Ask an Aromatherapist: Is it Safe to Use Essential Oils Internally?
With the popularity of essential oils growing there are many blogs, articles, health food stores, smoothies bars, and neighborhood "oil ladies" offering suggestions on how to incorporate essential oils into your health and wellness routine. Internal use is a debated topic. Some oil purveyors advocate cooking, consuming, drinking, and even making ice cream with essential oils while clinically trained aromatherapists advise otherwise. Some bottles have serving suggestions and nutritional information and others explicitly say "not for internal use". So what's the deal?
And I feel like I'm in the middle of this debate. I'm a certified aromatherapist with a background in biology and chemistry pursuing additional clinical training in aromatherapy, but I began my essential oil journey with a popular essential oil company. I have friends asking if taking frankincense will cure cancer or excitedly calling me about the new juice bar in town that serves up smoothies and essential oil "shots". I realized the need to make sense of this debate and help people use their essential oils safely.
As a member of a popular essential oil company I've learned about aromatherapy via product info sheets, company related books, brochures, webpages, and other "wellness advocates". The company had FDA compliant gel capsule products and protocols that promote the internal use of essential oils with opinions and research findings available on the company websites to support why this is a good idea and the oils are marked "for internal use". Customers will often add the oils to water, smoothies, gel capsules, food, and don't see any issue with it. Facebook groups and company related books share numerous ways to use oils internally.
As a certified aromatherapist and professional member of organization such as National Alliance of Holistic Aromatherapists and the Alliance of International Aromatherapists I am called to uphold the safe use of essential oils. Initial aromatherapy certification requires 250 hours of subjects such as anatomy and physiology, oil chemistry, history, research, and safe use of essential oils. You are required to completed case studies under the guidance of a panel of aromatherapists, and pass an exam demonstrating aromatherapy knowledge. After this initial certification, aromatherapists can pursue additional training in medicinal and clinical use of essential oils to follow this initial certification. And what is their consensus on the use of oils internally?
The general consensus with certifying bodies is that "essential oils should be used internally only when you are properly trained in the safety issues of doing so" and that "essential oils may be safely used internally if you have appropriate medical guidance by a trained clinical Aromatherapist who understands pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, appropriate formulation techniques and the safety issues related to each route of application."
So the professional consensus is that essential oils can be used safely internally yes, if you know what you're doing. This is why organizations like the NAHA (National Alliance of Holistic Aromatherapists) and certification programs teach that essential oils can be used safely internally with proper guidance. Essential oils can interfere with prescription drugs or other allopathic treatments in some cases making the prescription drugs more potent, in other cases less so. The oils must be metabolized by the body so liver health is also a consideration. You'll often see the case that essential oils are found naturally in the foods we eat alongside the mention of how potent the purified oils are (30-50 roses in one drop, one drop is equivalent to 28 cups of peppermint tea) so yes the oils are in our foods naturally but in very, very small amounts.
And if we look closer at some popular essential oil company websites there is a cord of agreement with this idea. On one popular essential oil company website you'll find "If you have a disease or medical condition or are using a prescription medication, it is recommended that prior to using an essential oil, you consult with a health care advisor who has experience with essential oils. Seek the advice of the prescribing physician and a pharmacist about potential interactions between any medication and essential oils."
On another "Most essential oils are very safe when used internally, but it is important to be aware of proper dosage protocols. The effective internal dose and frequency is dependent on many factors that vary widely from person to person. The necessary dose may change based on the age, size, and health status of the person, as well as their desired health benefit. When using essential oils internally, it is important to regard them with as much precaution as any other supplement."
And "After a certain point, taking a higher dose no longer adds benefit. If you take too much, it can even become harmful. It is better to take a smaller dose, which can be repeated every 4–6 hours as needed. In total, typically no more than 20 drops, divided into doses, should be consumed in a 24-hour period."
So when a well meaning friend suggests a protocol for essential oil consumption from her favorite company or drinking essential oils daily he or she may not truly know the proper dosing or be aware of potential drug interactions or other necessary precautions. They may not know the dose for a child vs adult, the duration, or safety issues involved. And this is why caution is suggested. Essential oil companies that do advocate internal use of essential oils often have pre-made capsules or serving suggestions that make dosing safer but again these may or may not be appropriate for each individual case. Additionally casual use of essential oils on a daily basis may not be appropriate. Aromatherapists generally reserve internal use to treat a specific condition for a short term rather than use oils as flavoring agents or supplements.
And while essential oils are generally regarded as safe (GRAS) I've seen people make mistakes topically because of lack of knowledge. For example a woman had read that cinnamon bark essential oil would naturally plump her lips and against the advice of a health store clerk put the oil on her lips. Not knowing that such an oil should be heavily diluted her lips soon began to burn painfully. I'm guessing that she experienced severe blistering as a result. And one person who decided a soothing peppermint bath would be great unfortunately discovered that it can be quite a painful experience to delicate areas of the body.
And I've seen well meaning health care practitioners with no real aromatherapy training apply undiluted essential oils known to be skin irritating directly to a patients skin. And lastly the woman who applied a phototoxic essential oil directly to her skin before yoga then went to a tanning bed afterward burned and blistered because she didn't know about photosensitization reactions of essential oils.
It's easy to see sensitization from topical use of essential oils, but malaise from improper internal use of essential oils may be harder to determine or take it's toll over time. Here is an example from a professional aromatherapist (" Why essential oils aren't water flavoring agents", "Why friends don't let friends drink essential oils", "Aromatic medicine, dosing of internal essential oils".)
So as an aromatherapist I've got to stand with those who advocate using oils internally under the guidance of someone knowledgable of the internal use of essential oils. So yes essential oils may be safely used internally if you have appropriate medical guidance by a trained clinical aromatherapist who understands pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, appropriate formulation techniques and the safety issues related to each route of application.
Ultimately people have to make the choice for themselves. But rather than guzzle down oils because a friend thinks it a cure all or it's popular make sure to do some research, seek professional advice, or stick to products specifically designed by a clinical aromatherapist or reputable company for internal use (such as a pre-filled gel capsule or charcoal tablet) making sure to follow the product directions and precautions.
And as with all essential oils uses quality is vitally important. There are many places to purchase essential oils but since oils are not regulated by the FDA not all oils that say 100% pure are. There are unfortunately adulterated and diluted oils out there. If an oil contains synthetic ingredients or is actually a fragrance oil internal use can be hazardous.
So yes pure essential oils are natural and safe when used properly. But they are also potent and should be used with wisdom, care, and respect.
**Disclaimer:I understand that the Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the therapeutic suggestions or any statements made on this website about essential oils, carriers or other products offered by Aromatherapy by Tricia Ambroziak (ABT)
The statements made on this website are for educational purposes and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
The products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The data on this website is not considered complete and is not guaranteed to be accurate.Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment based on something you've read or accessed through this website.
Tricia Ambroziak is a professional aromatherapist but not a licensed health care professional. I understand that essential oils and aromatherapy are not a substitute for professional medical care. I understand that the products being sold by ABT are not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease.