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Essential oils are a fragrant fad that reaches across the globe. The tiny bottles of plant extract are full of potent, natural healing compounds. Many people use essential oils for health reasons or just to make their homes smell nice. While some can be helpful, oils can actually be dangerous when used incorrectly. That's why it's so important to know safe essential oils uses.
Drugstore beauty products or DIY homemade recipes often include essential oils for an extra oomph of therapeutic properties. However, some people use the essential oils without knowing much about them and end up putting their children, themselves or their pets at risk. In fact, if you’re on social media, you may have seen a list of essential oils that are dangerous to pets that was passed around over the summer.
We’ll breakdown the do's and don’t of essential oils and explore the benefits of a few of the more popular plant extracts.
But first, what are essential oils?
Essential oils are oils extracted from different parts of plants for their aromatic and healing particles. When the extraction occurs, the oils are in high concentrations. Essential oils are very potent and powerful. They should be handled carefully and used in moderation. 1-2 drops is enough for most uses. One thing that a lot of people don’t know is that the essential oil needs to be diluted before it is applied to the skin or used in any way.
Diluting the essential oils helps prevent skin reactions, but it also makes the oils even more potent. Direct exposure to the air tends to cause the essential oils to evaporate and lose their potent properties. There are other oils, such as olive, sunflower and coconut – that act as a base for the essential oils. You can combine the essential oil with the base oil to dilute it.
Essential oils have many beneficial uses. They have been used in aromatherapy for years before they went mainstream. Now the essential oils are used for skincare and medicinal purposes such as easing skin irritations and relaxing the muscles.
Which Essential Oils are Best for What?
There are almost 100 different types of essential oils and even more unique uses for the individual oils. Many essential oils can be used for multiple reasons, including skincare, health benefits and even house-cleaning.
Here are 8 ways to use essential oils and which oils work best.
If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, aromatic essential oils can help you get some shut-eye. The diluted essential oil can be sprayed onto your pillow or in the air. The essential oils calm the mind and allow you to rest.
Essential oils to use: frankincense, lavender, rose, sandalwood, chamomile.
Relieving Anxiety and Stress
Essential oils can reduce stress and anxiety with their calming properties. Some oils have been shown to reduce cortisol level in the brain, which is the hormone responsible for stress. You can massage the diluted oils into your temples or leave an opened jar of diluted out in the room.
Essential oils to use: rosemary, lavender, grapefruit, sandalwood, orange.
The invigorating scent of essential oils can improve your focus and concentration. The oils can arouse the nervous system and give you a mental boost. If you’re suffering from mental fatigue, diffuse some essential oils and you will feel more grounded.
Essential oils to use: peppermint, rosemary, basil, juniper, pine.
If you’re feeling fatigued and need a quick boost of energy, skip the caffeine and use essential oils instead. Citrus-scented essential oils can elevate energy levels and improve your overall mood.
Essential oils to try: lemon, orange, eucalyptus, ginger, jasmine.
Soothe Skin Inflammations
Essential oils can soothe irritated skin caused by acne, sunburn and other skin problems. Plants naturally contain anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties to help ease the pain caused by blisters and even dry skin. Remember to always dilute with a safe carrier oil!
Essential oils to use: tea tree oil, oregano, rosemary, eucalyptus, cayenne.
Many essential oils are antibacterial and contain vitamin C to help boost the immune system. Orange essential oil can help protect you during cold and flu season. Diluted immunity-rich essential oils can be applied to cuts and burns to act as a disinfectant.
Essential oils to use: frankincense, orange, oregano, lemon, ginger.
While essential oils shouldn’t be ingested directly, you can add a few drops to baking and cooking recipes to add flavor and health benefits. Lemon essential oil is a great substitute for lemon zest if you don't like the texture.
Essential oils to use: lemon, lavender, oregano, cayenne, orange.
The oil glands on the scalp can overproduce the body’s natural oil, leaving your hair a greasy mess. Lemon balances the skin’s pH, which helps regulate the oil production. Diffused lemon or rosemary oil can be rubbed into the scalp for healthier hair.
Essential oils to use: lemon, lavender, thyme, lemongrass, peppermint.
Can Essential Oils Be Dangerous?
We’ve discussed the health benefits of essential oils, but what about the dangers? Natural plant extracts do have high amounts of chemicals that can be harmful if not used correctly. Many people consider the pros and never research the cons to using essential oils. While they are very safe overall, there are some situations that you should be aware of the dangers.
Sensitivity to the Sun
The citrus oils can make the skin extremely sensitive to the UV light of the sun. Some people have experienced blisters and skin damage from sun exposure possibly linked to the orange, lemon and other citrus-based essential oils.
Placing the essential oil directly on your skin is a bad idea. It will cause irritated skin and other skin issues. The essential oil needs to be diluted in a base oil (oils like olive or coconut) or put in a diffuser.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, you should consult a doctor before exposing yourself to any type of essential oil. The oils can disrupt hormones and even travel across the placenta and affect the baby. While many essential oils are safe for pregnant and nursing women, it’s better to double check with your doctor to be sure.
Dangerous for Dogs
Some essential oils are extremely toxic to pets and can cause your dog or cat to get sick. In extreme cases, your pet can pass away from exposure to certain essential oils. A lot of people don’t know this and have had to experience it firsthand. There was recently a warning going around social media regarding the dangers, but some might disregard it as yet another internet hoax.
Even if you use a diffuser for the essential oil, it can still put your pet in harm’s way. In any case, you should never apply essential oil directly to your pet’s fur or food.
People use oils straight out of the bottle or with diffusers. Unfortunately, while many of these oils are beneficial for humans, they’re harmful to pets, even if you just use them in a diffuser. When using any kind of essential oil, it’s important to distinguish which ones are strictly for people and could make your cat or dog sick. This also applies to oils that you aren’t placing directly on your pet. Even using an oil in a diffuser or warmer can make your animal sick!
Here are lists of some of the essential oils that are dangerous to dogs and cats:
Dangerous for Dogs
- Tea Tree
Dangerous for Cats
- Tea Tree
Symptoms in Pets
If you think your pet has been exposed to essential oils, take them to the vet immediately. Some may be fast acting and it's better to be safe than sorry. The symptoms of essential oil exposure are very similar to a number of other potential issues. However, if they’ve gotten into the oil, you might be able to smell it on their fur or breath.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or walking
- Excessive pawing at the mouth
- Redness on/around lips
Essential oils should be stored in glass containers so that the chemicals don’t burn through a plastic container. Before using essential oils on anyone, especially young children, try a test spot in a small area on the skin.
More information on the dangers of essential oils can be found here.
Can You Put Essential Oils Directly on Your Skin?
No, you shouldn’t apply essential oils directly to the skin. The potent plant extract needs to be diluted with a base oil such as olive oil or coconut oil. The molecules of undiluted essential oils have the potential to leak through the skin into the bloodstream.
Once the essential oil is diluted, 2 to 3 drops should be enough to use at once.
How to Use Essential Oils for Sinuses
Many essential oils contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help the body fight off the colds, allergies and other causes of a sinus congestion. Given that essential oils are aromatherapies that you breathe in, the essential oils can open airways and break up congestion.
Essential oils can reduce inflamed sinuses, fight bacterial infections and relieve the pain of sinus headaches. Some essential oils, such as peppermint, contain menthol that soothes and cools inflammations.
Essential oils to use: rosemary, lavender, oregano, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, peppermint.
Can You Put Essential Oils in Your Bath Water?
Using essential oils in bath water is one of the most common and relaxing uses of the plant extract. However, many people mistakenly put the essential oils directly into the bath water. This causes the oil to rise to the top of the water and can result in skin irritations and a painful stinging sensation.
Rather, the essential oils should be properly diluted with the carrier oil. Olive oil and coconut oil are the most effective carrier oils. Even when diluted, the essential oil mixture may rise to the top of the bath water. But you can then ‘catch’ the essential oil floating around the water and rub it into your skin if this happens. Pour the oil into the bath water after the tub is full and stir it in.
A better option for bathing with essential oils is to use them to make bath salts. To make bath salts, mix the essential oils and the carrier oils together first. Once they are mixed, you can add the oils to your bath salt mixture. The bath salts will dissolve completely in the water and you can inhale the fragrance left behind.
Do you have a favorite essential oil to use? Feel free to share your best tips down below!