Through my research on essentials oils that have antimicrobial properties I continue to see an alarming trend.
Using essential oils straight from the bottle.
Also commonly referred to as using essential oils “neat.”
You might think “it’s natural, what’s the problem?”
You also might think “if a little is good, a lot is better.”
In both cases, you’re wrong.
If you don’t mind me being a little eccentric for a moment I’d like to argue against “just because it’s natural it’s good.”
Molten lava is natural: would you put it on your skin? Not unless a super villain grabbed you and threw you in.
While my example is really extreme, it points out the error in thinking this away.
There are a lot of naturally occurring things in the world that are not good for your skin.
To be certain there’s a large gap between molten hot rocks and plant-derived substances, but what I want you to think about is this: evidence.
Just because you want to use something natural doesn’t mean that science goes out the window. Science gives us a great opportunity to figure out what actually works. What’s repeatable. What has been proven in many ways to be reliable to use.
Take for instance lemongrass oil. It has excellent antimicrobial properties. In fact, much stronger than the more commonly used tea tree oil that’s everywhere. However, it is important to keep lemongrass oil’s dilution in check. To avoid skin irritation it needs to be under 0.7% of the solution you are putting on your skin.
So when we used it in our formula for our fungus fighting soap series we had to be careful to make it effective at washing away bad stuff, while not so strong as to be irritating.
The generally considered highest dilution for daily use is only 2% of essential oils. And that’s for oils that are less prone to skin irritation.
There actually appears to be an almost inverse relationship between how effective an essential oil is at being antimicrobial (fungus and bacteria) and how safe it is for skin.
Which makes some sense, doesn’t it?
If it’s really good at breaking down small cells of living things and you are a living thing containing cells then it might be likely to have an adverse effect on you.
Are Essential Oils Natural?
The topic of natural is really up for debate. Natural isn’t actually defined by the FDA so it can be used in marketing for products containing a wide variety of ingredients. Although we are guilty of using the word natural on occasion our preferred term is “plant-based” to be a little more accurate.
Essential oils are definitely plant-based products.
There’s a couple different ways you get to the point you have essential oils. All of which involve having lab or manufacturing equipment if you want to do it on a large scale.
You can decide whether you want to call it “natural” or not.
Steam Distillation: You hang newly picked plants are hung up over boiling water. The steam pulls oils out of the plants for you. The steam then condenses with these oils. Because the oil and water don’t mix they can be separated into two containers. Leaving pure oils for you in one and water in the other.
CO2 Extraction: A relatively new an expensive way to extract oils, CO2 extraction also produces what many people consider the cleanest oils available. Cleanest in the sense of nothing left behind and the closest to smelling like the actual plant or fruit you want to extract oil from.
Expression (Pressing): This one is pretty straightforward, squeeze the plant until the oil comes out. When we want to get olive oil this is how it is done. Similarly with some essential oils we can squeeze citrus fruit peels to obtain their oils.
How do you dilute essential oils?
If you aren’t using essential oils in a product like our shield series soap that’s pre-diluted, then you can use what’s known as a “carrier oil.”
Carrier oils are basically a vegetable based oil that has no negative effect on your skin that you can use for dilution. They can include
- Apricot oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Grape seed oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Evening primrose
- Canola (Grapeseed)
- Sunflower oil
- Marula oil
- Jojoba oil
- Emu oil
- Castor oil
- Borage seed oil
There is also the possibility of using nut oils, but people with nut allergies would have a pretty bad time if they used them.
When you are creating small amounts of essential oil dilutions you can use a “drop method.”
To make the safe level 2% solution, you can add 12 drops of essential oil to one fluid ounce of carrier oil.
Should You Use Essentials Oils While Pregnant?
There’s often controversy around what kind of products women should use when they are pregnant.
Essential oils can count themselves among the many things in that list.
For the most part, certain essential oils appear to be safe to use during pregnancy and others should be avoided. The consensus appears to be that using EO’s during your second or third trimester from the safe-list is a-okay.
- Citrus Oils
- German Chamomile
- Black pepper
- Ylang ylang
- Tea tree oil (not in labour)
- Arnica (homeopathic is fine)
- Basil – Birch (sweet)
- Bitter almond
- Boldo leaf
- Camphor (brown or yellow)
- Clary sage
- Clove (bud, leaf or stem)
- Jaborandi leaf
- Juniper berry
- Pine (dwarf)
- Thyme red (large doses)
Lists are not all-inclusive.
As I often say in this blog, when in doubt consult your doctor. They will know more than random internet blog when it pertains to your particular case.
What Could Go Wrong?
Using Essential Oils Topically:
Photosensitivity: There are a few essential oils that can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Mostly its the list of citrus oils that can do this if applied in too large quantities. They contain a chemical called furanocoumarin which is the culprit to making your skin susceptible to UV damage.
Which oils contain this chemical?
- Angelica Root
- Lemon – cold pressed
- Lime* – cold pressed
- Mandarin Leaf
- Orange, Bitter
List is not all-inclusive
They key distinction for you here is “in too large of quantities.”
You can use oils that contain furanocoumarin, but keep it in safe levels.
Essential oils like lime which we use in our shield series soap is used well under the safe levels for daily use. Most educated manufacturers of products with essential oils will be aware of concerns like this, but you can always send them an e-mail and ask for more info if you need it .
Leah Harris, a clinical aromatherapist, talks more about this on her blog.
Repeated exposure over time can lead some people to develop a skin rash. Reasons can vary, but it can be a response to changes in your immune system to the undiluted essential oils.
Permanent Allergic Reaction:
Repeated exposure to undiluted essential oils can make you have a permanent reaction to that oil.
Although this is a much rarer occurrence, it can happen.
Over time your body’s immune system changes in reaction to an essential oil. What can then become permanent is a natural reaction of your body to contact with that essential oil. Which means if you come into contact with it by accident at that point you could have a reaction.
It’s similar to if you have an allergic reaction to something. Now you have to constantly be on guard to not come into contact with that substance.
When to Consult Your Doctor
Interaction with Medications:
Along with the use of essential oils is sometimes throwing away some “common sense.”
Your doctor is a great source of knowledge when you’re taking medications for different conditions. No, your doctor is not a super hero and they don’t know absolutely everything. However, they are going to be one of the best sources for medical knowledge you can find to troubleshoot your situation. Google and WebMD are not substitutes for a registered doctor.
Make no mistake about it, medical school is a grueling process which leaves many would-be doctors behind. If your doctor is licensed to practice medicine, they made it through an immense sometimes soul-crushing amount of academic and real-world study. Let them help you and please heed their advice.
When I’m thinking about alternative health options like essential oils it comes down largely to how the benefits and risks are weighed. If you ask me, the risks of using essential oils without diluting them is nowhere near any potential benefit you might get.