One of the main questions people have about how to use essential oils is whether they can be ingested. In fact, you could say there’s an all-out fight about it in the essential oils community.
When you’re looking into this issue, a good place to start is researching how essential oils work. Knowing this will help you understand how they are best used. You can find a good beginning in your research with The Skeptic’s Guide to Essential Oils here on Intoxicated on Life. In that post, I share the science behind essential oils and how to use them.
Many Different Opinions on Ingesting Essential Oils
Some folks say you should never ever ingest essential oils, citing the organizations that back up their assertion, while others say it’s fine if done wisely. Then there are those that swallow a capsule of it every day with breakfast and are still alive today. This makes things difficult for someone who just wants to find a straight answer and get on with the reasonable use of essential oils.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be making your life any easier today with a straight answer. However, I will share what I’ve learned along the way and what we have decided to do in our home.
Opinion #1: Never Ingest Essential Oils
First up are the “never-ever” folks. There are many companies, organizations, and individuals who will tell you to never ingest essential oils because it is dangerous. They will even say that those who ingest oils, or those who tell others that it is ok, are being irresponsible at best.
There are generally four reasons you will be told to never ingest oils:
- They heard it somewhere (a blog post, the company they buy from, an organization) and just assume it’s correct.
- They don’t really know but just want to avoid potential liability.
- They are afraid people will ingest without doing proper research and hurt themselves or someone else.
- They are concerned about additives in adulterated oil and, in the case of a seller, they may not be willing to admit it.
It is absolutely true that essential oils should be handled with care. These are not flavorings, teas, herbs, or spices that you can experiment with on a whim and without any concern for safety. Essential oils are highly concentrated chemical constituents that will have an effect on your body that can be very dramatic, and even dangerous, when used inappropriately.
Potential harm comes not just from possible impurities in the oil—even the most pure oils can be harmful if used in excess or incorrectly. Why? Because the naturally occurring toxic, irritating, or sensitizing properties of a plant are highly concentrated in the essential oil. This can negatively effect the internal organs and surfaces of the digestive system. Depending on how much is ingested, the body can also react to the excessive levels of the chemical constituents of the essential oils in extreme ways such as headaches, seizures, and even death. Add to that the possibility of contraindications with regular medicines a person may be taking, and you can see why caution and due diligence in researching an oil before you take it is important.
Because of this potential danger, many individuals and organizations err on the side of caution and say never to ingest. For example, the National Asssociation for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) says “Do not take essential oils internally without appropriate clinical education and understanding of the safety issues involved in doing so.” You will find similar statements from other organizations such as the Alliance for International Aromatherapists.
A big part of making your decision on whether to ingest oils is to consider the source of your information. There are different organizations and certified individuals that are deemed authoritative—but even they may not really be giving you a balanced answer. How many blog posts have “consult a certified aromatherapist” somewhere just to cover their rears?
You need to consider your source. Are you getting your information from a company selling oils, an organization like the NAHA, a certified aromatherapist, or someone educated with the latest online class? There are things you need to consider when weighing their input.
Opinion #2: Ingest Essential Oils for Every Problem
On the other side of the spectrum are those that ingest oils all the time and for every ailment. They will tell you how in France people ingest oils frequently at the recommendation of aromatherapists (who may also be medical doctors), and the U.S. is just too scared of it. Of course, I have also read that it is illegal for aromatherapists in Australia to recommend ingestion.
You will find that the most liberal recommendations on essential oil ingestion come from multi-level marketing companies selling the oils they are suggesting you ingest, and from blogs and articles written by people who use and/or sell oils. You will find recipes and “protocols” as well as the suggestion that this is the most direct and beneficial way to get the oils to where they need to go in your system. Not all people who sell oils recommend excessive internal use of essential oils, but all cases I have found come from those sources.
There are also companies that are more inclined to suggest ingesting oils than is probably called for. It is possible they want you to consume, and therefore buy, more oils and so they recommend the quickest way of using them up. On they other hand, they may simply be suggesting one of several ways of treating a problem.
Opinion #3: Ingest When Appropriate and Use Common Sense
Whether it’s relating to ingestion or other types of application, it is important that we don’t just wing it when it comes to essential oils. Be smart! Experience and a trusted source of information are likely your best bet in determining when to ingest oils.
Essential oils are useful and powerful, so use appropriate caution. And keep in mind that children should not ingest oils. Not only are they more at risk because their bodies and immune systems aren’t fully developed, but you do not have the same benefit of evaluating the effect of an oil as you would when taking it yourself.
At the moment, one of my favorite sources of safety information is Robert Tisserand. For example, he wrote a book called Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. In the book he mentions that when oils are ingested, about 95% is absorbed into the blood stream as opposed to up to 10% when applied topically (slightly more if the oil is not diluted). Greater absorption of oil means that there is a greater risk of harm if used in excess. I have also been enjoying Tisserand’s blog. Here is his take on the issue:
I do not believe that non-practitioners should prescribe/recommend oral use of EOs or others, and I am wary of scenarios involving the liberal oral use of EOs for people who are not sick. But I am not, and have never been, against sensible self-treatment using EOs orally, for a limited period of time.
If you are considering ingesting essential oils, do these three things:
- Read up on the oil and any warnings or contraindications
- Start with a very small amount of oil and work up from there
- Treat essential oils as if they are powerful medicines, because that’s what they are.
Bottom line: ingesting essential oils isn’t dangerous, but stupidity is. There is no reason to not inform yourself and use caution.
My Take: Ingesting Essential Oils Isn’t Worth It
This is where I fall on the issue. Really, there are very few reasons to ingest essential oils. Due to the way essential oils work on the body, the most reasonable and/effective ways to use them are probably topical application and inhalation. In most cases, ingesting oils is wasting them. Some believe ingesting oils changes them or that they won’t be absorbed and delivered effectively, even if it’s the stomach you are targeting. Some suggest that the absorption rate of ingestion is extremely high, perhaps even too high, and may pose a danger.
With topical and inhalation use proving so effective, why bother wasting oils or risking harm? What we’re doing with roll-ons, diffusers, etc. is working wonderfully! Of course, it would be great if more research on the effect of ingesting oils could provide more information, but considering the lack of general essential oils research out there, I’m not holding my breath.
Now, I’m not knocking the internal use of oils. There are far more experienced essential oils users than I out there who know what works for them. There are some situations where ingesting may be a good call. Before you make that move, I just ask that you’d take a good look at your information source and then do the three points I listed above: Read up, start small, and properly handle the potency of oils.
So, what’s your take on ingesting oils?
Interested in essential oils? Let’s talk! Click here to learn more about essential oils and how to find good-quality oils for your family.
Free Download: Mom’s Essential Oil Cheat Sheet
Would you like a resource to help you learn to use essential oils with your family? Download this free 3-page printable:
- Basic guidelines for using essential oils around kids
- A list of safe, kid-friendly oils essential oils
- Helpful essential oil recipes
Click the link or image below to download the 3-page Mom’s Essential Oil Cheat Sheet. I’ll follow it up with more resources and free printables to help you on your essential oil journey. Grab your copy now!