Essential Oils. What are the risks?

From time to time, I hear or read people saying, “If it is natural it must be safe.”  A moments thought will tell us that this statement is patently absurd. Deadly Nightshade is natural as are many mushrooms that can prove fatal if ingested. There is also the question of what is natural? Is distilling whether to produce concentrated alcohol for consumption or to concentrate essential oils natural?

To return to my topic, used sensibly, diluted in a carrier oil, essential oils are relatively safe. Yes, citrus and some other oils can produce photo sensitivity reactions even when diluted and many essential oils can produce severe skin reactions when applied undiluted.

However when searching on the internet, the only fatalities from essential oils I have been able to find are associated with ingestion of undiluted oils. (In some cases accidentally by children, in others a consequence of deliberate self harm.)


As a practitioner or even someone who uses essential oils in the home it is important to think about how we manage the risks.

As a practitioner, I will ask clients about allergies and if they have ever had a reaction to either essential oils or to a perfume in the past. I will also advise them about not going out in the sun after the use of oils likely to cause photo-sensitivity. In case I one day get a client who uses them, I will also advise against the use of sun-beds for at least 12 hours after the application of a blend that includes these oils.

I also need to think about safety of storage of essential oils. They are all to some degree flammable with some being more volatile than others. Every so often there are news stories about essential oils causing fires in tumble-driers. These have all been from practitioners. I do not know whether it is the essential oils or the carrier oils that are really responsible for this but wonder if it is the latter as they are more likely to be present in quantity after washing of towels. (I do not use a tumble-drier so don’t need to worry about this.

Most important in my mind when it comes to storage is awareness of whether a vulnerable person might have access to them. (I used to use essential oils with adolescents in an in-patient mental health unit where they could potentially have been used as a means of self harm.) I also need to be aware of who is around when I am using them. I have yet to experience a vulnerable or disturbed person using essential oils to self harm or even attempting to do so but I will never know if it might have happened had I not been careful about this.