DIY Potpourri With Essential Oils

Potpourri is an easy way to bring the essence of fall into your home. Learn how you can make your own potpourri with dōTERRA essential oils.

Photo Credit: doTERRA Blog

Looking for a great way to freshen up your home for the holidays or to make a an easy gift for friends and family? Making potpourri is easy and a great way to set the mood for the holidays! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Orange Peels
  • Star Anise
  • Bay Leaves
  • Cassia Sticks (in the US we know these as cinnamon sticks – learn the difference here)
  • Vanilla Beans – cut into small pieces
  • Cardamom Seeds
  • Dried Apple Slices
  • Candied Ginger
  • Whole Cloves
  • All Spice
  • Whole Nutmeg


Photo Credit: doTERRA Blog

You’ll also need 3-5 drops of your favorite holiday smelling oil. Here are some suggestions:


1. Place desired herbs and spices into a container or bowl. Mix and assemble as desired.

2. Add 3-5 drops of essential oil on top of potpourri.

3. Once the aroma starts to fade after a couple weeks, add more essential oil. You can even place it in a pot of simmering water for a stove-top potpourri that will make your entire house smell like the holidays.

Gift Giving Idea:

Place in a cute plastic or glass box for co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family.

Photo Credit: doTERRA Blog


Is it Cinnamon or is it Cassia?


Is it Cinnamon or is it Cassia…and what’s the difference?

Most people don’t know that the “cinnamon” they are purchasing from the store is usually “cassia” or that there is even a difference. While they are related in both species and genus (Cinnamomum), they are not from the same plant nor do they have the same health and nutritional benefits. They also have a slightly different flavor. True cinnamon generally has a sweeter taste and is considered to be a finer spice than cassia.

There is really only one true “cinnamon” which is from the Cinnamomum zeylanicum plant. This is also sometimes referred to as Ceylon cinnamon and Cinnamomum verum which means “true cinnamon”. Cassia, on the other hand, is from Cinnamomum cassia (alternatively called Cinnamomum aromaticaum) and Cinnamomum burmannii. True cinnamon is usually more expensive than cassia which is generally why when you buy what retailers call “cinnamon” it is usually “cassia”.

One of the primary differences between cinnamon and cassia is the coumarin content. Coumarin is a naturally occurring component of some plants that can be toxic when taken in large amounts. It can be damaging to the liver and nervous system. In Cinnamon, which is widely known to help reduce blood glucose, the coumarin content is only found in trace amounts (if at all). In Cassia however it is much higher, which poses the risk of causing damage to certain parts of the body when taken in large quantities. Using cassia in ordinary seasoning situations wouldn’t generally pose a large risk. If you like to consume large amounts of it though, you’ll want to make sure you have true organic cinnamon instead of cassia.

How do you know the difference?

The best way to know what cinnamon you have is to look for the source or name. If it’s in stick form it’s fairly easy to identify but in powder form it’s harder to detect. Check the labels or call the company to make sure that what you’re getting is the right kind. In the US, Cinnamon that you purchase from the grocery store is generally cassia. I even purchased Cinnamon Sticks the other day from an Organic company and when they arrived they were sticks of cassia. Cassia generally comes in one solid piece, as if it were rolled off of a tree. Cinnamon on the other hand usually comes in multiple layers.




What about Cinnamon Essential Oil?

Unfortunately, cinnamon essential oil is one of the most commonly adulterated oils because the smell of cinnamon and cassia are so similar. From Dr. Robert Pappas:

Cassia oil is very similar in chemical composition to cinnamon bark (both are high in cinnamic aldhehyde) but cassia is an inferior oil from an odor/flavor/therapeutic point of view and it can be as much as 1/10th the cost of cinnamon bark in certain markets. Because cassia is so much cheaper than true cinnamon bark its very tempting for companies to mix their cinnamon bark oil with cassia oil and charge their customers for pure cinnamon bark. This may seem like a crafty way to make some extra profits if you don’t know much about the chemistry of these oils.

As with anything else in life make sure that you’re getting your oils, herbs, and seasonings from a trusted source!


Roasted Garlic Herb Asparagus

roasted-garlic-herb-asparagus When I was a kid I lived in Colorado for a time and I remember my Mom cutting fresh, wild asparagus from the side of country roads. I fell in love with asparagus way back then and still love it today. One of my absolute favorite ways of having it is steamed with hollandaise sauce over it. My hubby however doesn’t like hollandaise sauce so much so I’ve had to come up with another way to prepare it so I’m not the only one eating it. I decided to try to roast it in the oven a few years ago and he loved it so this is now my go-to way of preparing it. A few things to know about asparagus. In my opinion, the skinnier ones are better. I love petite asparagus for the flavor but I also love it because it isn’t as stalky as fatter asparagus is. There aren’t many people that want to eat something that has the consistency and feel of a tree. When preparing asparagus you want to make sure that you cut the ends of up until you hit a soft spot. My method is to hold a knife in one had and the asparagus in the other. I will start by trying to cut as close to the end as I can and if the knife doesn’t easily cut through the asparagus then I will move up in (roughly) 1/4 inch increments until the knife cuts through it fairly easily. This will ensure that you’ve cut the stalky part off and what remains will be a nice crisp consistency instead of like eating a twig. This is a family favorite! I hope your family enjoys it as well. What other ways do you like to prepare asparagus?

DIY Healthy Homemade Fruit Snacks


We have been dealing with tooth decay with my youngest son for the past year. He’s never had juice in bottles or even a large amount of juice in his diet. When we transitioned from nursing he went to water with healthy food. I’ve read Cure Tooth Decay which is a great book on how to really deal with this problem head-on. Aside from the recommendations they make I’m implementing several other things that I know are good for our bones and teeth. One food that is very good for our bones is gelatin. I had an epiphany a while back about the massive amounts of gummy type candies that I craved when I was a kid. I’m sure my body craved them so much because of the gelatin in them (in the process I also got addicted to sugar but that’s another story). I noticed that out of all the treats we kept in the house that Annie’s Gummy Bunnies were the thing my son wanted the most. It got me thinking about his tooth decay and his craving of gummy snacks (the sugar contributing to the decay while the gelatin was trying to combat it). I minimized his intake until it was time to potty train and then I used them as a reward for him. Now that he’s potty trained I’ve taken them away completely but knew I needed to replace them with something, so I started searching for various recipes of homemade fruit snacks and after a lot of trial and error I finally came up with a combination that I was happy with and that my family loves…especially my boy.

In addition to teeth health gelatin can also provide the following health benefits:

  • Skin Health
  • Anti-Aging
  • Wrinkles
  • Hair and Nails
  • Stretch Marks
  • Cellulite
  • Liver Detox
  • Weight Loss
  • Digestion
  • Leaky Gut
  • Strong Bones
  • Arthritis Support
  • High Metabolism
  • Adrenals
  • Hormone Balance
  • Wound Repair
  • Allergies
  • Muscle Maintenance
  • Lowers Inflammation

This is a very easy recipe to make!


Additional Resources for the Health Benefits of Gelatin:

DIY Mouth Rinse

If you look on the back of your mouthwash bottle, what you’ll likely discover is a label full of chemicals.

Active ingredients in mouthwash usually include Benzalkonium chloride, Methylparaben, Hydrogen peroxide, Domiphen bromide, Hexetidine, and Chlorhexidine gluconate. (You can read more about each active ingredient here.)  Other popular ingredients include foaming agents, ethyl alcohol, flavored oils, antimicrobial ingredients, colorants, preservatives and fluoride.

One of the most popular ingredients, ethyl alcohol, can weaken the lining of gums and oral cavity, which can increase the risk of damaging chemicals affecting your DNA. Research reported by Standford University suggests, though it is not conclusive, that the alcohol in antiseptic mouthwash might increase the risk of oral cancer. Read more about the study here.

Most mouthwashes also include synthetic colors, aromas, and flavorings. The artificial ingredients and alcohols contained in most mouthwashes may take away mouth odors temporarily, but they can also alter the basic flora and pH of your mouth and throat which can have serious side effects. One way to freshen your mouth without the worry is to create your own mouthwash using essential oils that are antimicrobial and antiseptic in nature.

You can easily make your own mouthwash that is free of chemicals, perfumes, preservatives, artificial colors, and more with two simple ingredients—water and essential oils—which can be just as beneficial (if not more) than chemicals used in traditional mouthwashes.

Try this simple and cost effective mouthwash recipe for a clean, refreshed, and healthy mouth.

Photo Credit: doTERRA


Why you shouldn’t buy essential oils on Amazon or eBay


I’ve had a lot of people ask me lately why prices on Amazon and eBay are so much cheaper than buying them at the wholesale price. Remember that saying “You get what you pay for”? It applies here.

What we have found is that because doTERRA’s products are so popular that people are stealing other people’s credit cards, buying the oils from doTERRA at the wholesale price, opening and diluting them (and who knows what else), putting a new cap on, and then selling them for cheap. There are a lot of people who have had horrible experiences when they got their oils from Amazon or eBay. Here are just a few examples:

They leaked out because the top wasn’t on right.

My friend bought deep blue (before knowing that I sold Doterra) and hers smells like alcohol.

Do not purchase this product as it is not authentic. I have purchased original doterra products and this one does not compare. This product is watered down. The fragrance of the oil is very weak compared to the actual doterra line.

doTERRA has asked Amazon to not allow unauthorized sellers to sell their products and Amazon has refused to get involved. This has happened with several other health food related items as well.

Why should you purchase oils from doTERRA?

When you become a Wellness Advocate and purchase oils from doTERRA:

  • You’re guaranteed that they are authentic doTERRA products
  • You can be assured that you are getting oils that are pure
  • You will have oils that are safe for your family
  • You get lots of support from doTERRA and other Wellness Advocates
  • If something goes wrong with your order doTERRA has the best customer service
  • You can earn free products from your purchases
  • You end up saving yourself a lot of time, money, and frustration!

Where do I sign up?

Toxicity Myths – The Actual Risks of Essential Oil Use


Toxicity Myths – the Actual Risks of Essential Oil Use

By Ron Guba

In the wide variety of Aromatherapy books and periodicals available today, we find many recommendations regarding the safe, therapeutic use of essential oils, often contradictory and seldom supported by either references, research or actual clinical experience. In this presentation, I will explore the range of recommendations made and address the validity of each, especially addressing the underlying assumptions and reasons for these statements. I have personally been involved in the both the practice and the business of Aromatherapy since arriving in Australia in 1986. Having always approached the therapeutic use of essential oils from the “radical” French “Aromatic Medicine” perspective, I have long noted the many incongruous and exaggerated statements regarding essential oil toxicity. Over these past twelve years, through my involvement with various government and industry bodies, I have specifically focused on this topic of “essential oil toxicity” as one area of study, given the potential “poisons scheduling” of various essential oils by the Australian National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee.

Why is there such a diversity of opinion regarding essential oil toxicity?

Three reasons appear to me outstanding – that of “philosophical” differences, the lack of knowledge amongst practitioners and authors and the fear of public misuse.

Philosophical Differences:

Utilising Dr. Daniel Pénöel’s concept of the “Aromatic Tryptic” (1), we can characterise “Holistic” Aromatherapy as fundamentally “energetic” in nature. Originally developed by Maugerite Maury in France during the 1930’s (2), this approach has become the dominant form of Aromatherapy practiced in English-speaking countries.

Employing relatively low dosages of essential oils (generally 2.5% or less in massage applications), the majority of therapeutic effects noted appear to be primarily of a secondary “energetic” or “terrain” nature, as in the case of acupuncture or homeopathy, for example, as well as working via the olfactory sphere.

“Holistic” Aromatherapy originally developed primarily in the domain of beauty therapy. Practitioner training, even up to the present day, has tended to concentrate more on massage and other application methods, than on an in-depth understanding of essential oils from both the chemical/pharmacological viewpoint and their full history of use in traditional medicine.

M. Maury also stated her own preference to avoid the more “medical” applications of essential oils, including internal use. Such applications, she felt, were best left to medical practitioners. (3)

Following from M. Maury, the growth of “Holistic” Aromatherapy continued primarily in England by those influenced by her, such as Marceline Arcier and Daniele Ryman. Developing from the domain of beauty therapy, we can see a particular “dogma” has evolved, one that is “gentle” and oriented from an “energetic” perspective towards both “low-dose” applications and the avoidance of internal and other “high-dose” applications.

As such, I suggest that this particular bias has served as the “philosophical base” on which many of the common statements regarding essential oil toxicity are based.
In contrast, we can say the French “Aromatic Medicine” approach that has developed most strongly amongst French medical practitioners (as well as naturopathic and herbal medicine practitioners) since R. M. Gattefosse’s work in the 1930’s, is more of a “physical” approach.

This “French” approach often utilises comparatively high doses of essential oils both topically and internally, to realise dose-dependent pharmacological effects.

This discipline relies on a greater understanding of the chemical structure and the pharmacological/toxicological effects of essential oils, to suggest safe dosage levels and contra-indications for use.
I can therefore suggest that such dosage recommendations represent a more realistic view of the safe uses and potential toxicity of essential oils for all practitioners.

Limited Knowledge:

As I have mentioned above, “Holistic” Aromatherapy training has not generally taken into account any in-depth training in either the chemistry or known pharmacology of essential oil compounds. As such, we can notice that many of the dosage recommendations and contraindications mentioned in Aromatherapy literature are based on an incomplete or limited understanding of the issues involved. What can be noted in many publications are statements that are based on the attitude that if an author does not know about the realities of the possible negative effects of an essential oil, then, if any possible negative effect might be noted, the invariable recommendation is to avoid the use of that essential oil or to use extremely low dosages.

To err on the side on caution may be considered laudable. However, we can notice that such exaggerated statements has led to a common perception that the therapeutic use of essential oils can be an extremely risky proposition, even amongst those who are purported to be highly qualified practitioners.

It is my premise, that those who would call themselves “Aromatherapists” should be the most qualified in the actual uses and potential toxicities of essential oils, as we would expect those with either medical training (with pharmaceutical drugs) or medical herbalists (with herbal preparations) to have with their common prescriptions.

Public Misuse:

The vast majority of Aromatherapy books are written for the lay public. In this regard, care is taken to recommend dosages and essential oils that will neither create negative reactions nor lawsuits. Hence, dosages are kept extremely low and any essential oil that might be construed to have any possible negative effect, such as during pregnancy, is routinely advised to be best left alone.

If we inspect such books, we also find that these publications, easily accessible to the public, are often used as “textbooks” in Aromatherapy practitioner training. If we observe further, we also find that many publications offered for practitioners and health professionals make many of the same recommendations.

Why is this? I suggest that “Aromatherapy” still needs to go beyond being just a “good feeling”, fad therapy. As with the standards that have developed relative to the training and practice of medical herbalism, Aromatherapy demands a level of practitioner training that is comprehensive in it’s scope and knowledgeable in all the effects of essential oils – both positive and potentially negative.

Toxicity Issues:

The most common test of potential human toxicity is that of the “LD50″ test or the “median lethal dose”. This test is routinely applied to laboratory animals (humans do not usually volunteer) in the testing of compounds used in pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, flavours, fragrances and cosmetics, to name a few.

In this testing procedure, laboratory animals, usually rats, are given measured doses of compounds until approximately half of the test population die. The “median dosages” are then generally given in the ratio of grams of test compound per kilogram of bodyweight. Hence, a LD50 rating of 1.0 represents that 50% of the test animals died on a dosage of 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. If we consider ourselves to be large rodents, this would translate to 60 grams of a particular compound would be the likely lethal dose to an adult weighing 60 kilograms.

We should consider (outside of ethical considerations – but no effective substitute has yet to be found) that such tests generally are based on either acute oral (by mouth) or injected lethal doses. This means that the LD50 dose represents the median toxic dose taken all at one time, either by ingesting or by direct injection of the test compound. Chronic (long term) toxic doses and dermal (high-dose topical applications) have also been studied with laboratory animals. Toxic chronic doses are always less than the corresponding acute dose. Dermal studies have produced conflicting results that do not appear to be very relevant to human exposure. (4) In terms of the most common uses of essential oils in Aromatherapy, it is the acute LD50 dose that is most relevant in this consideration.

The Mistakes in Applying LD50 Values to Aromatherapy Applications

Animal LD50 values can be a useful guide to potential essential oil toxicity when we are considering the acute toxicity of essential oils, such as Wintergreen (mostly methyl salicylate) or Eucalyptus species (those with a high 1,8 cineole content).

For example, an essential oil, such as Thuja (Thuja occidentalis), with an animal LD50 rating of 0.83, would translate to approximately 50 grams being a median lethal dose for an adult weighing 60 kilograms. Of course, this would be a huge dose and severe toxic effects would still be seen (and have been) at lower doses like 10 grams. The point to make is again, the values we are considering here are based on acute oral toxicity, that is, the lethal dose that would be ingested all at one time. There are two areas where mistakes relative to Aromatherapy “toxicity statements” are made:

Dosages: Essential oil dosages, such as applied in preparations for massage, in baths or for inhalations (or simply to fragrance an environment) are generally of a minute fraction of the acute toxic dose.
Let us take Wintergreen oil as an example. The acute oral rat LD50 is 1.2. In humans, however, methyl salicylate does appear to be more toxic. Given the numbers of fatalities in years past, with the amount ingested being known in a number of cases, we can estimate a human LD50 of 0.3. For a 60 kg adult, this would translate to the ingestion of about 18 grams. (5)
Now, let us say that we want to apply a 2.5% dilution of Wintergreen oil to our sore lower back. We then apply 1 mL of this preparation…

1mL x 2.5% = approximately 0.025 grams of methyl salicylate.
0.025 gms ö 18 gms (LD50 dose) = 0.00139 or 0.139%.

Hence, the applied dose is only 0.139% of the lethal dose – or more than 700 times less!

Of course, if we increase the amount applied of the 2.5% formula, we increase the dosage received. Hence, if we applied 10mL of the formula all at once, the dose would now be 0.25 grams or 250 milligrams. Putting this into perspective, even if the methyl salicylate was totally absorbed, this dose would represent the same amount of salicylate compounds as found in one tablet of aspirin…
Wintergreen and Sweet Birch essential oils are routinely mentioned as oils to avoid in Aromatherapy, even for trained practitioners. Members of the International Federation of Aromatherapists take a “vow” not to use Wintergreen essential oil. (6)

Yet, we have the strange contradiction of many methyl salicylate-containing topical products (containing from 10% to 30% methyl salicylate) being readily available to the untrained public – with very few negative side-effects reported (methyl salicylate, even used topically, is contraindicated in people taking the anti-coagulant drug, warfarin). (7) Even with this relatively toxic compound (as I would suggest that any essential oil with an LD50 of less than 1.0 is), an effective anti-inflammatory preparation can be used with no potential for toxic effects.

Method of Application: Not only should we consider the dosage given, but also account for how the essential oil is applied. We can say that the oral ingestion of an essential oil is generally both fully and rapidly absorbed into the portal blood circulation. However, all other types of applications do not represent the same level of absorption and dosage. The following chart details the potential toxicity of each method of application. This accounts for both the amount of absorption as well as the amount of the typical doses given.

Via oral ingestion +++++
Rectal ++
Vaginal +
Topical (skin) +
Inhalations 0

In this light, we can then understand why the relatively toxic essential oil of Pennyroyal, can be a safe and effective addition as a mucolytic used in an inhalation. With inhalations, absorption is quite high, but the typical dose is always small. With topical applications, we cannot assume full absorption of applied essential oils. If we do not occlude (or cover) the site of application, as is generally the case with topical Aromatherapy applications, the dose is significantly lessened by evaporation. One American study found that 75% of an applied dose of various fragrance compounds were absorbed through human skin when the skin was covered after application. When the skin was left uncovered, the total amount absorbed dropped to only 4.0%. (9)

It is clear that topically applied essential oils will penetrate the epidermis of the skin. However, it is an area that still requires further research to understand how a variety of different factors (such as the type of essential oil compounds, the excipient or “carrier” base used, temperature, etc.) affect the amount absorbed through the skin. Available studies suggest a wide range of absorption amounts. d-limonene, the major constituent of most citrus oils, was demonstrated to only have an absorption rate of 2.0% when applied to human tissue samples. (10) A 2.0% dilution of True Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) oil applied to the abdomen of a volunteer, showed that approximately 10% of the Lavender oil was absorbed into the general blood circulation, showing a relatively rapid absorption rate that peaked 20 minutes after application. After 90 minutes, both linalool and linalyl acetate (the compounds tested for) had dropped almost to zero, showing almost complete metabolism. (11)

Lastly, a study testing percutaneous absorption with rhesus monkeys, tested three compounds, benzyl alcohol, benzyl acetate and benzyl benzoate (all naturally occurring in Ylang Ylang essential oil, for example).
When applied in a moisturising lotion base, with the skin uncovered, the total absorption rate varied from approximately 20% for benzyl acetate, up to 70% for benzyl benzoate. (12)
The assumption is that essential oils and like compounds are more easily absorbed through the hair follicles than just the stratum corneum or “horny layer” of the skin. Hence, it appears that monkey skin, covered in hair follicles, would more efficiently absorb essential oils.

Taking the available research into account it would be fair and conservative to state the following when figuring the absorbed dose of an essential oil applied to unbroken skin in some form of an excipient or “carrier” (vegetable oil, cream, gel, etc.) and left uncovered:

Only up to 50% of a topically applied dose is absorbed.

Hence, in the Wintergreen oil example given above, instead of the low amount of 0.025 grams being absorbed, the amount can be figured at half that value, or 0.0125 grams – less than 1400 times the toxic oral dose.
This covers both the typical applications applied in Aromatherapy treatments, as with massage, as well as topical OTC preparations, such as methyl salicylate containing “liniment” products.
However, in the case of broken skin, where the stratum corneum is compromised or not present (as in wounds, burns and various forms of dermatitis), it would be more prudent to figure a 100% absorption of applied essential oils. (13)

“It’s all dose-related”: Therefore, we can look at a number of the essential oils mentioned in Aromatherapy books “never to be used in therapy”, such as Hyssop, Pennyroyal, Tansy, Thuja, Wintergreen and Wormwood for example. (14) We can understand, however, that such essential oils can be used safely, if one simply respects the dose given and the method of application used.

Essential Oils and Pregnancy

The use of essential oils during pregnancy is perhaps the most emotive area of Aromatherapy, giving rise to a variety of highly conservative statements. This ranges from recommending that no essential oil be used during pregnancy (15) to the more common suggestion of using very low doses of only the most non-toxic essential oils; any “emmenagogic” essential oil (those with any possible effect on the menstrual cycle) should definitely be avoided.
This appears again to be due to the “when in any doubt, don’t use it” philosophy, the misuse of toxicity values and the fear of public misuse and subsequent lawsuits. As well, there appears to be a general misunderstanding of the hormonal and physiological processes that occur during pregnancy.

There are three areas of concern:

1. Some essential oils could damage the developing foetus (known as teratogenicity), causing either resorption of the foetus or birth defects.

2. Some essential oils could cause abortions, miscarriages or premature birth.

3. Essential oils with suggested “hormone-like” effects could either disturb fertility or otherwise affect a healthy pregnancy.

Dosage concerns:

There are a number of reported cases of large oral doses of essential oils causing either severe toxic effects or death in unborn children. (16) These cases are almost exclusively due to pregnant women taking large, toxic doses of essential oils, notably Pennyroyal (rich in the ketone, pulegone, which is metabolised to the highly toxic furan epoxide, menthofuran) and Parsley Seed (rich in the dimethyl ether, apiol) in an attempt to abort the foetus. Such compounds are very poor abortifacients indeed; the woman would be severely poisoned, often fatally, sometimes without aborting the unborn child.

It should be noted that studies utilising isolated samples of the human uterus were exposed to the essential oils that have attempted to be used as abortifacients in the past (Juniper, Pennyroyal, Rue, Savin and Tansy). The essential oils did not directly stimulate the uterine muscle (which would cause spasm and possible expulsion of the foetus). (17) Other studies have also shown that such essential oils also do not create spontaneous abortion by causing the death of the foetus. (18) 

Certainly in the case of pulegone, it is only abortifacient in large quantities. By causing acute hepatotoxicity (liver damage), the body is unable to maintain the pregnancy. (19) In the case of Pennyroyal, ingested doses as high as 7.5mL and 10mL have failed to create an abortion. (20)  With apiol, the lowest dose that induced abortion was equivalent to the ingestion of from between 1.5mL to 6mL of Parsley Seed oil daily, for eight consecutive days. (21) Therefore, when many Aromatherapy authors extrapolate the use of doses that are a small fraction of such huge ingested toxic doses, this is simply a wrong interpretation of the facts. For example, I have seen some suggested protocols recently concerning the use of vapourising essential oils in the general environment of a nursing home setting. It is suggested that any essential oil with possible toxic or “emmenagogic” effects not be used if any of the staff is pregnant. (22) Let us look at the example of using Pennyroyal oil in inhalations again. We will use a 10% concentration of Pennyroyal oil with other essential oils, such as Eucalyptus radiata and Sea Pine. Using an aerosol generator that disperses approximately 1.0mL of essential oil per hour, we will have a 15 minute inhalation session, three times per day. We will over-compensate and assume a very high degree of essential oil absorption at 50%. We then have:

15 min. x 3 sessions = 45 minutes x 1.0 mL per hour = 0.75mL dispensed.
0.75mL x 50% absorption = 0.375mL possibly inhaled and absorbed.
0.375mL x 10% (Pennyroyal content) = 0.0375mL or approximately 35 mg of Pennyroyal oil.
The LD50 of Pennyroyal oil in humans is 0.4. For a 60 kilogram adult, this would represent
about 24 grams of essential oil.
35 milligrams ö 24 grams = 0.14% of the median lethal dose.
This is almost 700 times less the toxic dose…

Of course, this is a tiny dose. If such an essential oil blend were simply to be vapourised into the general environment of a room, the dose inhaled would be a small fraction of the 35 milligrams of Pennyroyal oil possibly absorbed by a direct inhalation.

Many such examples could be given, from the use of one-half to one drop (12.5 to 25mg) of Thuja oil applied to a wart to kill the Papilloma wart virus, to Rosemary CT camphor and Basil CT methyl chavicol used as a 5.0% dilution to be used for the relief of low back pain in the third trimester of pregnancy. In both cases, the applied dose is far below any toxic levels, acute or chronic.

Birth defects:

The only essential oil compound that has been shown to have strong teratogenic effects in laboratory animals, is that of sabinyl acetate. The essential oil tested was Plectranthus (Plectranthus fruticosus – not available commercially), with a sabinyl acetate content of more than 60%. (23) Other sabinyl acetate containing essential oils are Savin (Juniperus sabina, 20% to 53% sabinyl acetate), Juniperus pfitzeriana (not available commercially) and Spanish Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia – generally less than 10% sabinyl acetate, but can be as high as 24%). Savin oil has also been shown to have abortifacient effects and to be toxic to early embryos in laboratory animals. (23)

Hence, of all the essential oils, Savin and Spanish Sage seem most indicated to be totally avoided in pregnancy, at any dose. Safrole-rich essential oils (most commonly Brazilian Sassafras, Ocotea pretiosa, and Chinese “Sassafras” oil, the safrole-rich fraction of Cinnamomum camphora) do not create birth defects per se, but has been demonstrated to produce both kidney and liver tumours in the offspring of mice fed safrole while pregnant. (24)

Whether safrole poses such a risk to humans is still debatable. Although safrole is now banned both as a food additive and as a therapeutic agent in Western countries due to it’s carcinogenic effects in laboratory animals, there is real room for debate relative to the applicability of such studies to humans, relative to the large dosages tested and the theoretically non-carcinogenic metabolites produced in humans versus the carcinogenic metabolites produced in laboratory mice. (25, 26)

“Emmenagogue” essential oils and pregnancy:

A number of essential oils are stated as having “emmenagogic” or menstrual regulating effects in Aromatherapy, such as Clary Sage, Rose, Jasmine absolute, Juniper and Sweet Fennel, to name a few. Such essential oils are then often suggested not to be used during pregnancy because of their reputed “hormone-like” properties and uterine stimulant effects.
There are two apparent mistakes made in the translation of “emmenagogic” effects to pregnancy:

Uterine stimulation:

The actions of some herbs have been suggested as being uterine stimulants, specifically by creating uterine hyperaemia (increased blood flow). (27) Some of these herbs, most notably Pennyroyal and Parsley Seed, are certainly contraindicated in large oral doses, due to their systemic toxic effects. Uterine contractions are secondary to the toxicosis. 

Juniper (Juniperus communis ssp. communis) essential oil appears to have been originally mentioned mistakenly in place of Savin (Juniperus sabina), which is an abortifacient. (28) Although the total water/ethanol extracts of Juniper (J. communis) have shown an anti-fertility effect in laboratory rats, this effect does not appear to have any bearing on the essential oil constituents, when compared to essential oils, such as Nutmeg, with similar constituents, even when used at high dosages. (29) Other herbs with significant essential oil concentrations, notably Angelica Root, Fennel, Garlic, Jasmine, True Lavender, Lovage, Sweet Marjoram and Thyme are “extrapolated” by one author (30), using the “energetics” of traditional Chinese medicine, to suggest they are contraindicated in pregnancy as “uterine stimulants”.

However, it should be noted that such herbs, as commonly used and as reported in contemporary medically oriented phytotherapy texts, do not suggest any contraindications in pregnancy. (31, 32) Thyme (Thymus vulgaris CT thymol, carvacrol) is one such herb mentioned. In reviewing some of the available literature, the real reason that appears is because of the use of pure thymol as a vermifuge internally. (33) At a suggested dose of up to 1.0 gram per day, this level of thymol represents a dose of approximately 2.0 grams of a high-thymol containing Thyme essential oil – a very large internal dose. Concerning the previously mentioned author (30), a number of the contraindicated oils in pregnancy appear to have been “lifted” from current Aromatherapy texts, without a full consideration of their attributes. Speaking with one Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, who specialises in gynaecological treatments, only the essential oil-bearing herbs of Frankincense and Myrrh appear as “forbidden” for use during pregnancy (there are other herbs, not available as essential oils), specifically due to their capacity to “vitalise the blood, pull blood down and circulate the Qi”. (34) In all due fairness, such contraindications are given for the internal use of such herbs. It is suggested that all such “extrapolated” herbs (to a traditional Chinese “energetic” perspective) as essential oils are not contraindicated for use in topical applications (at a suggested 2% dilution for general massage use). (35)

“Emmenagogic” effects:

Essential oils with suggested menstrual-regulating or “hormone-like” effects include quite non-toxic essential oils such as: Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana – mistakenly suggested that it has similar effects to Cedrus atlantica, rich in the sesquiterpene ketone, atlantone), Clary Sage, Jasmine, Sweet Marjoram (Oreganum majorana), Peppermint, Rose (Rosa damascena?) and Rosemary (no chemotype given). As well, essential oils with “oestrogen stimulant activity” are mentioned: Anise Seed, Fennel and Basil. (36) Such essential oils, and more, have been advised in some Aromatherapy books to be completely avoided during pregnancy. (37) However, I suggest that such recommendations are based on a wrong understanding of the processes that occur during pregnancy.

Menstruation “versus” pregnancy:

Menstruation is most specifically controlled via the hypothalamus/hypophysis axis. The anterior pituitary releases gonadotrophic hormones. In the first half of the menstrual cycle, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) stimulates the growth of the developing Graafian follicle, which is responsible for the production of oestrogen. This oestrogen controls the changes in the secondary sex organs, including the proliferation of the endometrium or lining of the uterus.
After the ovum is released, the anterior pituitary releases an increased amount of LH (lutenizing hormone), which stimulates the corpus luteum to develop. The corpus luteum now secretes progesterone (and oestrogen) which stimulates further changes in the secondary sex organs and prepares the lining of the uterus for the reception of a fertilised ovum. If the ovum is not fertilised, the corpus luteum shrinks; the production of progesterone and oestrogen falls, and menstruation begins.

Herbs such as Chaste Berry (Vitex agnus castus) and Black Cohosh (Cimicfuga racemosa) are known for their menstrual-regulating effects. Both herbs have been shown to work, not by “adding” sex hormone-like compounds to the body, but by stimulating and/or decreasing the production of follicle stimulating and lutenizing hormone by the anterior pituitary, with it’s consequent effects on the menstrual cycle. (38) The only essential oil compound found in research studies to have a mild “oestrogenic” action in laboratory animals is that of anethole, a major constituent of Anise Seed, Star Anise, Fennel and Ravensara anisata essential oils. (39) Other essential oils that have suggested menstrual-regulating effects, through a long history of traditional use and/or significant results in clinical experience include: Clary Sage, Sage (Salvia officinalis), Lovage, Angelica Root, Niaouli and Cypress. In all such cases, the effects appear due to a secondary effect via the anterior pituitary, not by the addition of “hormone-like” compounds. The reported effects of the essential oil of Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) bear this out. Many anecdotal reports have been given to the effects on menstruation by only inhalation of the essential oil. (40)

It is interesting to note that inhalation of such volatile and lipophilic compounds as found in essential oils may not just affect the central nervous system via the olfactory nerves. Compounds of a larger molecular size have been found to be able to actually travel via the olfactory nerves to make their way in measurable amounts into the limbic regions of the brain. It is as yet unproven, but given the absorption into the brain of both small particles of gold and NGF (nerve growth factor), the absorption, via the olfactory nerve, of essential oil compounds is quite likely. (41) Now, if we look at what occurs if an ovum is fertilised and is embedded in the lining of the uterus, a much different process occurs.
When pregnancy occurs the usual ovarian cycle is suspended. The corpus luteum, instead of shrinking, now grows until it comes to occupy up to 50% of the ovary. The corpus luteum secretes a large amount of progesterone, which serves to maintain the pregnancy in the early stages of development and promotes the development of the placenta. As the placenta develops, the corpus luteum begins to shrink, becoming inactive by the fourth month. The placenta now produces progesterone, supporting the pregnancy until birth. Hence, the mistake made in giving contraindications for “emmenagogic” essential oils, is that if such oils have an effect on the anterior pituitary to produce FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), there are no Graafian follicles to stimulate (which secrete oestrogen). The process of pregnancy specifically overrides the menstrual cycle, both physiologically (via the growth of the corpus luteum) and hormonally.
Therefore, respecting those with potential toxicity (such as large oral doses of Rosemary CT camphor), these “emmenagogic” essential oils are quite safe to use during pregnancy.

“Essential oils not to be used on the skin”

Most Aromatherapy books and training courses routinely give a listing of essential oils “not to be used on the skin”. One such IFA (International Federation of Aromatherapists) recommended list includes the essential oils of: Ajowan, Cinnamon Bark, Cassia, Clove, Oregano and Mountain Savoury (in the “not to be used at all” list). (42) This appears to be based on the “philosophical bias” that has developed in “Holistic” Aromatherapy, where generally only up to a 2.5% concentration of essential oils will be used on the whole body, often including the face. Yes, a 50% concentration of Red Thyme oil would not be suitable for facial treatments!

However, we then observe the conundrum whereby trained Aromatherapists are “forbidden” to use such oils, yet any untrained public person can purchase and use products such as “Tiger Balm”, which contains a 60% concentration of essential oils, including large amounts of the “banned” oils of Cassia, Clove and Camphor. The oils listed above all contain either phenols or aromatic aldehydes with a definite “dermocaustic” or skin-irritant quality. But in truth, such essential oils can be used safely on the skin, if one respects the dose, sensitive skin areas and avoids the use of such oils on those with skin reactions such as excema or on young children, under twelve years of age. Other essential oils, such as Costus, Elecampane, Massoia and oxidised terpenic oils, such asPinus ssp. and citrus oils do have significant skin sensitising potential and are best avoided for topical use.

The “French” approach has long used such “dermocaustic” oils on the skin, even in high concentrations, as we can see in the work of Dr. Jean Valnet and others. (43, 44) Dr. Daniel Pénel introduced me to the practice of “Aromatic Perfusion” some years ago. In this application, I have used up to 20ml of undiluted essential oils on the skin of many clients, for specific conditions. As part of this work with clients, I have developed and tested what I would call the “Phenol Rule”. This “rule” is for the use levels of phenolic oils (mainly Red Thyme, Ajowan, Clove Bud, Oregano and Savoury) as applied in a whole body massage (excluding the face). In my practice, I utilise up to a 10% concentration for massage, generally for the treatment of more “physical” conditions, such as muscular complaints, fatigue states, pre- and post- illness symptoms and the like.

“The Phenol Rule”

For use in up to a 10% concentration for topical applications:
Use 90% of non-irritant essential oils (such as True Lavender, Eucalyptus radiata, Tea Tree, etc.) to 10% of phenolic essential oils. Hence, the concentration of phenolic oils will not exceed 1.0%.
The exception to this is Cinnamon Bark and Cassia (high cinnamic aldehyde). If used, the proportion should not exceed 5.0% and should be used in conjunction with Clove Bud (or other high eugenol containing oils) or Citrus oils (with high content of d-limonene), which will “quench” the potential sensitising effect of cinnamic aldehyde. (45)

I have used this type of application on many clients, with no skin reactions reported. Over the past nine years, I have tested the undiluted concentrate of 90% “mild” oils/10% phenolic oils on over 500 people attending seminars. I can report only four cases of any reactions to the concentrate. All involved only transient irritation and mild skin reddening, which resolved in 10 to 20 minutes. Neither lasting negative effects nor sensitisation have ever been observed.
For application to small, specific body areas, the concentration of phenolic oils can be raised considerably. As in “Tiger Balm” and similar products, the total essential oil content can be up to 60% (even 100%) with perhaps 30% of the essential oils being phenolic.

Such “irritant” effects can be very useful. By increasing blood supply to an area, by decreasing the production of the inflammatory series 2 prostaglandins (46) and by promoting the induction of the antioxidant enzyme, NADPH quinone reductase (47), local pain and inflammation can be reduced, as in the case of an arthritic joint or menstrual cramps, as examples.

“Untested Essential Oils”

Some authors have suggested that essential oils that have not undergone formal scientific testing (generally via the fragrance industry, as through the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials for testing relative to toxicity, dermal irritation and sensitising effects on laboratory animals and human volunteers) should therefore “not be used on the skin”. (48, 49) Such statements then create more contradictions. For example, both Alpine Juniper (Juniperus communis ssp. alpina) and “Spanish” Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) essential oils are suggested in one text as: “Untested Oil. Avoid Use on Sensitive or Damaged Skin.” (50)

However, both oils are also listed as having beneficial properties for the skin; “Spanish” Lavender for wounds and cuts and Alpine Juniper for acne and wounds. This is a definite “Catch-22″ situation. Yet, both essential oils have been “tested” on numerous clients, by French practitioners and other therapists, like myself, who have become familiar with many of these unique “untested” oils. A number of such essential oils may never be “tested” formally, because they have no use in the flavour or fragrance market; they are more to be used by practitioners for their therapeutic benefits. I would suggest that such cautionary statements are more than prudent; they can be suppressive in nature. The great tradition of botanical medicine certainly never would have developed, if healers and physicians had not experimented and worked with medicinal plants, without the benefits of many dead laboratory animals. Based on a history of safe use already by practitioners and an understanding of the effects of individual components (sensitising compounds, such as lactones and potentially toxic compounds, such as the ketones, pulegone and pinocamphone, are well known), I can see no reason to not examine the potential therapeutic qualities of these more unique essential oils.

Essential Oils and Medical Conditions:

There are other, oft-repeated statements about the use of essential oils in certain medical conditions (it does seem that many Aromatherapy statements are copied from author to author to author…):

“Essential oils not to be used with high blood pressure”

The essential oils of Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage and Thyme are most often listed as oils “not to be used in high blood pressure” (51, 52). I am not certain where these statements originated from, but there is no support to be found anywhere in available literature. No such contraindications appear in herbal texts (53, 54), in more scientifically based phytotherapy texts (55, 56) nor in French Aromatherapy texts. (57, 58) Some essential oils have been shown to have hypotensive effects in laboratory animals, such as Garlic, Tagetes, Geranium and True Lavender. (59) Only one essential oil, Clary Sage, was shown to produce a slight increase in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (60) However, these effects generally take huge dosages, Clary Sage required a dose of 1.0 gram per kg – about 70 grams for an average adult! In summary, neither evidence nor experience supports the above statements. Such essential oils will not create negative effects in either low or high blood pressure conditions.

“Essential oils not to be used in epilepsy”

The essential oils of Sweet Fennel, Hyssop, Sage and Wormwood are often listed as contraindicated in the case of epilepsy. (61) In this case, such contraindications do have a basis in fact. Large doses of monoterpenic ketones, notably pinocamphone. thujone, camphor and pulegone, have been found to create epileptiform seizures in both animals and humans.(62) This would include, then, the more common essential oils of Wormwood, Mugwort, Buchu, Hyssop, Pennyroyal, Sage and Thuja. Hence, those with epilepsy (as well as people with high fevers) have a lower threshold to CNS (central nervous system) stimulant effects of oils containing large amounts of these ketonic compounds. How Sweet Fennel entered the picture, I am not sure. Dr. Jean Valnet mentions in his book,The Practice of Aromatherapy, “In high doses, fennel causes convulsions (in direct contrast to aniseed). (I assume in animals – italics mine) The essence makes animals timid.”

To comment, firstly no dosages are mentioned (I would assume a large dose). Interestingly, both Sweet Fennel and Anise Seed oils contain high amounts of trans-anethole (up to 70% and 96%, respectively). If anethole were the responsible agent, similar actions would be seen. I theorise that a “Bitter” Fennel (Foeniculum vulare var. vulgare) may have been used. The ketone, fenchone, with potential epileptic effects at high doses, is present at up to 18% in the essential oil, whereas Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) contains generally less than 3%. (63) No other study suggests this potential effect of either Sweet or Bitter Fennel oil. Given the available information, there is no reason to not use Sweet Fennel, certainly, even in those with epilepsy. Lastly, people whose epileptic seizures are under full control by medication, do not then appear to any more sensitive to such essential oils then those without epilepsy. Low-dose topical uses of such essential oils should be without incident. (64) Such contraindications (even for low-dose topical use) would most specifically be true for those with uncontrolled epilepsy, or those with high fevers.

“Essential oils as kidney irritants”

Juniper “Berries” (Juniperus communis ssp. communis) and the essential oil derived from them, have long been indicated as a useful diuretic. (65) However, since the late 1800’s onwards, Juniper essential oil (and other high-terpene hydrocarbon containing essential oils, such as in various Pinus species) has been suggested to be a kidney irritant, that should not be used on a long-term basis nor during acute kidney disease. Such statements are still mentioned in a number of Aromatherapy texts. It appears that the origin of these statements came from the use of large, fatal doses of Juniper oil being given to dogs. Such high doses cause clouding of the urine, which was then assumed to be due to kidney damage. It appears, though, that such cloudiness was simply due to the presence of large quantities of Juniper oil metabolites. More recent studies using laboratory rats have found no kidney damage, even when high oral doses of Juniper oil were given. The authors hypothesised that the reputation of Juniper oil as a kidney irritant may have come from the use of essential oils containing high levels of the monoterpene hydrocarbons, α & β-pinene. The Juniper oil used in the study was said to have low levels of pinenes. (66)

This study does highlight the non-irritancy of Juniper Berry oil. But the further hypothesis regarding the irritancy of pinenes does appear to be unfounded. Both Juniper Berry and Juniper branches/berries essential oil contain significant amounts of α & β-pinene, as well as other terpene hydrocarbons (Juniper Berry – α-pinene up to 46%, sabinene up to 28%, myrcene up to 8% and Juniper branches/berries – α-pinene from 40 to 90%, sabinene from 10 to 40%). (67) Given such similarities in terpene hydrocarbon content, such a hypothesis is not supported.

Further, a number of reports concerning the ingestion of massive amounts (up to 500mL) of Pine essential oil (from Pinus pinaster and related species), which generally consists of up to 90% of α & β-pinene, do not show any kidney dysfunction nor damage. Arguably, both gastric lavage and hemoperfusion are generally employed to reduce the quantity of essential oil compounds from both the stomach and the blood circulation (a lethal dose of “Pine” oil is approximately from 60 to 120mL). Nevertheless large quantities of metabolites, such as bornyl acetate are still excreted via the kidneys over a number of days. (68) 

Of all the essential oil compounds, only apiol (as in Parsley Seed oil) has been shown to create kidney damage, as observed in post-mortem studies. Obviously, these represented large, fatal doses of apiol; the lowest acute fatal dose was 6.3 grams, while up to a dose of 19 grams has been survived. (69 ) Given the comparatively tiny doses that would be used in Aromatherapy treatments, even orally, we can see that such dosages do not pose any threat to the kidneys, even with extended use. Of course, acute (such as glomerulonephritis) or advanced kidney disease (such as requiring dialysis) is where caution must be taken, not just for such essential oils, but for a wide variety of drugs.

Essential oils and other medical conditions:

There are both known and potential contraindications for the use of essential oils in certain medical conditions (such as high-menthol containing essential oils in heart disease with cardiac fibrillation) and combined with other drugs (such as using high-methyl salicylate containing oils in conjunction with warfarin anti-coagulant therapy). With the exception of the two above examples, such contraindications are for the oral ingestion of essential oils, not topical applications. (70)

Essential Oil “First Aid”

As with most medicinal drugs, whether of a “synthetic” or a “natural” origin, the compounds present in essential oils have the potential to create serious, even fatal toxic effects, if ingested in overly large quantities. There are numerous cases reported in toxicological literature regarding both serious (non-fatal) and fatal outcomes of essential oil ingestion in both children and adults. These cases are generally due to accidental ingestion by young children, attempts at creating abortions in past years and the use of essential oils for suicide attempts. There are more rare cases of toxic effects due to overly large doses of specific essential oils being “self-prescribed”, “prescribed” to children by parents or prescribed to clients by ill-informed therapists.

Most essential oil compounds have a “non-specific” toxic effect, whereby the absorption of these lipophilic compounds into cellular membranes can eventually lead to disruption of membrane permeability. The primary toxic outcome is that of the disruption of ion channel function in nerve cells, first affecting the heart and central nervous system, leading to cardiac and respiratory depression. (71) To create such effects, however, require huge dosages, in the order of 300mL and beyond. Certain aromatic compounds, most notably 1,8 cineole (as in many Eucalyptus species), camphor (borneone) (as an isolated compound or as in Rosmarinus officinalis CT camphorand Lavandula latifolia) and methyl salicylate (as a synthetically derived compound or as inGaultheria procumbens) have specific toxic effects at much lower doses. These compounds make up the bulk of both serious and fatal poisonings in children and adults, due not just to their toxicity, but to the common availability of products containing these compounds and their reputed beneficial properties. (72)

Given the rapid and almost complete absorption of essential oils ingested orally, this route of administration has the highest potential for toxic effects. First aid measures for ingestion of significant amounts of particularly toxic essential oils (such as more than 2mL of high-cineole Eucalyptus oils in young children) is straightforward: take the child to the nearest hospital emergency room or at least call or a Poisons Information Centre for instructions. The vast majority of accidental essential oil ingestion in children result in few, if any symptoms and resolve safely with no medical intervention. (73)

It is often difficult to determine just how much of an essential oil (or any product) a young child has ingested. If toxic symptoms do begin to develop, gastric lavage, hemodialysis and other supportive medical measures may well be necessary. To attempt to either dilute the stomach contents by giving burnt toast (or activated charcoal), milk or other foods or to try to induce vomiting is not recommended. Either approach, if vomiting occurs, has the potential to allow these volatile compounds to enter the lungs, potentially creating aspiration pneumonia. (74)

“Aromatic Medicine”, or the use of essential oils as ingested herbal medicines by trained physicians and complementary therapists, has not been responsible for any severe cases of toxicity. As with any “drug”, if an appropriate dose is used (with essential oils, this is often in the range of only 100 to 300 mg per day), toxicity is not an issue. In the case of the more common practices in Aromatherapy, we are speaking of topical applications – in the form of essential oil preparations used in massage treatments, in baths, etc. or in the form of “low dose” inhalations. Such applications do not create any acute or chronic systemic toxicity – the amounts absorbed into the body and the dosages used are far too low. However, such applications do have the potential to create problems, which include phototoxicity, sensitization and irritant reactions.

Phototoxicity is due to the capacity of various furanocoumarin compounds found in small amounts in some essential oils (most notably, expressed Bergamot and Lime oils, Tagetes, Cumin and Angelica Root; to a lesser degree, the expressed oils of Bitter Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit) to absorb and store ultraviolet wavelengths. This UV radiation is then released in a short, concentrated burst. When essential oils such as expressed Bergamot are topically applied and the skin exposed to significant amounts of UV radiation in the form of sunlight or tanning beds, a bad “sunburn” is the common result. In more serious cases this can lead to quite extensive 2nd degree burns.

Another common outcome is that of berloque dermatitis, where patches of overly-pigmented skin develop, which can last for many years. Lastly, there is evidence to support the promotion of skin cancer, caused by repeated exposure to UV light of mouse skin treated with Bergamot oil (with bergapten as the responsible agent). However, such results required extensive repeated exposures (5 days per week for 75 weeks), with mice thought to be less capable of repairing DNA damage as compared to humans. Hence, given common uses of such essential oils, carcinogenesis is not an area for concern. (75) On a more positive note, evidence suggests that the use of photosensitizing essential oils such as Bergamot, along with the use of a sunscreen preparation, provides better protection against UV-induced skin damage than the use of a sunscreen alone. (76)

First Aid measures – first and foremost should be the provision of appropriate label warnings on packages of any photosensitizing essential oil available for public sale. This is presently far too often not the case. In the case of a phototoxic “sunburn” developing, it should be treated as any other burn. If applied soon after exposure, both Vitamin E acetate (up to a 25% concentration) and panthenol (up to a 5% concentration) are excellent at quenching the “free radicals” produced by UV exposure, significantly reducing erythmea and burning. (77) In terms of treating a burn, there is a good body of both clinical and anecdotal evidence for the wound healing effects of various essential oils (notably True Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia, Everlasting – Helichrysm italicum and the carbon dioxide extract of Calendula flowers – Calendula officinalis), polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as Rose Hip – Rosa rubiginosa) and a variety of herbal extracts (such as the infused oil of Gotu Kola – Centella asiatica). (78)

Sensitization refers to the development of an allergic skin reaction to certain aromatic compounds present in some essential oils. Responsible compounds penetrate the epidermis, bind to skin proteins and provoke an immune reaction that leads to the production of histamine and other irritant compounds by basophils and mast cells. A skin rash or eczema is the usual outcome and subsequent exposure to even tiny amounts of the sensitizing compound can elicit the same response, as well as creating cross-sensitivities to other compounds. (79) In sensitive individuals, the skin reaction can create quite extensive skin damage, as I have personally witnessed in the case of a friend applying undiluted Tea Tree oil to a small foot wound – both feet developed extensive lesions and required up to six weeks to fully heal.

The compounds most often responsible for sensitization include sesquiterpene lactones (such as costuslactone in Costus and alantolactone in Elecampane), cinnamic aldehyde (as in Cinnamon bark – C. zeylanicum and C. cassia) and oxidized hydrocarbons (such as d-limonene in citrus oils; delta-3-carene, – & α-pinene as in various Pinus ssp.). Of potentially sensitizing essential oils, it is Cinnamon oil, old citrus and old pine oils that are commonly available to the public and present the highest risk. The commonly available oils of Tea Tree, Star Anise, Ylang Ylang and the citral-containing oils of Lemongrass and May Chang pose a slighter risk. (80) Sensitization reactions (which are relatively rare) can develop in any healthy individual. However, it is clear that individuals already with “hypersensitive” skin and/or present allergies (including those suffering from eczema, psoriasis and asthma) are more prone to allergic reactions with essential oils. The most prudent approach, especially for those with present allergic conditions, is to do a simple “patch test” with potentially sensitizing essential oils first. This can be done by preparing a 5% to 10% dilution of the essential oil in question in vegetable oil and applying a few drops to the inner forearm, covering with a “band aid”.

Generally, any sensitization reaction will occur within 24 to 48 hours. Repeat the application twice to be the most certain. If a sensitization reaction does occur to any essential oil, obviously it’s use should be discontinued immediately. Other “risky” essential oils or potential cross-sensitizers should only be used with caution. The allergic reaction to an individual compound can disappear over time – but a patch test before using would be highly advised. The common treatment for an allergic reaction would be the use of either prescribed or OTC corticosteroid preparations. Alternatively, some practitioners, including myself, have had anecdotal success with the application of essential oils and herbal extracts with anti-inflammatory properties. I have personally found the application of a 5% dilution of the carbon dioxide extracts of German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Calendula (Calendula officinalis) in a “hypo-allergenic”, vegetable oil-based cream to be useful in quenching allergic reactions.

Irritation reactions are not allergic in nature, but represent a level of direct skin damage, followed by an inflammatory response. Irritation reactions arise quickly and are dependent on the amount of the compound applied. Of essential oils that are commonly available to the public, those containing large amounts of phenols, aromatic aldehydes and oxidized hydrocarbons pose the most risk. This includes the commonly available essential oils of Cinnamon (bark and leaf), Clove (bud and leaf), Thyme, Oregano, Savoury, Pimento and old, oxidized citrus and pine oils. As volatile, lipophilic compounds, any essential oil can be irritating if applied to sensitive mucous membranes or skin – eyes, genitals, etc. The common Aromatherapy application of using essential oils in baths (by “floating” them on the surface of the bath water) also increases the potential irritancy of essential oils. This is another area where the inclusion of appropriate caution statements, use instructions and realistic expiry dates on essential oil packages for public sale would be highly recommended. The first aid for irritancy reactions is to remove the essential oil as quickly as possible from the skin and/or mucous membranes.

The common method suggested is to wash the affected skin with soap and water and then rinse with water liberally. It has been found with essential oils, however, that the use of water can often increase the skin irritation initially.
I have found a more effective method is to use a vegetable oil. In this method, apply any vegetable oil to the affected area. Remove with an absorbent towel or cloth. Apply the vegetable oil again and remove, from three to six times. The vegetable oil removes the essential oil with no irritation.

This method also is excellent for mucous membrane irritation, such as in irritation of the eyes. A bland vegetable oil is used as an eyebath, instead of water or saline solution. I have had the occasion to use this method myself, accidentally having a large amount of Red Thyme oil splashed into my eyes. The vegetable oil method was very effective, with any eye irritation abating without ten minutes of use.


In this presentation, I have attempted to cover the fundamental “toxicity myths” that appear in Aromatherapy literature and training courses. There are other topics that can be considered further, such as the appropriate use of essential oils with children and issues concerning carcinogenic potential. I personally see no problem in authors and trainers suggesting cautious levels of use. However, I would hope to see such statements given be based on the actual known facts of potential toxicity. Such statements and recommendations would then be given, not as an “absolute” or as a “forbidden”, but based on personal preference and philosophy. The present Aromatherapy recommendations commonly given are more than cautious. I sense they are creating more a mood of fear amongst both practitioners and public. The results in public perception are more prone to the attraction of lawsuits (what do you do if a pregnant client wants to sue you after having received a massage with True Lavender oil and then had a miscarriage?). There is also then, a level of suppression of the free and discriminative exploration of the therapeutic possibilities of essential oils, which, we must be clear, are not going to be studied by large pharmaceutical corporations anytime in the foreseeable future. Essential oil compounds are too “simple” and cannot be patented. Hence, there is no present incentive for serious research money to be expended on “Aromatic Medicine”. In contrast, there are certainly negative, toxic aspects to the misuse and overdosing of essential oils.

For products available to the public, clear instructions and appropriate cautions should be given. As well, the inclusion of “dropper inserts”, so that liquids are only dispensed slowly as measured drops, should be the requirement for all undiluted essential oils and “fragrance” oils (“perfume” oils – mixtures of essential oil isolates, synthetic fragrance compounds, etc.). Experience strongly suggests that these types of “restrictive flow” inserts would do more to prevent accidental childhood poisonings than child-resistant closures alone. For those who would use essential oils as a form of complementary therapy, I suggest that training should take into account all aspects of the safe use of essential oils. The common “myths” should be excluded and the real potential for negative effects should be fully understood.


  1. Pénöel, D. 1998 Natural Home Health Care Using Essential Oils Editions Osmobiose La Drôme
  2. Maury, M. 1992 Guide to Aromatherapy C.W. Daniel Co. Essex
  3. Ibid.
  4. Schnaubelt, K. 1986 Aromatherapy Course 2nd edition pg. 116 Kurt Schnaubelt Ph.D. San Rafael
  5. National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee Working Party on Essential Oils 1998 Essential Oil Monographs Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration Canberra
  6. Davis, P. 1988 Aromatherapy: An A – Z C.W. Daniel Co. Essex
  7. LeBourhis, B. and Soenen, A.M. 1973 Recherces sur l’action psychotrope de quelques substances aromatiques utilis es en alimentation Foods and Cosmetics Toxicology 11: 1-9, cited in Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Essential Oil Safety pg. 195 Churchill Livingstone Edinburgh
  8. Franchomme, P. and Pénöel, D. 1990 L’Aromathérapie Exactement pg. 197 Roger Jollois, Editeur Limoges
  9. Bronaugh et al 1990 In vivo percutaneous absorption of fragrance materials in rhesus monkeys and humans Fd Chem. Toxic 28(5) 369-373
  10. Hotchkiss, S. 1997 Percutaneous absorption of fragrance materials through human tissue samples Presentation at Aroma ’97 Conference Warwick University
  11. Jäger et al 1992 Percutaneous absorption of lavender oil from a massage oil Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists 43: 49-54
  12. Bronaugh et al 1990 op. cit.
  13. Bowman and Reed 1980 Textbook of Pharmacology Section 32-35, cited in Balacs, T. 1992 International Journal of Aromatherapy 4: 2 pg. 23
  14. Battaglia, S. 1995 The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy pg. 136 The Perfect Potion Virginia1
  15. Grace, U. M. 1996 Aromatherapy for Practitioners pg. 19 C. W. Daniel Co. Essex
  16. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Essential Oil Safety pgs. 108-110 Churchill Livingstone Edinburgh
  17. Gunn, J.W.C. 1921 The action of the “emmenagouge” oils on the human uterus. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 16: 485-489, cited by Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 108
  18. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. Op. cit. pg. 108
  19. Ibid. pg 108
  20. Ibid pg. 108
  21. Ibid. pg 109
  22. Young, J. 1998 Complementary Therapies in Nursing Care Presentation at Australian Holistic Nurses Association Conference Sydney
  23. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op. cit. pg 108
  24. Vesselinovitch, S.D. et al 1979 Transplacental and lactational carcinogenesis by safroleCancer Research 39: 4378-4380
  25. Heinerman, J. 1980 Science of Herbal Medicine pgs. xx-xxi Bi World Publishers Orem
  26. Franchomme, P. and Pénöel, D. 1990 Op. cit. pg. 178
  27. Holmes, P. 1993 The Energetics of Western Herbs Vol. 1 pg. 254 NatTrop Berkeley
  28. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op cit pg. 142
  29. Ibid. pg. 142
  30. Holmes, P. 1993 Op. cit. Vol. 2 763-764
  31. Wichtl, M. 1994 Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals Medpharm Publishers Stuttgart
  32. Weiss, R.F. 1985 Herbal Medicine Hippokrates Verlag GmbH Stuttgart
  33. Wichtl, M. 1994 Op. cit. pg. 495
  34. Druda, A. TCM practitioner Personal communication
  35. Holmes, P. 1993 Op. cit. pg. 495
  36. Battaglia, S. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 136
  37. Fawcett, M. 1993 Aromatherapy for Pregnancy and Childbirth pgs. 23-24 Element Books Ltd. Dorset
  38. Weiss, R.F. 1985 Op. cit. pgs. 317-319
  39. Franchomme, P. and Pénöel, D. 1990 Op. cit. pg. 175
  40. Guba, R. 1996 Aromatic Medicine Course Notes pgs. 20-21 The Centre for Aromatic Medicine Melbourne
  41. Motluck, A. 1998 Snort it – how the nose could transform the treatment of brain diseases pg. 24 New Scientist 5 Sept. 1998
  42. Battaglia, S. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 136
  43. Pénöel, D. 1998 Op. cit.
  44. Valnet, J. 1985 The Practice of Aromatherapy C. W. Daniel Co. Essex
  45. Allenby, C.F. et al 1984 Diminution of immediate reactions to cinnamic aldehyde by eugenol Contact Dermatitis 11: 322-323
  46. Schnaubelt, K. 1986 Op. cit. pgs. 16-17
  47. Mark, H. 1993 Clove oil anti-inflammatory for skin, cited in Medi Herb Monitor pg. 3 No. 7 Dec. 1993 Brisbane
  48. Sheppard – Hanger, S. 1994 The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual Aquarius Publishing Willeton
  49. Watt, M. 1995 A Data and Reference Manual on Essential Oils and Aromatic Plant Extracts pg. 47 The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy Tampa
  50. Sheppard – Hanger, S. 1994 Op. cit.
  51. Battaglia, S. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 136
  52. Davis, P. 1988 Op. cit. pg. 363
  53. Holmes, P. 1993 Op. cit.
  54. Weiss, R.F. 1985 Op. cit.
  55. Wichtl, M. 1994 Op. cit.
  56. Willard, T. 1990 Scientific Herbology Wild Rose College of Natural Healing Calgary
  57. Franchomme, P. and Pénel, D. 1990 Op. cit.
  58. Belaiche, P. 1988 Phytothérapie et Aromathérapie Edtions Maloine Paris
  59. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 65
  60. Ibid. pg. 65
  61. Davis, P. 1988 Op. cit. pg. 363
  62. National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee Working Party on Essential Oils 1998 Essential Oil Monographs Op. cit.
  63. Progress in Essential Oils 1981-1987 pg. 214 Allured Publishing Wheaton
  64. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op. cit. pg. 68
  65. Weiss, R.F. 1985 Op. cit. pg. 235
  66. Heil, B.M. and Schilcher, H. 1993 Juniperberry is not a kidney irritant, cited in Medi Herb Monitor Op. cit. pg. 1
  67. Progress in Essential Oils 1981-1987 Op. cit. pg. 110-111
  68. Koppel, c. et al 1981 Acute poisoning with Pine oil Arch Toxicol 49: 73-78
  69. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. 1995 Op. cit. pgs. 52-53
  70. Ibid. pgs. 41- 44
  71. Henry, J. A. and Cassidy, S. L. Acute Non-Specific Toxicity 1998 NDPSC Working Party on Essential Oils Toxicity monographs
  72. Compilation of Poisons Information Centre reports 1998 NDPSC Working Party on Essential Oils Toxicity monographs
  73. Webb, N. J. and Pitt, W. R. 1993 Eucalyptus oil poisoning in childhood: 41 cases in SE Queensland J. Paediatr. Child Health, 368-371
  74. Thorn, G. W. et al, editors 1986, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 8th editionpgs 701-702 McGraw Hill
  75. Young, A. R. et al 1990 Phototumorigenesis studies of 5-methoxypsoralen in Bergamot oil Journal of Phytochemistry and Photobiology 7: 231-250
  76. Sambuco, C. P. et al 1987 Protective value of skin tanning induced by ultraviolet radiationplus a sunscreen containing bergamot oil Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists 38: 11-19
  77. Guba, R. 1995 Aromatherapy and Regenerative Skin Care Course Notes pgs 107-115 The Centre for Aromatic Medicine Melbourne
  78. Tisserand, R. and Balacs, T. Op. cit. pgs 77-83
  79. Ibid.


MYTH: The best quality essential oils come from the first distillation of the plant material



MYTH:  The best quality essential oils come from the “first pressing” or first distillation of the plant material.

FACT: First let me say if you are using terms like “first pressing” then you’ve really got some catching up to do on your essential oil education. Most all essential oils are steam distilled, in fact this is inherent to the very definition of an essential oil. The only oils that are considered to fall under the definition of the term “essential oil” and are not produced by steam distillation are the citrus oils, which are cold pressed from the citrus peel (and if its done properly there would not be any oil left in the peel for a second pressing LOL). So when one refers to the so called “first pressed” essential oils they does not even portray an accurate method of production of almost every essential oil out there, since almost every oil is produced by distillation, not by pressing. Please avoid this “pressing” terminology unless you want to just sound like a complete novice to the field. When the pressed method is applicable, in the industry we use the terms COLD PRESSED or EXPRESSED to describe the production of citrus oils (some citrus are also distilled but that’s another issue). So this brings us to the whole issue of the claimed “multiple distillations” of the same plant material. Consider this quote from a popular blog:

“Peppermint is an interesting plant in that it yields more oil than most others. As such, large farms and distilleries extract a bunch of oil from the peppermint plant.  Smaller farms do a first distillation of peppermint that they sell to oils companies for the highest price. The peppermint is then re-distilled at a higher pressure and higher temperature for a 2nd distill, and the resulting oil is sold for less money to soap companies, and the like, that want a lower cost oil, but still desire a slightly “herby” smell. The plant is then re-distilled one more time at a yet higher temperature and pressure for a 3rd distill, which is sold to companies wanting the candy-cane smelling oil.”

I hate to be harsh here but what an utter load of pure NONSENSE!!! First let me say that I live in Indiana, one of the largest mint producing states in the country. I have visited mint distilleries and farms on several occasions (you can see some photos of one of my visits in the album entitled “Mint Farm in Northern Indiana”). NOBODY STEAM DISTILLS THE SAME MINT LEAVES MORE THAN ONE TIME!! The plant is distilled for basically 2 hours and its done, no more oil is coming out so they shut the still down. Its absolutely ridiculous to think that the distiller, after watching his oil come over, seeing that his oil level is not growing, shuts the still down and then later thinks to himself “gee, I bet if I fire this still back up (wasting thousands in feul and labor) we can get some more oil out of that spent mint leaf we distilled yesterday.” Where do people come up with this stuff!!?? Now the MINT OIL can, and often is (thank God), taken for some further redistilling and/or fractional vacuum redistilling that can take place to further improve the quality of the oil by removing nauseating components of the whole oil (just tiny amounts of very bad smelling components get removed in this process). But NOBODY distills the mint biomass a second or third time. This is generally true, not just for mint, but for essential oil distillations in general.  When I tried to explain it to the person posting this rubbish she basically did not believe me because her “research” of talking to retailers of essential oils apparently was of higher credibility. If people would just use some common sense they could look at this kind of misinformation and come to the conclusion that none of it makes sense. From an energy standpoint, why would anyone plan to shut down their distilling process just to start it up again later? The amount of energy required to get massive amounts of water boiling and enough steam generating to liberate the oil from large vats of biomass is quite astonishing and costly. Why not just keep distilling and just start collecting the oil produced at the tail end of the distillation in a separate container, if you want to collect what you think might be a different quality at the end of the run than at the beginning (by the way this is done with Ylang Ylang oil which is why there are the different grades of extra, I, II, III and complete). But aside from ylang ylang most all essential oil distillations are collected in one combined lot. And the only time I have ever seen a distiller shut down his process and restart it later was because of mechanical problems, running out of fuel, or just getting too physically tired to continue (in the case of sandalwood for example the distillation can go on for more than 24 hours and oil is still in the wood). I hope that this post will finally do some damage to this myth that has been circulated for decades now and we can finally put it to bed. Please share this post with as many people as you can and firmly admonish anyone who continues to state that “my oils only come from the FIRST distillation.” Yeah right buddy, just like everybody else’s oil. LOL

Author: Dr. Robert Pappas @ Essential Oil University

Myth: Pure, unadultured essential oils with no synthetics added should last forever


Myth: Pure, unadultured essential oils with no synthetics added should last forever.

Fact: I am not sure I know of anything that will last even as long as the earth remains, with perhaps the exceptions of diamonds and human ignorance LOL.   The truth is that while the oil may last in the sense that it “exists” for a long time, there is no question that most oils, pure or otherwise, will eventually go bad due to oxidation reactions that are unavoidable unless you could somehow store them in an oxygen free atmosphere (basically impossible for most people).  Even if stored in an inert atmosphere there is still the possibility of some EO molecules reacting with themselves over long periods, changing the oil, many times for the worse.

Most oils do degrade with age due to oxidation but there are some oils, such as sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, etc. that actually get better with age, at least to a certain point (I am not sure anyone knows what sandalwood looks like after say 5000 years and I am pretty sure well before then the oil would “resinify” and become solid). Its typically the heavier oils that are high in sesquiterpene alcohols that get better with age.   However, most oils, especially the citrus oils and the blue oils will degrade with age (at least within human lifetimes).  Citrus oils are especially prone to degradation due to the high levels of limonene which oxidizes relatively easily.  Even very small amounts of limonene oxide formation can totally destroy the odor of a once good citrus oil.  In addition, wax formation in citrus due to monoterpene polymerization is also quite common over time.  For this reason its best to go through citrus oils within a year, if possible.

In the case of the blue oils we see evidence of oxidation when the blue color becomes green over time.  This is due to the degradation of chamazulene, the hydrocarbon responsible for the blue color in things like German chamomile, blue tansy, yarrow, etc.  Its for these reasons that I always recommend that people refrigerate any of the blue oils and be sure to always keep a minimum amount of airspace in the bottle that you are storing these oils in so that the “greening” effect will be slowed down.  Of course keeping airspace to a minimum is a good practice for all the essential oils but its absolutely crucial for the blue oils and for citrus oils.

One unfailing principal of science is that of naturally increasing entropy which relates to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.  All things naturally head towards maximum entropy (disorder).  Entropy is inescapable on this earth, and we all know it takes constant energy to fight against this natural degradation of all things.  Left alone, things don’t naturally become more ordered over time, we all know this whether or not we are familiar with the term entropy.  Entropy is why you cannot create a perpetual motion machine, why your houses naturally get messy over time, why your car engine eventually breaks down, why your body eventually can no longer sustain itself and you die and why the earth must eventually come to an end.

Author: Dr. Robert Pappas @ Essential Oil University

Myth: There is no such thing as a “Therapeutic Grade” essential oil


Myth: There is no such thing as a “Therapeutic Grade” essential oil

Fact:  Ok, so I have spent a lot of time on here debunking the myths put forth by glassy eyed cult followers and over zealous mlm reps and the main stream aromatherapy community loves it when I do this.  But turnabout is fair play.  Now its time to clear up a myth on the other side of aromatherapy.   I see almost daily where people say things like “therapeutic grade” doesn’t exist or there is no such thing as a therapeutic grade standard.  But to say there is no such thing as a TG standard is like saying there is no such thing as essential oils.

The truth is that there are MANY therapeutic grade standards.  The problem is, which one do you trust?   Its important for people to realize that all of these standards are INTERNAL standards developed by the company themselves and may or may not include quality control by a third party lab.  Furthermore, if a third party lab is used, does this lab really know what they are doing?  It’s also important to know what the company defines as being “therapeutic grade”  does it simply mean that the oil is pure or does it mean something beyond purity and carry with it a quality standard as well?  Let’s face it, an oil can be pure as the driven snow but still be low quality, I see this on a daily basis in the samples I analyze for my clients in order for them to make good buying decisions.  Judgements about essential oil quality take more than just good chemists and good equipment, they require many years of experience in odor evaluation and knowing what specific minor components are desirable in an oil and not just focusing on the major components.

So if you are among those in the denial crowd please rethink your position about TG.  You may not like the promotion of TG but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  I think a better response instead of just saying “there’s no such thing” would be to say that “while many companies promote their own therapeutic grade standard, one should be aware that there is no independent body that certifies essential oils as therapeutic grade.”  That is a fair statement that makes you look like a rational, logical and thoughtful human being instead of knee-jerk mlm hater.   If you want a make a difference to people who are being fed a bunch a garbage by a narcissistic eo messiah then you must remain as objective, scientific and as non-emotional as possible.  If you come off antagonistic it will be a barrier to productive dialog.  I hope my friends in the traditional aromatherapy communities don’t take offense at this and look at it as just some friendly advice.  I am not taking any sides here, the only side I am on is the side of truth.

Author: Dr. Pappas @ Essential Oil University