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How to Use Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy Safety

Essential oils are potent substances that can be harmful if mishandled. Unlike an herb tea or tincture that is made with the whole herb, essential oils are extremely concentrated.

Work with essential oils in a well-ventilated space, and take frequent breaks while handling them. Overexposure to an oil either through the skin or by smelling can result in nausea, headache, skin irritation, emotional unease, or a “spaced out” feeling. If you find yourself feeling like this, get some fresh air right away. If you experience skin irritation, quickly dilute the oil by applying straight vegetable oil to the affected area. Water won’t be as effective since essential oils are not soluble in water.

Don’t apply essential oils directly on the skin, referred to in aromatherapy as “neat,” because of the danger of overdose. The gentler oils, such as lavender, may occasionally be used undiluted on a very small area, say an insect bite or skin eruption. But rubbing just a few drops of most essential oils directly onto the skin could easily amount to ingesting the equivalent of 10 cups of herb tea all at once!

In addition to irritating or even burning your skin, you could damage your liver and kidneys, which must detoxify large amounts of essential oils once they enter the blood stream. Damage to the liver or kidneys is not always readily apparent, so you could be injuring your health without even knowing it.

Be especially careful when using essential oils known to be skin irritants (allspice, bay, cinnamon, clove, oregano, sage, savory, thyme [except linalol], thuja, and wintergreen). Never use these with children, the elderly, people who are very ill with a chronic disease, or anyone with liver or kidney damage, asthma, or a heart problem. Instead, turn to less harmful alternatives.

A good example is thyme oil. Even diluted applications can burn the skin, so substitute lemon thyme, which is much milder. Oregano essential oil is so potent that many aromatherapists will not use it. Instead, they use the closely related marjoram or lavender, which are equal if not better muscle relaxants and antiseptics.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:

  • Aromatherapy: Here you will learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • How Essential Oils Work: In this article, you will learn how essential oils are produced, the difference between essential oils, and how to buy and store essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.