Cart 0

I'm not saying you CAN'T ingest essential oils. I'm saying DON'T ingest essential oils.

Essential oils are concentrated plant based medicine!
Let's start with the notion that an essential oil is more than something that just smells nice. Essential oils are, for all intents and purposes, a "drug". A drug being any substance (other than food that provides nutritional support), that when inhaled, injected, smoked, consumed, absorbed via a patch on the skin or dissolved under the tongue causes a physiological change in the body.
Each oil is comprised of a number of naturally occurring chemical constituents.
What am I talking about?
Let's look at regular old lavender essential oil.
Lavender essential oil is comprised of the following KEY chemicals: LINALYL ACETATE, LINALOOL, cis-β-OCIMENE, trans-β-OCIMENE, TERPINEN-4-OL, LAVANDULYL ACETATE, trans-β-FARNESENE, BORNEOL, LAVANDULOL, 3-OCTANONE, a-TERPINEOL, 1,8 CINEOLE, CAMPHOR, LIMONENE, and β-PHELLANDRENE All in all, the total number of ACTUAL chemicals in Lavender Essential Oil is 66 DIFFERENT chemical constituents. These constituents fall into a couple different categories including monoterpines and sesquiterpenes. Some are ethers and some are alcohols. You can see the full testing report on a batch of Lavender here:
Let's now look at regular old Lemon Essential oil!
Key chemicals are LIMONENE, β-PINENE, γ-TERPINENE, SABINENE, a-PINENE, MYRCENE, GERANIAL, β-BISABOLENE, NERAL, p-CYMENE, NERYL ACETATE, α-THUJENE, GERANYL ACETATE, and α-TERPINEOL. The total constituents in lemon oil is 37.You can see a full report on a batch of lemon oil here:
These chemical constituents have an actual effect on the body, similar to the ways medications do. This is why we know they work! This is why companies tote things like menthol lozenges and why some products like BenGay use wintergreen oil! This is why I love them. These oils work.
So now we know that the oils have therapeutic value to us but we can't take advantage of the therapeutic value unless we use the oils. There are generally three ways to use essential oils: Topically, inhalation, and internally (ingestion). There are also risks associated with each and which mode you decide to use should be a calculated decision based on a few different factors (Ill get into this in a minute).
Before I go over how to decide which method of use you want to go with, you need to understand what is known as "bioavailability". Bioavailability is the proportion of a drug or substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect. It is a subcategory of absorption and is the fraction of an administered dose that reaches the systemic circulation. This is one of the pharmacokinetic properties of a drug.
By definition, intravenous use has a 100% bioavailability. this is going directly into the bloodstream. Oral use has a 95% bioavailability. Inhalation has a 70-75% bioavailability. Topical use has about a 10-15% bioavailability.
It's important to note that there is only about a 20% difference in the bioavailability between inhaling oils and taking oils internally. When you consider the risks associated with internal use of oils, this 20% becomes a significant analysis factor. After all, these essential oils can be as powerful as some pharmaceuticals. Just as you would exercise caution and do research when using pharmaceuticals, you should practice the same when using essential oils.
So, what are these risks I just alluded to? Thanks for asking! Let's go over a few!
1. Ingesting essential oils does affect gut flora.
We all have about 4 pounds of bacteria lining our digestive tracts. We need this bacteria. An unbalanced gut can cause a myriad of heath issues. In recent years, studies have documented the antibacterial activity of essential oils against infectious bacterial strains. Anti-bacterial agents don’t discriminate between good and nefarious bacteria. Robert Tisserand stated “We do know that enterically-coated capsules of peppermint oil are beneficial in cases of inflamatory bowel disease and that there capsuled result in a peak serum concentration of 1,492 ng/mL for menthol. We also know from this report that peppermint essential oil had a beneficial effect on the balance of gut bacteria in a case of SIBO.” SIBO is bacterial OVERgrowth in parts of the small intestine and a drug is considered beneficial in this case if it kills or reduces the excessive bacterial growth. This is the reason antibiotics is used to treat SIBO.
What does all this mean? Studies have been showing that essential oils can kill bacteria. We have bacteria in our gut. We need this bacteria to be alive and well balances. Since the antibacterial constituents in essential oils don’t care whether they kill good or bad bacteria, they can wreak havoc on your insides!
Unbalanced gut bacteria can result in digestion nightmares like gas, bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, diarrhea, or IBS; mental problems like anxiety, depression, and brain fog; skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne.
2. Essential oils can damage sensitive mucus membranes.
An oil as mundane as Peppermint has the following warning from the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy:
  • "When used orally, it may cause heartburn, perianal burning, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting."
  • "...even with enteric-coated capsules, anal burning, rashes, headache, muscle tremors, diarrhea, and ataxia have been reported. (AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook)"
  • "People with gallbladder disease, severe liver damage, gallstones and chronic heartburn should avoid the intake of peppermint oil."
  • "Menthol and peppermint oil caused burning mouth syndrome, recurrent oral ulceration or a lichenoid reaction, by contact sensitivity in the intra-oral mucosa, in sensitive patients.
  • "Peppermint oil should be used with caution. Doses of menthol over 1 g/Kg b.w. may be deadly."
As you can see, ingesting peppermint oil carries the risk of some serious side effects. The most likely to explanation I get is that those risks are associated with inferior and adulterated oils. But these are not the risks listed for inferior oils. These are the risks listed by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy regarding the ingestion of pure, unadulterated peppermint oil.
Two drops of straight peppermint oil on the tongue would equal approximately 1/10 of 1mL. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports a medicinal oral dose of 90mg (just under 1mL) per day HAS been scientifically studied, but only when combined with caraway oil and administered with an enteric coating, a coating which holds the pill together to prevent stomach contact. Young Living's capsules are not noted to be enteric, and the NAHA safety information on the matter states that even with an enteric-coated capsule, burning, rashes, headaches and diarrhea have been reported.
I am choosing to highlight one specific oil here but there are hundreds of issues across many different oils. Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy has been collecting injury data related to essential oils for a few years now. You can read their reports and specific cases on their webiste:
**As an aside, let’s not forget that oil and water do not mix so putting a drop in your water without a proper dispersant is no different than placing a drop on your tongue. This goes for the bathtub as well. You need to properly disperse the oils in the water or it’s no different than using oils neat.
3. The poison is in the dose.
The potential hazards of an essential oil depend on the compounds in the oil, the dosage and frequency used, and the method of application. Aromatherapists do not suggest ingestion unless guided by a professional. A professional aromatherapist will have over 400 hours of required training and hundreds more hours of personal development. They understand physiology, biology, and chemistry. They have studies hundreds of essential oil profiles and are well aware of potential medication interactions or health concerns related to essential oil use. For example, essential oil use can interfere with chemotherapy drugs and make them less effective. Some oils, when applied topically, cause skin to become more sensitive to sunlight (lemon, orange, lime) and others (cinnamon or oregano) can cause a chemical burn. Wintergreen is toxic if swallowed even in small amounts and some oils, an amount as small as a teaspoon can result in death. Peppermint can cause an infant to stop breathing. Menthol has even been known to cause jaundice in babies. Many oils boost the immune system which can be a devastating thing for someone with an autoimmune disorder. I could go one and on...
When taken orally, essential oils are broken down by the liver into what are generally referred to phytochemicals, compounds that could affect health. If too many of these phytochemicals accumulate in the liver before the liver can properly process them, they could reach toxic levels.
4. Essential oils can interact with medications.
An article published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics (Vol. 17, Issue 3, first published online 4 Feb 2003) explains how Peppermint leaf essential oil has been shown to slow intestinal transit, which may slow the absorption rate or increase the total absorption of coadministered drugs.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy actually lists three potential drug interactions for peppermint essential oil ingestion: (1)"Peppermint leaf essential oil ... may slow the absorption rate or increase the total absorption of coadministered drugs. (Goerg, K.J. and Spilker), (2) "Peppermint essential oil in large doses internally may inhibit a drug-metabilizing isoenzyme, leading to increased plasma levels of drugs metabolized by that isoenzyme. (3) "Coadministration of peppermint leaf essential oil ... and felodipine (a calcium antagonist drug used to control hypertension) moderately increased the plasma concentration of felodipine..."
The advice discrepancy between those selling the popular brands of essential oils and practitioners should raise a red flag. The Alliance of International Aromatherapists made this statement: “AIA does not endorse internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal). Please refer to the AIA Safety Guidelines for essential oil use.” Sales reps are not nearly as educated on essential oil use as a professional. But what does that matter, right? DoTerra and Young Living have professionals on staff who pass on the info that we all need to be safe, right? No.
I see people repeatedly reference how DoTerra and Young Living have specific lines of essential oils that are “safe for ingestion”. Their oils are “GRAS” and “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade”! I would like to clarify a couple things regarding these claims:
  1. These companies created these lines so that they could continue to suggest internal use despite FDA warnings to cease doing so. Basically, the FDA said to them you can’t tell people to use oils internally as a “medicine” so they responded by creating a new category of oils. Young Living has openly said that the oils themselves haven’t changed with the introduction of the vitality line. It’s purely a response to FDA regulations of essential oils. It’s a marketing and FDA compliance.
  2. These two companies do not have monopolies of pure essential oils. There are only a limited amount of essential oil distillers in the world producing and providing pure, unadulterated essential oils to the rest of us, and common business sense tells you that they aren't just selling their oils to one customer! Regardless, purity does not equate to 100% safe to ingest. Look, there are a lot of all 100% natural plants out there used for medicinal purposes that are not at all safe to ingest, including belladonna, wintergreen, castor, and oak. Again, the dose makes the poison. Of course you want pure oils to maximize their therapeutic nature and protect yourself from unnecessary chemicals, but these lines of oils have nothing to do with that. The purity and potentcy of essential oils are measured using scientific analysis. The composition of an essential oil is analyzed by gas chromatography. The composition of essential oils, including its adulterants if it has any, is further measured by mass spectrometry. Any reputable essential oil distributor will have the results of their GC/MS analysis available for your review.
  3. Therapeutic grade is a marketing catchphrase and doesn’t have any real bearing on the ACTUAL purity of an oil (regardless, see #2). There is no grading system for essential oils and no one (aside from the companies themselves) monitors the quality of essential oils. Therapeutic grade is a way of making you feel safe using a particular companies oils, but it’s not a “real” thing. There is no rating system. Now, that is not to say that the terms is meaningless. Pure oils are therapeutic in nature and have a distinct place in a category separate from oils used in cooking (food grade) and synthetic fragrance oils. From the horse’s mouth: "CPTG Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade® is a registered trademark of dōTERRA Holdings, LLC and represents internal standards of quality assessment and material control... [t]he CPTG protocol is not administered by government or industry regulatory agencies and does not imply regulatory approval of dōTERRA products." Therapeutic Grade is a great way to describe this category, but take it with a grain of salt.
  4. Yet Young Living reps continue to claim that ingesting essential oils is safe. "Many Young Living oils are designated by the FDA as GRAS, generally recognized as safe for ingestion." The designation of a substance as "GRAS", or "Generally Recognized as Safe" means it is not subject to FDA approval for its use as a food additive. "...[A]ny substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is [GRAS]". The GRAS designation explicitly means the substance is NOT SUBJECT to FDA review. So while Young Living reps associate the safe ingestion of their oils with FDA approval, the FDA explains why this could not possibly be: “If the use of a food substance is GRAS, it is not subject to the premarkte review and approval of the FDA.” Furthermore, GRAS is a designation for the safe use of a substance as a food ingredient or ADDITIVE, as per its intended, historical, and common use, not to the complete and total safety of the substance itself! If an essential oil is designated as "Generally Recognized as Safe" because it is typically used 1-2 drops at a time in a recipe, that does not automatically clear it as safe for straight consumption. "Some essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and are classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, within specific limits. Swallowing large amounts of essential oils is not recommended."And, while we're examining the FDA's endorsement of essential oil ingestion, let's recall that their rules on the matter state that no dietary supplement, including essential oils, can claim that they treat a disease.
What about the fact that DoTerra and Young Living follow the “French Model” of Aromatherapy?
In a nutshell, the “French” and “British” labels are being used to mislead people. Up until about the 2000s, Aromatherapy was just Aromatherapy with contributions from France, Belgum, and England leading the charge. The different “schools” are not contrasting therapeutic systems. They are overly simplistic ways of distinguishing between different methodologies (inhalation, oral administration, and topical use) which belong to a single, integrated therapeutic discipline: Aromatherapy.
Now, lets talk about this “french” method. First, in France, it is illegal for anyone other than a physician or registered pharmacist to administer essential oils therapeutically. It is required that you have extensive knowledge of medicine and have passed an exam that says so! Second, French aromatherapy doctors don’t willy nilly hand out oils and vaguely tell their patients to ingest them either! French aromatherapy doctors use the aromatogram, where a sample is taken from the infected area and cultivated in a lab. It is then subjected to various essential oils to find the most effective oil to treat each specific patient.
Simply hailing the superiority of the so-called “french” style of aromatherapy does not give a person the authority or moral right to administer internal/intensive methodologies without even basic training (and basic training involves more than reading a few websites and buying a “guide” from your local bookstore.)
Let’s take the nationalistic aspect out of it. Doctors can prescribe and administer prescription medications. Nurses can administer prescription meds, but only at the request and under the supervision of a doctor. Pharmaceutical reps certainly cannot do either. This debate is the equivalent of saying, “Well, I know I’m just a pharmaceutical rep. But I believe in the ‘doctor’ school of prescribing medicine and I have read plenty about the medicine I rep for. So here, take this. I know what I’m talking about.” No, essential oils are not pharmaceuticals. But they are medicinal, and any substance that has the power to heal also has the power to harm.
There are also different practices within the Holistic Medicine arena that can further confuse people. Holistic Aromatherapy, Aromatic Medicine, Herbalist, Certified Aromatherapist, Clinical Aromatherapist, Naturopath, Naturopath Doctor, Homeopath, Holistic Health Practitioner, Ayurvedicetic Practitioner, Allopathic medicine, etc.
Some require more education than others and each touches on different aspects of natural medicine. For example, a Naturopath has 4+ years of college education in natural medicine. A Naturopathic Doctor has a degree in Medicine (MD) among education in other holistic practice areas. Neither of them have much training in essential oil use. An Aromatherapist is not required to have a medical degree or any degree for that matter, but does have 400 hours of education related to essential oils, physiology, biology, and chemistry. An Aromatherapist isn’t necessarily trained in Aromatic Medicine, which is a further certification beyond Certified Aromatherapist. An Herbalist may have training on the use of herbs and plant based medicine, but not much in the way of oils, for example.
When it comes to the French model of aromatherapy, the people administering essential oils in France are medical doctors who have extensive medical training and do a full medical history, bloodwork, and other tests prior to administering oral dosing of essential oils. Plus, the key word here is DOSING. They know the correct dose for every oil they prescribe to a patient and they monitor their patients closely. In the US most professional Certified Aromatherapists aren’t even comfortable recommending oral use of essential oils unless they are trained in Aromatic Medicine.
It can get muddy and knowing which natural practitioner to trust can be exhausting. I can tell you, though, unless the person telling you to ingest oils has had some sort of medical training, I would be seriously wary.
(If you want to read about the history of Aromatherapy then here are some key names to google: Marguerite Maury, R. M. Gattefosse, Dr. Jean Valnet, Dr. Paul Belaiche, Jean-Claude Laprez, Christian Duraffourd and Dominique Baudoux. Henri Viaud, Dr. Daniel Penoel and Pierre Franchomme too.)
Im not saying you can’t ingest oils. I’m saying don’t ingest them.
Ingesting an essential oil straight out of the bottle is rarely, if ever, recommended by professionals and is specifically advised against worldwide by certified aromatherapists, scientific researchers, and industry experts. I'm alarmed to see a business wrecklessly endanger your health and well-being. But what's more, I'm frustrated to see such an irresponsible practice in the world of holistic medicine. The recent surge in popularity of natural remedies has the potential to disarm the strangle hold pharmaceutical companies have on offering relief to what ails us with harsh synthetic derivatives at sensationalized prices. With such irresponsible and unverified instructions regarding the safe use of essential oils internally, the entire practice of using them is vulnerable to attack and public scrutiny. Online backlash already includes articles questioning if all essential oils are just a scam.
Nature's medicinals hold the potential to treat and relieve ailments that is easily accessible and affordable to all of us. Let's not cast a devastating shadow of dis-credibility on the benefits of herbal medicine that are being newly being brought to light on the public platform by recommending we use them unsafely.
You will never hear me tell someone to ingest essential oils. To me, it’s not worth it and you get all the therapeutic benefits you need from a diffuser. Remember, oral use has a 95% bioavailability and inhalation has a 70-75% bioavailability. The risks associated with oral use far outweigh the 20% difference in bioavailability. Plus, if you are using an oil in a diffuser and feel like you are having a reaction, you can shut off the diffuser and get some fresh air.
Given this information I almost always recommend a diffuser for oil use. That being said, there are a few ways to use oils that doesn’t involve dripping them in your mouth or taking them in a pill. (I never liked taking pills anyhow.)
  • Add a few drops to some castille soap and drop in your bathwater. The soap acts as a dispersent (remember, we talked about that earlier). Add some epsom salt! The magnesum will help you rest more soundly. Shop {here}
  • Make a roller bottle for on the go. For daily use (perfume, anxiety, stress, allergies) use a 1% dilution (1 drop of essential oil in 5ml or 1 tsp of carrier oil). Four Pack {here}
  • Add 1-5 drops of essential oil to an unscented lotion and make your own lotion. Unscented lotion works best and it's available {here}
  • Make a personal inhaler by dropping up to 15 drops of essential oil into a cotton wick personal inhaler tube. Smell as needed. Get them {here}
  • Get some diffuser jewelry and add your oils in the morning. Necklaces are great because the oils are right under your nose where you need them! Browse my handmade jewelry {here}
  • Use a diffuser. They make car diffusers, home diffusers, travel diffusers, water free, many choices. Easy peasy. Big selection {here}
  • Make a linen spray. Mix essential oils with some water and vodka or alcohol and spray on curtains, carpets, pillows, etc. Need bottles? Get there {here} and {here}
I can’t tell you want to do, I can only tell you what I know.
For information on essential oil safety I highly recommend anything by Robert Tisserand. Joy at Stillpoint Aromatics has a lot of great safety advice in her Facebook group and Andrea at Aromahead Institute offers free online educational seminars.
Lastly, there are a few groups on Facebook that I love to learn in:
Essential Oils, Herbs, and Homeopathy
Safe Essential Oil Recipes
Essential Oil Consumer Safety Advocates
Ethical Aromatherapy Animal Aromatherapy
Essential Oil Consumer Reports
I also offer access to two online classes which teach you how to use oils safely:
Essential Oils 101 Workshop and Diluting Essential Oils (safely)

Older Post Newer Post

  • Kyla Mills on

    Hi! Have you asked for an interview with anyone from corporate at YL? I would be interested in seeing a follow up to this article between you and a doctor on staff. I know many of your readers, myself included, would love to see/hear/read that conversation! Thanks for your help!

  • Tracy on

    Great article. Nice to see such detailed explanation of why not to ingest. I shared it to my Facebook page so more could learn from your wonderful article. Thanks

  • Rehne Burge, C.A. on

    Enjoyed your well written article.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published