Do you have questions about essential oils? This new Q&A Series will address some of the most common questions I receive about essential oils and aromatherapy. Email your question to me and in addition to answering via email, I may also publish it here along with the answer. Remember, the only bad question is the one that went unasked!
NAHA Certified Aromatherapist
Owner, Dancing Bee Naturals
Q - I've heard people say that it's okay to ingest essential oils, but is that really true?
A - Glad you asked! This is an important topic that is surrounded by a lot of misinformation. It’s important to realize that essential oils are highly concentrated chemical substances and are not equal to food flavorings that are manufactured for cooking, nor do they share the same chemical composition as their fresh herb counterparts. Many essential oils have a low therapeutic margin, meaning that the difference between a therapeutic dose and a harmful dose is extremely small.
When taken internally, essential oils must be processed through the liver and/or kidneys before being cleared from the body. If you were to accidentally ingest a dangerous amount of a particular essential oil, your body may be overwhelmed by the task of trying to rid your system of the toxic substance and unable to recover from the negative effects. Most toxic effects of essential oils and serious poisoning cases are a result of ingestion, especially in doses above the recommended daily dosage or over a prolonged period of time (Tisserand and Balacs, 1995).
Some essential oils are downright dangerous to consume and can cause serious health complications or even result in death, especially with overdose. Some examples:
Rosemary (R. officinalis) ct. camphor essential oil – Camphor content may cause convulsions
Mugwort (A. vulgaris) essential oil and Thuja (T. occidentalis) essential oil – Thujone content may cause convulsions, seizures, and may have neurotoxic effects on the central nervous system; overdose may cause death
Pennyroyal (M. pulegium var. electa) essential oil – Pulegone content may cause toxic liver injury, cardiovascular collapse, seizures, organ failure, and death
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) offers the following safety statement on their website regarding internal use of essential oils: “Do not take essential oils internally without appropriate advanced aromatherapy education and understanding of the safety issues involved in doing so. Essential oils are commonly used internally throughout the world. Some individuals are doing so without the appropriate knowledge or understanding of safety concerns. NAHA does not support the indiscriminate or uneducated internal use of essential oils. If essential oils are used internally, we recommend doing so under the guidance of a knowledgeable health professional.”
While it may be safe to ingest some essential oils ONLY if you are under the guidance and care of a well-qualified healthcare professional who has been trained in aromatherapy, it may be wise to consider that inhalation or topical application are typically the most effective routes of administration for essential oils.
National Institutes of Health, 2019. Retrieved from https://livertox.nih.gov/Pennyroyal.htm
Petersen, D. (2018). Aromatherapy I, 17th ed. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Tisserand, R. (2007). Proof of Safety – Challenges Facing Essential Oil Therapy. Retrieved from https://tisserandinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Proof-of-Safety-Robert-Tisserand.pdf
Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone.