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Here on THH, essential oil safety education is my TOP priority! We have talked a lot about essential oil safety over the years and my favorite source for much of the information that I have shared with you guys is world renowned essential oil safety expert, Robert Tisserand and his book, Essential Oil Safety. Today, I have a special treat for you, Hippy Lovers! Robert Tisserand has agreed to answer our essential oil safety questions! I asked Robert the top questions you've had about safety and he came through with some great information!
Who is Robert Tisserand?
Robert Tisserand is an international speaker, educator, and consultant on the science and benefits of essential oils and their safe and effective application. Instrumental in bringing widespread professional and public recognition to aromatherapy, he wrote one of the first books to bring awareness to aromatherapy in 1977, The Art of Aromatherapy. In 1988 he founded The Tisserand Institute in London, setting new standards for vocational aromatherapy education. That same year he launched The International Journal of Aromatherapy, which he published and edited until 2000. He is most recently the author of the second edition of Essential Oil Safety, a book that sets industry standards for the safe use of essential oils.
Today Robert lives in the United States where he continues to follow his passion for aromatherapy by working as an independent industry expert consulting to practitioners, colleges, and corporations around the world.
Essential Oil Safety Q&A With Robert Tisserand
I have followed Robert Tisserand for years, trying to learn everything that I can from him, so when I got the chance to interview him for the blog I was extremely stoked, to say the least! I have received many questions from you guys over the years, and tried to ask Robert questions that might shed more light on the big questions you guys have on essential oil safety!
Essential oil safety is still a very new conversation in America, many people are just being introduced to the use of essential oils in their daily lives. What basic safety advice would you give to the new oiler?
One really useful guideline is to not apply undiluted essential oils to your skin because this increases the risk of an adverse reaction. The most common type is an allergic reaction, which manifests as a rash. This only happens in a minority of people, but it’s a significant minority of those who apply undiluted oils, in the region of 10%. Whether you have a reaction depends on which oils you’re using and some personal risk factors related to your DNA. However, in most situations, the risk is not worth taking, because there’s little or no added benefit. Dilute your essential oils, typically down to the 1-5% range (10-50 drops per ounce of base) depending on which oils, why you’re using them, why and how you’re applying. You’ll still get the benefits, but the risk will be negligible.
What are your safety recommendations when using essential oils for pregnant and nursing women, babies, and young children?
These are really three separate questions, as each comes with different challenges you need to address. All of these recommendations apply to topical use.
You can safely use up to 2% total essential oil in topical applications, but best to avoid these oils:
- Cinnamon bark
- Sweet birch
Some people recommend avoiding essential oils altogether (at least in the 1st trimester). It’s OK to be super-safe but if this was really necessary, you would also have to avoid mints, chewing gums, and any fragranced product.
Even diluted essential oils should not be applied to the breast area, and it would make sense to avoid Peppermint, as it can reduce your milk supply (you can learn more here.)
Maximum Recommended Dilutions (by age)
- up to 3 months – 0.2%
- 3-24 months – 0.5%
- 2-6 years – 2%
- 6-15 years – 3%
- 15 or older – 5%
There’s no need to use essential oils with very young children or newborns if there’s nothing wrong with them. I have heard people say you need to use oils to build a child’s immunity. This is not true, and there’s even some evidence to the contrary, especially with potent antimicrobial oils.
You can also read more about essential oil safety in my new book, The Complete Book of Essential Oils for Mama & Baby!
Why are safety experts now recommending parents avoid using peppermint or eucalyptus essential oils on babies and young children? Is it safe to use these oils on my children? Are there safer alternatives?
Essential oils can be incredibly therapeutic, and the reason is that many of the constituents in the oils interact with receptor sites in and on our body. For example, menthol in peppermint oil feels cool when inhaled or applied topically, because it triggers a cold receptor called TRMP8. However in young mammals, including human babies, the body thinks it is inhaling very cold air, and this sets off a protective reflex, and breathing slows down. This can be dangerous in very young children, and the same cold receptor reflex happens with Eucalyptus oil, to a lesser extent. This is why you will not find Peppermint oil or menthol in chest rubs for the youngest age range. However, both of these oils can be used safely in appropriate amounts
The challenge here is that Peppermint and Eucalyptus are two of the most useful essential oils for respiratory problems. But Lavender, Lemon, Marjoram, Palmarosa and Tea tree oils all have relevant antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and Pine, Spruce and Fir oils are all good for respiratory issues. None of these oils slow breathing in young children.
If you need a great kid-safe vapor rub, my Cool Vibes Vapor Rub Jr. is an easy recipe containing essential oils safe to use for babies and young children!
There are certain essential oil brands that make claims promoting their essential oils as the only oils that are safe to use because their oil’s “purity” has been “certified”. Are these “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade” essential oils any different than oils purchased from brands that don’t make these same claims? What should we look for when picking an essential oil brand?
Actually, they are not any different to the essential oils sold by other reputable suppliers, and this can be seen by comparing laboratory analyses. It’s true that some of the larger suppliers own farms that supply essential oils from herbs such as Peppermint or Thyme. However, most aromatherapy businesses buy the more exotic oils like Ylang-Ylang and Sandalwood, in fact, most of their oils, from the same group of suppliers globally. Having said that, there are so many small companies jumping on the essential oil bandwagon, that I would be wary of buying essential oils through Amazon, as quality can be an issue. Look for companies that conform to these three guidelines:
An important factor is transparency, in terms of what is in the essential oil. Look for brands such as Plant Therapy that post the lab results of each batch of each essential oil on their website.
Look for brands that give clear safety guidelines on how to use their essential oils. If they just say “dilute” without specifying by how much, they may be putting their customers at risk.
An essential oil label should always include the botanical name of the plant it comes from. This is very basic information, and if you can’t find a botanical name on the bottle, chances are the overall quality of that brand is not going to be great.
My favorite essential oil brands that I personally use are Plant Therapy and Mountain Rose Herbs!
Is ingesting essential oils safe? If so, how would you recommend they be safely ingested? Should they be used daily or for acute issues? Who shouldn’t ingest essential oils?
Ingesting essential oils is not necessarily ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, though it’s not a practice that I would recommend to anyone very new to aromatherapy. First, take your time to get educated in appropriate and safe use, and be very careful if you’re taking any medication, or if you’re pregnant. If you do ingest essential oils, I would advise not drinking them in water – put them in gelatin capsules along with a vegetable oil. It’s not only safer (avoids gastric irritation), but the essential oil will also be absorbed much more efficiently by the body. So it’s a win-win.
What resources do you recommend for those readers that want to learn more about essential oil safety on their own? Do you have any favorite books or classes that would help further their essential oil education?
There’s Essential Oil Safety 2e, a book I co-authored in 2014, and it has been massively popular, even though it was written as a textbook for practitioners. It’s a big book, and it’s useful for reference. For easier reading, there are safety guidelines here, and I’m just in the process of launching a new Essential Oil Safety Masterclass, which is an online certification course that takes you step by step through the process of learning about and understanding the safe use of essential oils – no previous knowledge is required to take the class. Note that enrollment ends April 12th.
For general reading, the Tisserand Institute has a list of recommended books for all levels of knowledge.