Since the dawn of the Internet, people have enjoyed instant access to endless information about anything and everything their heart desired. The Internet is undoubtedly a great resource and power, but because anyone with a brain and a computer can contribute to it, its wealth of information is a little, well, muddy.
This is especially true when it comes to information about topics that are misunderstood or understudied, like essential oils. Any person with a blog, theory, and personal experiment under their belt can make claims about essential oils—bad or good—and pose them as fact.
Needless to say, if you’re perusing the Internet looking to get some solid information about essential oils, it can be tough to sift through the hooey and get to the facts. That’s why we’re debunking some of the most widespread myths about essential oils, so you can arm yourself with the truth—and ensure you’re using them safely.
MYTH: “Therapeutic grade,” “pure,” or “medical grade” essential oils are best.
Many companies claim that their oils are “therapeutic grade,” “pure,” or “medical grade.” While the terms may sound nice, these labels aren’t universally defined—there’s no regulatory agency that grades or certifies essential oils.
These terms hold very little weight, unlike other well-known regulated terms, such as “organic.” If something says it’s “organic” it must meet certain standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, there’s no such certification (yet!) to regulate essential oils, so most of the terms on essential oil bottles are fluff. This also means that because the essential oil industry is unregulated, the quality of products can vary greatly.
To get the highest-quality oils, a good rule of thumb is to stick to products that are chemical-free and extracted through mechanical cold pressing or distillation. Stick with a brand you trust and avoid oils that have been diluted with synthetic fragrances, chemicals, or oils.
MYTH: Essential oils don’t expire.
Essential oils can last a long time … as long as they’re not exposed to air.
Essential oils are complex mixtures that contain multiple compounds—many of which have oxygen atoms attached to them. When these compounds are exposed to air, they undergo an oxidation process that eventually affects the oils’ quality.
If you’re a wine drinker, this may sound familiar. This is the same process that’s responsible for spoiling that 1994 Pinot Noir that you opened three weeks ago.
Oxidation not only degrades essential oils’ therapeutic and aromatic quality, but using spoiled oils may also increase your risk of skin irritation or other allergic reactions.
If the aroma or consistency of your oil (or wine!) has changed drastically, it may be wise to toss it.
MYTH: A burn or rash on the skin after applying essential oils means your skin is detoxing.
If anything you put on your skin causes a rash or burn to develop, it should NOT be put on the skin again. A rash is a sign of a skin irritation caused by an allergic reaction. It’s your immune system basically saying, “Invader! Invader!” and doing its best to fight off the foreign substance.
What’s more, the body has its own detoxification system, and doesn’t need much help (you know, besides feeding it with lots of fruits, veggies, and fiber, and hydrating it with water). Our bodies process toxins that we come in contact with every day through the liver, kidneys, and skin, and eliminates them via our sweat, urine, and feces.
If you have a skin rash that doesn’t go away on its own or you begin to feel other symptoms, such as a general ill feeling, see a doctor.
MYTH: Essential oils are safe because they’re natural.
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent safe. Think about it: Arsenic, poison oak, and mountain lions are natural, but it’s in your best interest to stay away from them.
Now, we’re not saying essential oils are on the same level as arsenic. When inhaled or combined with a base to use on the skin, most essential oils are safe. Still, it’s important to know that even though they’re derived from plants, they can still cause adverse reactions—so it’s important to use them wisely.
Some common side effects include:
- Asthma attacks
- Allergic reactions
Essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin or ingested. Eating essential oils could be extremely harmful, and in some cases, fatal.
MYTH: Essential oils can treat health conditions.
Essential oils have many benefits, including temporary stress relief, and helping people with insomnia sleep better. But despite how popular and loved essential oils are by many, there’s not much scientific evidence proving that essential oils are an effective way to treat health conditions.
Research has shown that essential oils have positive effects on certain conditions—like applying chamomile and sesame oil to the temples to relieve headaches, or fighting inflammatory conditions with thyme and oregano oils—but most of the studies are small and often conducted on animals.
Essential oils are safe if used properly, but if you’re facing a health condition, be sure to check with your doctor first to ensure you’re getting the right treatment. It’s also wise to disclose that you’re using essential oils to your doctor, because they may interact with other treatments or make your condition worse.
MYTH: Essential oils are safe for people of all ages.
The safeness of essential oils depends greatly on who’s using them and how they’re being used.
Children are more sensitive to the effects of essential oils, because their skin is thinner so they can absorb dangerous amounts. If left unattended, children may also be intrigued by the oil’s smell and ingest it. Some oils specifically, like birch and wintergreen may be especially harmful to children 6 years or younger, because it contains a chemical called methyl salicylate which may be fatal.
It is possible to use essential oils on children, but it’s critical to check with your pediatrician first. It’s also wise to check with your doctor before using essential oils if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, because some can harm your unborn or newly born baby.
To keep your kids safe, be sure to store your oils in a place where little hands can’t reach or get into.