cats are, and the use of essential oils should be avoided on or in close proximity to birds. Essential oils can easily and quickly become fatal in birds. So avoid it completely.
Other animals such as goats, cows, horses, etc. can greatly benefit from using essential oils, but each animal has different ways they metabolize oils, and we don’t have time today to get into all the details about which oils and how to apply them. If you have a situation where you feel essential oils might benefit your pet, or livestock, research the specifics of each essential oil and how they might affect your animal both positively and negatively, and check with your vet, to make sure there are no big warning signs they might see before you proceed.
And that’s all for today’s lesson!
Essential Oils Education