There, I said it. I’ll be the first to admit, I believed the hype. I was reintroduced to essential oils through an MLM company. I quickly became obsessed because they actually worked. I saw the change in my family’s health. I couldn’t get buy enough of them. I wanted every oil I could get my hands on.
I used them daily. A blend of my wrists for perfume. A blend on my spine to keep my body in balance. A blend over my heart to keep me happy. A blend of my feet for immune support. There was always a diffuser running somewhere until it ran out of water. You know what that accomplished? Me wasting my money.
It’s easy to fall in love with essential oils. I fell hard and am still madly in love with them. This may come as a shock, but as a professional aromatherapist, I don’t “use” essential oils every day. Does that mean I don’t find them useful? Absolutely not! As a healthy adult, it is just not necessary to apply them liberally to my skin on a daily basis anymore. Let me explain why.
First of all, essential oils are powerful and need to be respected. Slathering yourself with several oils a day “just because” is not respecting the power of these oils. Your liver has to process everything that goes into the body, including essential oils, no matter how they are applied. You are overloading your liver’s function without a purpose.
“However, repeated high does can lead to toxicity due to accumulation.” “Essential oil constituents probably remain in fatty tissues for several hours or days.” “Once in the body, all organic compounds are susceptible to metabolism, although they may be metabolized by different routes and at different rates.”[i] In other words, we don’t really know for sure how long essential oil constituents remain in the body. Constantly reapplying them could be unnecessary. When it comes to essential oils, less is more! In fact, research has shown that some essential oils are more effective at lower doses.
If you have a chronic issue and oils provide relief, there is a smart way to use them. My suggestion is that if you find a blend that works, use for one/two weeks than switch it up. Use another blend with different components. Then you can go back to the original blend. But don’t keep using the same blend continuously on a daily basis. This could cause dermal sensitization.
“Dermal sensitization is a type of allergic reaction. It occurs on first exposure to a substance, but on this occasion, the noticeable effect on the skin will be slight or absent. However, subsequent exposure to the same material, or to a similar one with which there is cross-sensitization, produces a severe inflammatory reaction brought about by cells of the immune system (T-lymphocytes). The reaction will be represented on the skin as blotchy or redness, which may be painful to some individuals.
The problem with dermal sensitization is that once it occurs with a specific essential oil the individual is most likely going to be sensitive to it for many years and perhaps for the remainder of his/her life. The best way to prevent sensitization is to avoid known dermal sensitizers and avoid applying the same essential oils every day for lengthy periods of time. Sensitization is, to an extent, unpredictable, as some individuals will be sensitive to a potential allergen and some will not.”[ii] Take it from someone who is now sensitized to Lemongrass. It’s not worth it.
Now, let’s talk diffusing. Diffusing should be for 30 minutes at a time, maximum. Ever notice that after a while, you don’t even smell the oils anymore? That’s because your olfactory system is overwhelmed and shuts off. It’s called olfactory fatigue. “Olfactory fatigue, also known as odor fatigue or olfactory adaptation, is the temporary, normal inability to distinguish a particular odor after a prolonged exposure to that airborne compound.” [iii]
“It is possible that long-term, ambient inhalation of essential oils is more insidious than short-term inhalation, and duration of exposure is at least as important as concentration”. [iv] We need to be mindful of how much we diffuse and how long.
Essential oil components linger in the air after diffusion, so you don’t need to continuously stream them to reap the benefits. In continuous diffusion, you are just wasting money. It is not more therapeutic the longer you diffuse, it could actually be more harmful. While diffusing in general is regarded as safe and adverse side effects are unlikely, they are still possible. “The only likely risk would be from prolonged exposure (perhaps 1 hour or more) to relatively high levels of essential oil vapor which could lead to headaches, vertigo, nausea and lethargy”.[v]
Let’s address the whole "using oils daily to detox yourself" advice . Essential oils are not a means to detox your body. “To some extent, the detox theory in aromatherapy challenges the definition of detoxification altogether as it aligns an additive process (topical application of an essential oil or blend) with an eliminative process (detoxification) (Pappas, n.d.). In true detoxification, something is removed, diminished, or eradicated. To really drive a detoxification response, an essential oil would have to directly engage with the body’s elimination systems."
What about when you use an oil and you get a rash and they call it detoxing? "In the case of the skin specifically, elimination of unwanted substances occurs via sweat glands (perspiration) and sebaceous glands (acne, boils, etc.) (Marieb, 2014). Invariably, elimination through the skin occurs via fluids exiting the body. While the skin does support elimination through perspiration, scientists suspect that “less than 1% of toxins are excreted this way” (Johnson, 2014). Though the detox theory suggests that skin reactions following topical application indicate a detoxifying effect through the skin from the applied essential oil, “It’s highly unlikely that everyone who experiences a skin reaction from topical essential oil application is sweating these toxins out immediately after, or several hours following application” (Johnson, 2014).” [vi]
Your body naturally detoxifies itself every day. It's a normal body process of eliminating or neutralizing toxins. Do I believe there are times when detoxing is beneficial? Absolutely! Do you need to daily? No. Are essential oils the answer to detox? No. If you feel the need to detox, I highly suggest you speak with a trained naturopath for a program that is safe and effective .
So when DO I use essential oils? When I need physical, mental or emotional support. I no longer use them because I can. I respect their power enough to know that I don’t need them every day. But when I need them, they are first things I reach for. I use them cautiously and at the lowest dose possible. Because they are potent and need to be treated as such. With great power, comes great responsibility. (Thank you Spiderman for your great quote.)
Essential oils can’t do everything. They are not a cure-all. They can’t make my spider veins disappear or my kid’s pink eye go away. Oh, how I wish they really could be the miracle cure for so many ailments. But they’re not. They have countless benefits but also limitations.
Not sure what they can or can’t do? Ask a qualified aromatherapist (200+ hours of training from an approved aromatherapy school). Aromatherapists follow the idea of “first do no harm”. We follow a safety first policy. If an oil can’t help you, we will not recommend it. Sales should never trump safety.
[i] Tisserand, Robert. And Young, Rodney. (2015) Essential Oil Safety; Second Edition. London: Churchill Livingston.
[iv] Tisserand, Robert. And Young, Rodney. (2015) Essential Oil Safety; Second Edition. London: Churchill Livingston.