Aromatherapy – How to Know What is Safe

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Aromatherapy is becoming very popular as a lifestyle choice.  You see aromatherapy mentioned on the Dr. Oz tv show, on the Today Show, in magazines, and you’ve probably been invited to at least one essential oil class or workshop.  There’s medical research that shows essential oils are both helpful and not effective against a variety of maladies.  How is someone who just wants to have a more natural life and a greater connection with nature supposed to know what’s safe and effective? In most states, it is against the law for anyone other than a licensed medical doctor to prescribe a remedy for a medical condition.  Only in Arizona, Minnesota, California, Colorado, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Idaho, and New Mexico do consumers have the ability to choose alternative or complementary care legally.  (Ref: Health Freedom Laws).  The FDA strictly prohibits any product that has not been approved as a drug from being marketed or recommended for use to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease.  As a result, most aromatherapy products fall under the category of ‘cosmetics.’

If you listen to what the government regulations tell you, then you would avoid essential oils as a therapeutic method altogether.  And perhaps for you and your family, that is the right choice.  However, there is promising research to suggest that essential oils (and herbal remedies) are both effective and safe to use.  There is historical research and experience documenting the safe (and not so safe) use of aromatic products as much as 6000 years ago in ancient Egypt.  There is modern medical research indicating that essential oils are valuable complements to medical treatments.  If you never use essential oils topically or diffused, they make wonderful and effective natural cleaning solutions for your home.

As an engineer and scientist, the right answer is always some variation of ‘it depends.’

In science, as with aromatherapy, every answer is given to satisfy a set of conditions.  Only under certain conditions is an answer completely true.  Fortunately, we can make some generalizations and arrive at some practical advice you can use when deciding how to use essential oils with your family.

The most important rule is use your brain!

You are infinitely qualified to make the perfect decision for you.  Trust your intuition.  If something seems unnerving or weird, it probably is.  Just because you read it on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s true.  Just because someone is selling it and promises a miracle cure doesn’t mean it is.  Aromatherapy and herbal remedies are supportive therapies.  They support a healthy body and mind.  They help you heal yourself.  Read about the oils you want to try and understand how they work and how to best use them.  There are plenty of great resources.  You can even check out essential oil dictionaries at your local library at no cost.  If you can’t find a book you like, find a trained aromatherapist to help you.

The next rule is to err on the side of caution.

This is particularly important when offering oils to children, pets, the elderly, immunocompromised people, and pregnant women.  While essential oils are indeed very natural, they are VERY concentrated.  It can take hundreds or thousands of pounds of plant material to make a small vial of essential oil.  You wouldn’t eat that much of a plant or drink gallons of herbal tea, so don’t use essential oils in more than the recommended dilutions.  For those special categories listed above, you should dilute further and avoid some oils altogether.  If you read about an oil and the dictionaries indicate that it is dangerous, then trust the guidance.  There are hundreds of essential oils.  There is likely one that has similar actions that doesn’t have the negative side effects.  A trained aromatherapist can help you decide what is safe.

Finally, try it yourself.

Start with a mild dilution of 0.5-1.0% (1-2 drops per 2 tsp carrier oil) and perform a patch test. You can increase the concentration of the essential oil in the carrier oil (to about 2-3% or 6-9 drops per 2 tsp carrier oil) if you have no negative reactions.  Read about the oil and its effects and watch for any symptoms that are worrisome.  If you find the oil to be beneficial and safe, you can try it on others.  Experience is a great teacher, as long as you do it safely.

Essential oils can be a wonderful addition to your home and family.  They are supporting players in a healthy lifestyle – both physical and emotional health.  Just like anything you bring into your home, be a smart consumer and find out what you’re using.

Have questions about essential oils and need advice from a Master Aromatherapist? Send me a note and we'll set up a time to talk about your questions.