Essential Oil Safety for Pregnancy and Beyond
So you love essential oils. Maybe you diffuse them around your house, or even apply them topically. Essential oils have amazing benefits and can smell heavenly, but are also very potent. Did you know it takes about 30 roses to produce 1 drop of essential oil? You want to know how to safely use essential oils especially while pregnant or breastfeeding. Perfect! I've got you covered. I'll go over general safety concerns, which essential oils to avoid while pregnant and breastfeeding, safe topical use guidelines, general safety tips to avoid unpleasant reactions, storage tips for maximizing the lifespan of your essential oils and a few safe alternatives to essential oils.
Are you still wondering what essential oils are? In a nutshell, essential oils are distilled from various plant parts. For plants, they serve very similar functions to why we use them. They help protect the plant by repelling insects, killing various infections, healing wounds, attracting pollinators and strengthening immunity. Now that you know the benefits of essential oils, I'll teach you how to use them safely.
WAYS TO USE ESSENTIAL OILS
Two common ways essential oils are absorbed are through inhalation and skin (topical). When essential oils are inhaled they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and also affects the respiratory system and central nervous system. Applying essential oils to the skin not only affects the skin, but is also absorbed into the bloodstream. Also, taking essential oils internally delivers the highest dosage of essential oils and should be avoided during pregnancy. I am not going to discuss internal use as this absorption method should only be used under the guidance of a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist trained in internal use.
ESSENTIAL OILS AND BABIES
I touched on the potency of essential oil and now I want to talk about babies. Babies are much more susceptible to the effects of essential oils than adults as they have thinner skin and their bodies haven't been overloaded with chemicals. Can you imagine what even a tiny amount of essential oil might do to the organs of a developing baby? I do not recommend daily use of essential oils during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, which includes use in skin care. There is not enough research yet, to determine if essential oil usage is safe during pregnancy and if essential oils can cross over to your baby and the effects that may have.
Additionally, some chemical constituents found in commonly used essential oils such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) are known allergens.
ESSENTIAL OILS TO AVOID
Care should be taken when using essential oils if you have any major healthy issue, especially high blood pressure, epileptic seizures, asthma, are receiving cancer treatment, or are immune compromised. And there are special considerations for children and seniors as well. I will only be touching on specific essential oils to avoid while pregnant and breastfeeding.
Some essential oils commonly used in skin care are not safe to use via any absorption method during pregnancy and may harm you or your unborn child. There are over 50 essential oils to avoid or use with restrictions while pregnancy and/or breastfeeding. You'll find a list of the most common essential oils to avoid below. Some essential oils on the list can be used to a very low limit, but it is safest to just recommend avoiding them altogether.
Essential oils in bold are often used in skin care and personal care products.
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum & Illicium verum)
- Basil - lemon (Ocimum x citriodorum)
- Birch (Betula lenta)
- Black Seed (Nigella sativa)
- Carrot Seed (Daucus carota)
- Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
- Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Cypress - Blue (Callitris intratropica)
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
- Ho Leaf (Cinnamomum camphora camphor)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis pinocamphone)
- Lavender - Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)
- Lemon Balm - Australian (Eucalyptus staigeriana)
- Lemon Leaf (Citrus x limon)
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- May Chang (Litsea cubeba)
- Melissa (Melissa officinals)
- Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
- Myrtle - aniseed, Backhousia anisata
- Myrtle - honey (Maleleuca teretifolia)
- Myrtle - lemon (Backhousia citriodora)
- Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis & Salvia lavandulifolia)
- Tea Tree - lemon-scented (Leptospermum peteronii)
- Thyme - lemon (Thymus lanuginosus var. citriodorum)
- Verbena - lemon (Aloysia citriodora)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima)
Please see Essential Oil Safety (Second edition) (2014) by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young for a complete list of essential oils to avoid as well as additional safety guidelines.
DILUTION AND FREQUENCY
When applying essential oils to the skin during pregnancy, I recommend using the lowest possible dilution. A good guideline is a maximum dilution of 1%, which is roughly 5-6 drops, total, of essential oils in 1oz(30ml) of carrier oil. The more often essential oils are used, the more that is absorbed into the body, so use only as need for things like nausea. Also note that essential oils are oil based and do not mix with water, so always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil prior to adding to bath water.
STORAGE AND HANDLING
Essential oils are made up of chemical components that are susceptible to degradation from oxygen, heat, and light. Some chemical components are more stable than others and therefore, determine the shelf life for each specific essential oil. It is important to note that all essential oils oxidize regardless of the brand.
Shelf life is based on the distillation date. I recommend purchasing from a manufacturer that has all batches of essential oils tested and provides GCMS reports. These reports list the chemical component break down, identify impurities and often list the distillation date and potential shelf life. Following the below guidelines will help maximize the shelf life. I like to add an approximate expiration date (month/year) to all of my bottles of essential oils (direct form the supplier), if it's not already included on the label.
Store all essential oils in a cool, dark and dry place. Make sure the tops are screwed on tight. Keep excess air out of bottles by transferring remaining essential oil to smaller amber bottles. Essential oils can be stored in the refrigerator, as the ideal temperature is 35-38 degrees. Keep away from water and moisture. Keep all essential oils out of reach of children including when in use in a diffuser.
SAFETY CONCERNS FOR TOPICAL USE
There are three main safety concerns with topical use: irritation, sensitization and phototoxicity. Irritation is a skin reaction in the area the essential oil formulation was applied.The larger the dose, the worse the irritation. Applying oxidized oils to your skin can increase your chances of irritation. Sensitization is like an allergic reaction with inflammation popping up anywhere on your body. The major issue here is once you become sensitized to an oil, you can never use that oil again. Unfortunately, women, have a greater risk of sensitization, so it is very important to be cognizant of how much essential oils you are using and how often. Phototoxicity is like a super bad sunburn. Some oils, often cold pressed citrus oils are phototoxic. Keep any skin that has been exposed to phototoxic oils out of the sun for 18-24 hours.
The best way to avoid any of the above reactions is to use essential oils in low dilutions, only when needed and do not use essential oils that have oxidized. Never apply essential oils in or around your ears, eyes and mucus membranes.
One great alternative to essential oils are hydrosols. They are also distilled from plant parts but only contain a very tiny amount of essential oil, however, they are still quite powerful. Hydrosols can be used undiluted as a facial toner, to help heal and clean scrapes and cuts, for relief of respiratory congestion, mist on your sheets for a calming effect at night, or pour some into the bath for a relaxing soak. If you are looking for relief from pain and inflammation, there are a few carrier oils that can help you out.
Here is a quick list of takeaways to sum things up.
- Avoid use of all essential oils during the first trimester.
- Check the list of essential oils to avoid while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Avoid daily use of essential oils, only using them for specific concerns.
- Use a maximum of 1% dilution when applying to the skin.
- Store essential oils in a cool, dark and dry location, with minimum exposure to oxygen.
- To avoid irritation and sensitization, apply to skin in low dilutions and only use as needed.
- Try hydrosols as a safe alternative for some essential oils.
Bonus tip, to help avoid possible sensitization, switch off the products you use regularly (containing essential oils), approximately every two weeks. This includes personal care products such as skin care, toothpaste and deodorant.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you are curious about which skin care ingredients to avoid during pregnancy, grab your copy of my ebook 7 Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid.