Essential Oils have been deemed a home remedy for many ailments ranging from headaches and anxiety to minor cuts and nail fungus. However, Queensland Health issued a warning on its Facebook account on Tuesday, warning Queenslanders not to ingest essential oils as they are “not safe to consume and can result in poisoning if ingested”.

As the essential oils market continues to grow, it is vital to educate yourself on safe consumption.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are any natural, plant-based oil typically obtained by distillation, which have an aroma and characteristic of the plant they come from. They are highly concentrated, with for example, 50 lemons going into one small 15ml bottle of oil. The intense strength of the oil makes many of them toxic.

How to use essential oils

There are three ways essential oils can be used – applied to the skin, inhaled and ingested.  

  1. Firstly, they can be applied to the skin. Most often they are massaged into the feet as they absorb well into the body this way. They are also often applied to the forehead, chest, ears, neck and chest.
  2. Smelling essential oils is a second common use. A few drops can be put on a pillow, applied to a handkerchief or added to a bath or diffuser. Inhalation creates a response in the brain, which supporters say depending on the oil used, can reduce stress, encourage sleep or boost the immune system.
  3. Lastly, some oils can be ingested however a large number are not recommended for internal use. Only swallow oils which are stored in glass bottles as plastic containers can be broken down by the oils causing people to consume impurities. Oils which are safe to be ingested can be added to a glass of water or used to flavour food. Check instructions first.

Oils and their uses

Supporters of essential oils say:

  • Lavender –  best-known for its calming properties which help people sleep. However, most people don’t know it can be used to help with the healing process for burns and cuts.
  • Peppermint – used for gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches and nausea.  Its aroma is used to enliven the senses and promote a feeling of energy.
  • Tea Tree – well-known for its germ-fighting properties which are most commonly used to help with acne, nail fungus and athlete’s foot. 
  • Eucalyptus – can be used as an antibacterial and antiviral treatment. It’s commonly used to reverse Staph infections and is also considered one of the best oils for respiratory distress.
  • Clove – used as an antiseptic for oral infections and to kill a wide range of bacteria. Studies have shown it is most effective in killing two microbes which often lead to pneumonia and skin infections.
  • Lemon – commonly used to promote healing, increased energy and reducing pain associated with arthritis.

Dangers of essential oils

Producers of essential oils often market the products as natural and therefore ‘safe to consume’. However, as highlighted by Queensland Health, most oils are not safe for consumption and can in fact cause significant poisoning, especially if ingested by young children. House Call Doctor has noted an increase in kids being poisoned from digesting essential oils and suggests if you own any oils, keep them out of reach of children.

Undiluted oils on sensitive skin can cause irritation and in some cases, burns. For some, it can also cause an allergic reaction or lead to a rash outbreak. Additionally, some oils can interact with the medication you are taking and cause the prescription to be ineffective.

Guidelines for safe use

Factors which affect the safety levels of oil include your age, health conditions and the medication you take. Before using any essential oils always consider the method of use, duration of use and dosage. It is recommended to avoid use for infants as well as during pregnancy.

Some tips on how to consume essential oils safely:

  1. Dilution. Mix the essential oil with a vegetable-based carrier oil (e.g. grapeseed or coconut) before consumption. To prevent adverse reactions, keep concentration levels of the essential oil below five per cent.
  2. Patch test. Rub a few drops into a small patch of your arm and leave for 24 hours before washing off. This will help you to see how your skin reacts before you perform full application.

As with any other medication or remedy, always seek advice from a healthcare professional before using any essential oils.