Are Essential Oils Safe for People and Pets?
Essential oils are a cornerstone of perfumery. They’re also key ingredients in other aromatic and homeopathic endeavors, such as candlemaking and soapmaking. But like many things trending in the natural health world, they’re worth a bit of scrutiny.
Between 2011 and 2015, a Tennessee poison center noted that reports of toxic exposures to essential oils doubled.
More significantly, four out of every five cases involved children.
While we have no intention of fearmongering or discouraging the use of essential oils, it’s important to understand how to safely use them as you set out to craft that perfect perfume scent.
There are some crucial facts to know before introducing essential oils to your home and perfume recipes, especially if you have children and pets.
Read on for some indispensable advice on essential oil safety.
Never Use Undiluted Essential Oils
Essential oils are the concentrated extract of plant compounds. Since they are so concentrated, they need to be diluted with a carrier agent, such as perfumer’s alcohol or fractionated coconut oil.
This might be a given if you have been using essential oils for a long time. But many people are unaware of the toxicity of undiluted essential oils.
Applying undiluted essential oils to your skin can have varying adverse effects, like inflammation, dermatitis, and irritation resembling chemical burns.
The simplest way to prevent skin irritations is by doing a patch test.
How To Conduct a Patch Test with Essential Oils
Just like you might do with a new skincare product, a patch test allows you to test your skin’s reaction to certain essential oils before you progress to complete application.
Here are a few simple steps to complete a patch test:
- Dilute the essential oil. This is very important!
- Wash your forearm or an area of the body that isn’t too visible with unscented soap.
- Pat dry.
- Rub a few drops of the diluted essential oil into a small patch of skin.
- Give it about 24 hours to be sure of no adverse reaction.
Always do a patch test with essential oils before putting them on your skin directly, using them in a perfume recipe, or adding in a diffuser. If a patch test results in any discomfort, immediately wash the area.
Are Essential Oils Safe to Have Around Children?
If you have children in the home, proper safety with essential oils is a super important consideration!
Surprisingly, many popular essential oils can pose substantial health risks beyond mild skin irritations.
Eucalyptus, for example, can cause seizures if ingested. Camphor, clove, lavender, tea tree, and wintergreen oils are also incredibly toxic. In extreme cases, they can lead to breathing problems, brain inflammation, and even liver failure.
So, as you’re entering the world of perfumery or growing your collection, safely storing your ingredients away from children is vital.
Keep all your perfume ingredients, especially essential oils, closed when you’re not using them. Do not leave them unattended with children in the home and always store them in a locked area when not in use for an extended period -- ideally high on a shelf and out of reach of children.
Can Essential Oils Trigger Allergies?
Allergic reactions are certainly possible with essential oils. They are, after all, made from nature -- the biggest allergen of them all.
If you use essential oils and start sneezing, getting a runny nose, have watery or itchy eyes, then you might be having an allergic reaction.
Some essential oils are photosensitive, meaning they can cause severe reactions if you apply them topically and then expose your skin to the sun. Citrus essential oils like lemon, lime, orange, and bergamot are known to cause photosensitive reactions.
That's why you need to be careful when using several different essential oils at once. If you get an allergic reaction, it could be only one essential oil that’s causing trouble, while the rest of them might be entirely safe for you.
Precisely knowing which oils cause adverse reactions is helpful to know as you plan to make your next perfume.
With people out of the way, let’s talk about essential oils and our furry household friends!
Are Essential Oils Safe for Pets?
Many people assume that just because they are getting a host of benefits from using essential oils, their pets would feel the same or be unphased.
But your pet's biology is completely different from yours.
What may be totally fine for human use could cause GI upset, chemical burns of the mouth and esophagus, liver damage, and respiratory damage in pets.
Just as with children nearby, it’s imperative that you store your essential oils in a closed area inaccessible to pets. Remember, cats are climbers, so even a high shelf isn’t necessarily out of reach!
What Are Symptoms of Essential Oil Poisoning in Pets?
If you suspect your pet has ingested essential oils or may have been over-exposed, prompt treatment as soon as any symptoms appear is critical to prevent long-term respiratory, neurological, and liver damage.
Below are typical symptoms of essential oil poisoning in pets:
- Respiratory irritation: wheezing, excessive sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, panting open-mouth breathing in a cat.
- Injury to the skin, eyes, ears, nose, or throat: red or watery eyes, squinting the eye or holding it shut, running nose, red lips, red skin, excessive drooling, and pawing at the face due to burning.
- GI upset: excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea.
- Liver damage: bruising, vomiting, increased urination, unquenchable thirst. Yellowing of the eyes, skin, and/or gums.
- Nervous system impairment: muscle tremors, lethargy, wobbliness or difficulty standing, depression. Very severe cases can result in paralysis of the hind limbs, seizures, and low heart rate.
Need pet poisoning help immediately?
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC): 1-888-426-4435 (consultation fee applies)
Pet Poison Helpline: 1-855-764-7661 (consultation fee applies)
How To Keep Your Pets Safe from Essential Oils
Most importantly, discuss the use of essential oils with your veterinarian before applying them to your pet or allowing your pet to ingest them. Beyond that, follow these general rules for essential oil use around pets:
- Don't ever leave a pet confined in a room with a diffuser running. Your pet needs to be able to leave the room.
- Pay attention to your pets when you diffuse oils to see their reactions.
- Don't apply essential oils topically to your pet or have them ingest it, especially without expressed permission from your veterinarian.
- If you notice any changes in your pet after using essential oils, take your pet to the vet immediately.
Which Essential Oils Are Safe for Cats and Dogs?
All that said, a few common essential oils that are safe to use for cats include:
For dogs, the list of safe essential oils is a bit more expansive.
- Citrus (including lemon and orange)
Where can I buy reputable, safe essential oils?
Due to an upsurge in the popularity of essential oils and the lack of FDA oversight, many lesser-known sellers are popping up.
It’s important to ensure you’re purchasing essential oils from a reputable company -- one that's been around for a while and has vetted their distributors.
Not to toot our own horn, but we recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary here at Vetiver Aromatics and we carry a host of essential oils!
We’re proud to have processed thousands of orders that include essential oils, with no customer complaints about the safety or efficacy of our products.
Our suppliers are very thorough in their manufacturing processes and have developed reputations for safety. All production meets ASTM standards, is GMP certified, and our oils are certified Kentucky Kosher.
We don’t carry every essential oil, of course. So, if you don’t find the essential oil you’re searching for in our store, we recommend trying Eden Botanicals.
Don’t fret! Essential Oils Are Great When Used With Care.
If you have been crafting unique perfumes with essential oils for a long while without any ill effects, then this article may not necessarily be for you. But if you are a newbie at perfume-making and using essential oils, then be sure to follow the advice above for the best experience.
And please, feel free to reach out to us with questions. You can contact us here.