Essential DOs and DON'Ts for Essential Oils
by Catherine Morris | November 27, 2020, updated about 2 months ago
Scents can carry us places—stirring up memories, heightening emotions, and igniting our creativity. In the case of essential oils, they can also heal.
Aromatherapy is a centuries-old branch of medicine that uses plants and herbs to relieve pain, ease the symptoms of chronic disease, treat stress, and promote holistic wellbeing. Practitioners are trained in matching oils to symptoms, and creating custom blends depending on their client’s needs.
There are many ways to use essential oils, and each varies according to the person and their issue. As anyone who's ever browsed the internet for health advice knows, the information out there can be confusing at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
Which Doctor spoke to two qualified and experienced aromatherapists to cut through the noise and help aromatherapy amateurs separate fact from fiction. Read on for a handy list of essential oils dos and don'ts that will help you use them effectively and safely.
DO: Use Essential Oils to Heal
Essential oils have a proven track record for healing all kinds of ailments, from migraines to muscle aches and pains. They're also a good stress-reliever and immune-system booster which helps prevent disease from getting a foothold in a stressed and weakened body.
Aromatherapist Maryke Meyer says,
“Essential oils calm down your senses and your body [...] With our busy lives, we always want a quick fix but when you slow down and relax you allow your body to heal itself”
Aromatherapy is just that...therapy. So don't just use your oils as a pleasant air freshener, put them into your natural first aid kit and take advantage of their healing properties.
Aromatherapist Roseanne de Beaudrap says—
“Aromatherapy is not just aromas and breathing. It is the oil infusing into your system. Aromatherapy acts on the olfactory nerves. It acts on your blood brain barrier, and helps to heal your mind, body and spirit.”
Plagued by insomnia? Try soothing lavender. Battling a bug? Support your immune system with clove. Coughing and sneezing? Eucalyptus can help. DO give essential oils a try before you decide on popping pills.
DON'T: Dive Right In
If you're new to essential oils, it's a good idea to approach them with care. De Beaudrap warns that it's possible to build up a tolerance over time. Beginners may find they're more sensitive to scents than an experienced aromatherapist—especially if applying them directly to the skin.
“Test on a small patch of skin first,” advises de Beaudrap. “If you have never been in contact with the oil before, you don’t know how your body will react to it. Go slowly and never use essential oils neat—always use a carrier oil. It’s important to select essential oils that do not have contra-indications or safety issues that can affect other areas of your health.”
If you’re pregnant, avoid oils such as lavender or chamomile, especially in the first trimester, and check with your doctor before beginning an aromatherapy routine. Anyone on medications should also be cautious and consult their primary care worker before trying anything new.
Good carrier (or base) oils include coconut, almond, jojoba, and grapeseed. If you're preparing a solution for your face, Meyer recommends nourishing apricot kernel oil. With any oil that you're using on your skin, invest in quality. Both Meyer and de Beaudrap recommend therapeutic grade (and preferably organic) options.
Thinking about taking your oil internally? Meyer says DON’T–
“My advice is don't consume unless under the treatment of a qualified aromatherapist. Essential oils are a natural remedy but they are still a medicine and they are still very strong, so if they are used incorrectly they can be dangerous.”
DO: Mix and Match
De Beaudrap has been blending for decades, and says she goes by instinct, but it’s a little like finding the perfect perfume—
“Blending essential oils involves knowing which are top notes, middle notes, and base notes. As well as knowing the purpose you’re blending them for.”
If you DO stick within the general scent profile of each oil, and try to match oils of the same 'family' together, you can't really go wrong. Meyer says— “A good tip is to blend flowery oils with citrus. Oregano, cedarwood are 'woodsy' so blend with citrus and really dilute because they're strong.”
De Beaudrap has a good guideline for anyone new to blends—use a ratio of 7 drops of essential oil to 1 tbsp, or 15 mls, of carrier oil.
If you're mixing, that's 7 drops in total so you might want 3 drops of lemon and 4 drops of bergamot. Or 2 drops of peppermint, 2 drops of lavender and a drop of rosemary.
DON'T: Use Full Strength Oils Around Kids or Pets
That basic ratio for blends should be weakened by half for babies, toddlers and young children (i.e only 3 or 4 drops per tbsp of carrier oil). While aromatherapy is generally safe and well-tolerated, don't underestimate the strength of these oils, and be aware that kids are more likely to have adverse reactions to them than adults. Be particularly careful if applying topically, and DON’T let children ingest any oils.
If the baby in your house is a different species, the same rules apply—be careful. Our pets are more sensitive to scents and can easily be overwhelmed by oils.
Birds have a more delicate respiratory system than humans, so you should avoid using your diffuser in the same room as your feathered friend. Dog and cat owners should steer clear of using eucalyptus, tea tree, and thyme around their pets.
It's always a good rule of thumb to check whether your essential oil is safe for animals before using it, heavily dilute if applying topically, and DON’T let your pets ingest them.
DO: Get Creative in How You Use Them
De Beaudrap came to aromatherapy via her work as a massage therapist and has decades of experience using oils to ease aches and pains. She says the oil takes 20 minutes to be absorbed into the body via a massage, and continues working its magic up to 12 hours after being applied.
She also recommends having a soothing bath with a few drops of your favourite oil in the bath water, but cautions to only add the scent once you're in the bath so you can start small and see how your skin reacts. De Beaudrap advises five to 10 drops.
You don't have to be at home to use your essential oils. Take them on the go by scenting tissues, adding a few drops to your mask or scarf, or just soak a cotton wool ball in the scent and store it in a plastic bag in your purse. Stuck in a queue and feeling frustrated? Sitting too close for comfort on public transport? Unzip your bag and DO take a sniff! (Also, DO respect scent free zones).
To find out more about how essential oils can better your health, get in touch with one of Which Doctor's aromatherapists to book a consultation today.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.