How to Use Essential Oils Safely

As a Bowen Therapist, I work with a lot of people who are in pain.  This includes musculoskeletal injuries as well as migraines, headaches, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, and Lyme Disease.  I started to incorporate essential oils into my practice in order to enhance people’s healing process.  I studied on my own and had a decent working knowledge of what essential oils to use for certain desired outcomes.  About three years ago, I used essential oils on a client, who had Lyme disease, during her Bowen session.  We previously had just done a straight Bowen session with no oils and her results were minimal.  Well, she phoned me a week after her session to report that she had never been without pain this long before in all her time living with Lyme.  She said, “Kate, I think you are really on to something here”.  After that, I immediately signed up for my Aromatherapy Certification training with the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy.  I figured that if I am “on to something”, I had better get some more solid education on essential oils so I really know what I am doing.  

As I was going through my training, I was horrified when I kept hearing story after story of people being told that it is perfectly safe to use essential oils indiscriminately.  For example, a few drops of an oil on your tongue or in your drinking water; using essential oils for pregnant and/or lactating women, children and infants; essential oils in eyes, ears, and nose; undiluted on skin.  This is remarkably irresponsible.  And by the way, it has nothing to do with any particular brand.  It has to do with chemistry and biology.  

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are very powerful and concentrated plant medicine and have the power to heal quite effectively when used properly.  They have remarkable properties of anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-spasmotic.  They are powerful to the point of showing the ability to kill MRSA and the Herpes virus, just to name two.  However, when used too much, too frequently, undiluted, or ingested, there can be some serious undesirable effects. 

Is there a right or a wrong way to use essential oils?

Ingesting essential oils either by putting them undiluted directly in your mouth or in a glass of drinking water or juice can result in burning of the inside of the mouth and esophagus.  I recently heard of a woman that did this with lemon and now has permanently damaged her entire esophageal tract.  Please don’t do this.  It hurts. 

Thyme, Oregano, Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Wintergreen can be very strong irritants of the mucus membranes.  Someone used oregano oil in her neti pot to wash out her nose because she was starting to get a cold.  Oregano oil has very strong antibacterial properties so she was on the right track, sort of.  But, the oil burned her mucus membranes so badly, she now has permanently lost her sense of smell.

Are essential oils safe for  pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Regarding pregnant and lactating women, I always err on the side of caution.  I flat out do not recommend the use of essential oils while pregnant or nursing.  The exception to this might be to diffuse lavender essential oil in a room for five to ten minutes a day for the stress relieving properties.   Children’s skin and mucus membranes can be very sensitive.  Essential oil use with them should be limited and used with caution.  

Using essential oils on the skin should most always be diluted.  Be especially mindful of using citrus oils on your skin.   They contain high levels of coumarins that, when absorbed into the skin, attract greater amounts of ultraviolet light.  This results in a higher likelihood of burning and discoloration of the skin when exposed to sunlight.  I am certainly not saying not to use citrus oils.  They are some of my all time favorites!  Just use care when using them and then exposing yourself to the sun.  

My intention is not to scare you out of using essential oils, but to know that they are powerful medicine  that need to be used in a knowledgable and safe way. They are a true delight to have as a part of one’s life and you will be healthier and happier with them. Be discerning, curious, and inspired!  There are manyf excellent aromatherapy books out there and as always, if you are unsure, talk to a Certified Aromatherapist.  

Here are some good guidebooks to have in your library:

My favorite places to purchase high quality essential oils:

I have a great webinar for those wanting to start with essential oils, the recording can be purchased here.

Photo Credit: Nomadic Lass

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Kate Deriso is a Bowen Therapist, Certified Aromatherapist, and Yoga Teacher.  Her practice, The Integrated Healing Studio is in Herndon Virginia.  You can find her on line at or on Facebook at