First things first, full disclosure of every thing I can think of: I do not sell essential oils. I have dabbled in their use. I have very, very dear friends who are distributors/representatives for two of the most popular direct marketing essential companies - doTerra and Young Living. I am proud of my friends for finding something about which they are passionate that allows them to bring in some income for the families. This post is not directed at anyone I know personally, nor am I attempting to bash any essential oil company.
Forgive my overexplanation, but I haven't written about something this controversial since my Babywise days, and I'm a little hesitant.
My hesitancy, however, is far outweighed at this point by concern. As you may have gathered, I spend not just a little time on Pinterest. It is there that I have seen post after post and infographic after infographic directing people to ingest essential oils, either in capsule form or by dropping them in water.
I caught a Facebook post from a friend (who does not sell EOs) that mentioned in passing a reminder about NOT ingesting essential oils, and it raised my eyebrows because of all of the information I have seen from essential oil users that assured people that ingesting EOs is perfectly fine and is, in fact, condoned by the FDA.
That's when I sort of fell down the rabbit hole of reading about essential oil uses and safety.
I came across two articles that really opened my eyes to some of the concerns about the advice to use EOs internally:
1) Why I Don't Use doTerra, Young Living, or Other Multi-Marketing Brands of Essential Oils by Giselle Baturay at Granola Living, the blog for long-time natural living store Granola Babies
I know this is going to raise the ire of doTerra distributors because she specifically calls out doTerra information, but I think it's a valuable article because she makes this point:
It’s common practice in the aromatherapy, herbalism, and alternative medicine health care that essential oils are not to be taken internally unless under the proper care of qualified care providers. There are two major aromatherapy organizations and both have in the scope of practice and ethics that members do not recommend the use of internal essential oils (to the general public for example), it’s in just about every aromatherapy respected book written by experts in the industry (some of which are quoted in this blog post). And it’s in all of the well known educational programs for aromatherapy and herbalism. They agree with each other on this. However, the only places it differs (not including personal blogs and such) is these multi-level marketing companies like doTerra and Young Living. They are actually the ones in the minority when it comes to recommending internal use of essential oils.
The fact that the International Federation of Aromatherapists Code of Ethics specifically warns aromatherapists and advocates of aromatherapy against the internal ingestion or application of EOs "unless the practicing aromatherapist has medical, naturopathic, herbalist, or similar qualifications and holds an insurance policy which specifically covers the internal application of essential oils" really, really gives me pause.
2) Is It Okay to Ingest Essential Oils? Aromaceuticals blog
Katharine Koeppen, a registered aromatherapist, contrasts the effects of essential oils on the body via inhalation or (diluted) topical administration versus ingestion. She writes:
In this case (oral ingestion), essential oils may have time to act upon some digestive system issues, but by the time they reach the small intestine, they are absorbed into the circulatory system and taken up by the liver. There, they are broken down into various phytochemicals, which are then further metabolized. Problems can occur when the liver decides it prefers to process other substances first, and phytochemicals accumulate in line waiting to be processed, sometimes accumulating in toxic amounts. For example, the liver doesn't "like" 1,8 cineole, a common bioactive fraction of peppermint, tea tree, niaouli and many eucalypts. Taken orally in improper doses, 1,8 cineole can quickly accumulate to the point where it causes liver failure. In a child, less than 2 milliliters are a deadly dose. In an individual with compromised liver function, even small amounts of oils containing 1,8 cineole taken orally can cause dangerously elevated liver enzymes in a matter of a few days.
She includes other information about possible drug interactions that can take place when EOs are used internally. Again, it is the effect of EOs on the liver that is the main medical concern - an effect that might not be noticed in the short-term, but can surely have a damaging effect in the long-term.
Additionally, none of the safety protocols regarding internal use of EOs deal with the purity of the oil being ingested. Internal damage can occur with even the purest of essential oils.
In addition to recommendations for using EOs internally, I've come across advice regarding using them undiluted on the skin and on newborns and infants - practices that should be done with great caution. (In fact, most aromatherapists advise against using EOs on newborns at all.) Like I said, it has caused me a great deal of concern.
I think one problem that arises is we look at a little vial of essential oils and think, "Hey! It's natural! What could it hurt?" The truth is that essential oils are extremely potent, and unless you have had training in the proper and safe use of essential oils, you can potentially cause damage to yourself or family members.
The other issue is that if we are buying from doTerra or Young Living or distributors of other brands of oils, we are buying from friends, from people we trust. And our friends may believe wholeheartedly that the advice they are giving us is safe and sound based on the informational materials provided to them by their companies. It is incumbent on all of us, however, to really do our research to decide the best way to use essential oils to promote health and healing for ourselves and our families.
People who have aromatherapy certification have invested hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars and many, many hours into their educations. It is the advice of these aromatherapists that I trust. Thankfully, many of them provide absolutely free or low-cost materials and resources to anyone wanting to do their own research on the use of EOs from materials other than those produced or published by direct marketing companies.
Here are some resources to check into so you can do your own research about internal use, undiluted (neat) use, application for children, and proper dilution of specific blends (and more!):
* Lea Harris created LearningAboutEOs.com to share her vast knowledge of the safe use of essential oils. She is a certified aromatherapist and member of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists. She has created a Facebook group which is heavily moderated to insure that discussions don't devolve into brand-promotion and brand-bashing. You can find the group of over 20,000 members here (it is closed so you will have to request membership to read the information they have): Using Essential Oils Safely.
* There are also many articles with free advice and information on her site LearningAboutEOs.com
* Also, the Aromahead Institute offers a free e-course as an introduction to the safe use of essential oils: Introduction to Essential Oils
* The book that is considered the gold standard by the father of modern essential oil use is very spendy, but if you are ready to launch into study to become a certified aromatherapist, it would be a must-buy: Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, 2nd edition, Robert Tisserand with Rodney Young.
Books under $20 you can invest in to pursue study on your own:
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* Anyone wanting to read through documented cases of injury from EO ingestion can find information here: Essential Oil Safety: Documented Side Effects, Injuries, and Deaths from Essential Oil Ingestion
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In closing, I want to reiterate that I am in no way suggesting anyone stop buying and using essential oils from their favorite company! Please do not read that as part of my message here! Since I discovered this information, I have felt strongly that I needed to share it with all of you. Just as in all health-related decisions, we must be cautious, careful, and judicious in our research and application.
As ALWAYS, I believe the only bad health care decision is an uninformed health care decision.
And finally, regarding comments: I will delete any comments that are written just to leave negative opinions about an essential oil company. You may share your own opinion and response; you are welcome to disagree with me. I will not, however, allow the comments section to turn into a doTerra vs. Young Living flame war. I quite literally do not have time for that.
Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns with you here. Here's to happy, healthy families and futures!
this post contains amazon affiliate links. photo of essential oil bottles by Kate Ware