Essential Oils – From Therapeutic Uses to General Precautions

You can use essential oils in many different ways, for everything from improving the aroma of a room to treating a minor cut or burn. But there are times when they should not be used, or when they should be used with caution. And there are some oils that should not be used at all.

Essential oils are extracted from different parts of a plant, and as a result are extremely concentrated. They are measured by the drop, which is why they’re packaged in small bottles with dropper caps. But even then, they are usually diluted further, in water, a “carrier oil” (like grapeseed or sesame oil), or some other liquid. As a matter of fact, most aromatherapists say that the only oil that can be applied the skin “neat” – meaning undiluted – is lavender. When you’re working with essential oils it’s always possible that you might spill a bit on your hands, but be sure to wash them when you’re finished; otherwise you might get them in your eye or mucous membrane. And with some oils – particularly peppermint, spearmint, and oregano – it might take more than one handwashing to get them off.

If you have allergies or sensitive skin and are planning on using a new oil – one you haven’t worked with before – for a skin care product, test the oil on a small area to be sure you don’t react to it. If you already have plant allergies, you will probably find that you are also allergic to the essential oils made from those plants; for example, if you’re allergic to some citrus fruits, you will probably also react to citrus essential oils. Keep in mind, too, that some essential oils – citrus especially, but also angelica and verbena – can cause the skin to be more sensitive to light. You may not be allergic to these oils, but if you put any on your skin – for example, if you get a massage with a carrier oil that contains lemon or orange essential oil – you may get sunburned more easily.

If you use essential oils more for their therapeutic effects – for example, relaxation and stress relief – there are some situations in which you should avoid them. The first is driving; there are diffusers made that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter, so it’s possible to use essential oils in the car. But it’s not a good idea to use oils that have a sedative effect, regardless of how mild they are; if you’re really tired, a relaxing oil could put you to sleep.

Stimulating oils, like rosemary, fennel, hyssop, sage, or fennel, should similarly be avoided by people with seizure disorders. Rosemary, sage, thyme, and hyssop should be avoided by people with high blood pressure. Fennel and juniper should not be used by anyone with kidney disease. And individuals who have liver disease should stay away from all essential oils.

Finally, here is a list of essential oils that should be avoided at all times:
– bitter almond
– rue
– calamus
– sassafras
– wormwood
– pennyroyal
– wintergreen
– yellow camphor
– thuja

If you are at all unsure about the safety of a particular essential oil, talk to a trained aromatherapist. And if you have a serious or chronic illness, make sure you consult with your physician before adding essential oils to your treatment plan. Essential oils smell great and can have many benefits, but it’s always better to make an informed decision about using them.

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