Hi all, it’s Sebastian here again. I’ve been itching to bust some myths about ingesting essential oils. We get asked almost daily about this when we have the storefront open. Whether it be cooking with essential oils, taking a couple drops internally, or adding it to your water, people seem to really want to ingest essential oils. Here are the most common myths we see, and the facts on why you shouldn’t ingest essential oils.
Myth #1 – It’s Safe to Ingest Essential Oils
Fact: Ingesting essential oils can cause irritation, burns and sensitization. Ingesting essential oils can be incredibly unsafe.
Ingesting essential oils in amounts larger than 2ml can result in toxicity. The symptoms of essential oil toxicity can include: drowsiness, slow/shallow breathing, seizures, gagging/choking, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (1).
Between 2014 and 2018, NSW Poisons Information Centre in Australia received 4412 calls relating to essential oil exposure (2). 31% of callers had symptoms of poisoning when they called. 8.3% were referred to the hospital for medical treatment/follow up and 8.2% were already in the hospital when the call to NSW was made. The amount of calls they received increased b 16.5% from 2014 to 2018.
Many chemicals found in popular essential oils, such as Frankincense, are also used as organic solvents such as paint thinner. Is that really something you want to ingest?
Even in the small amounts that are suggested for cooking with essential oils (a couple drops) still are unsafe. You could irritate or burn your throat, ouch! You could also develop a sensitivity to the essential oil over time and not realize it until it is too late.
A sensitivity is an allergy to the chemical composition of an essential oil. Symptoms include an itchy, red rash, blisters/hives, and a burning/stinging sensation. Sensitization can be caused by: Undiluted/improperly diluted application, frequent/overuse, and essential oil use on broken skin and open wounds.
Your mouth, throat and tongue are made up of very thin skin that can absorb essential oils at extremely higher rates then the skin on the rest of your body can. This creates a high chance for developing a sensitization.
Unfortunately, once someone develops a sensitivity to an essential oil, they could have the sensitivity for years, if not the rest of their life. Essential oils are used in a lot of products, and you may never know what specific chemicals in the essential oil are causing the sensitivity as there can be hundreds found in each oil. This could result in reactions to countless products.
Myth busting solution: Essential oils should very rarely if ever be ingested. If they are, it should be under the supervision of a professional who has extensive experience in ingesting essential oils. Personally, at Nascent Naturals we don’t feel that essential oils should be ingested at all.
Myth #2 – Essential Oils Add Flavour to Food
Fact: Essential oils taste very different from their plant counterpart, and may not even come from the part of the plant that you eat. For example, lemon essential oil. Lemon essential oil comes from the rind of the lemon (the same with Orange essential oil). You don’t consume the rind, you use the lemon juice for cooking/baking. The rind is very bitter.
Essential oils are a concentrated chemical cocktail, while a herb or fruit isn’t. An essential oil will taste unpleasant, strong, and bitter, not to mention be potentially unsafe.
While, yes, some essential oils are used for food preparations, they are often not the pure essential oil. They are altered to remove chemicals that may not taste good or not be safe. They are also used in a very minute amount in large batches of food under strict regulation.
Essential oils are also heat sensitive, so if you are adding them to food which is being heated, they could be well on their way to oxidizing which usually means any tasty chemicals will be altered or dissipate.
Not to mention, the essential oils that are being marketed for use in cooking will likely cost you a lot more than their plant counterparts ever will. That doesn’t make economic sense much less the larger eco-footprint.
Myth busting solution: Use the actual plant/fruit/herb when cooking, not an essential oil.
Myth #3 – Essential Oils Have Vitamins
Fact: Essential oils contain no vitamins, nutrients, enzymes, or proteins. Nothing that would provide nutritional benefits will be found in an essential oil. Essential oils are not able to ‘hold’ vitamins, as vitamins are either water soluble, or lipid (fat) soluble. Essential oils contain no water and no fat (NY Institute of Aromatic Studies, 3).
Myth busting solution: If you want to get more vitamins, take a vitamin, or eat fruits and veggies with vitamins in them.
Myth #4 – You Can Add a Few Drops of EO to Your Water
Fact: Essential oils and water do not mix. If you try to add essential oils to your water, they will just sit on top, and the pure EO will hit your lips, mouth, and throat when you take a sip. This can heavily irritate your skin, cause burns, and potentially a sensitization to the essential oil.
Myth Busting Solution: Put actual lemon juice, fresh mint leaves etc. in your water instead.
We are highly concerned by the increase of people ingesting or wanting to ingest essential oils and the damage it has caused. While there are some essential oils and circumstances where ingestion could be used, it is something that you should only do if you have extensive training and experience in ingesting essential oils, or are being supervised by someone who does. The people often pushing ingestion have very little, if any, aromatherapy training, experience, or medical knowledge.
One last thing to consider; NO – OTHER – INDUSTRY uses essential oils in pure form for ingestion or directly on the skin. Industries with extensive expertise in chemistry, medicine, biology of handling and processing essential oils such as food, flavour, cosmetic, perfume, industrial and medicine. NONE… And that is food for thought….
– By Sebastian McGaughey
Sources for further reading:
Information on Essential Oil Sensitization:
Sensitization – What it is and How to Reduce the Risk by Ginger L. Moore. http://aromatherapyunited.org/sensitization/
What You Need to Know About Allergic Reaction to Essential Oils by Megan Yee and medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson. https://www.healthline.com/health/essential-oil-allergic-reaction#symptoms