Essential oils: 9 things to know to use them safely

The medicinal benefits of essential oils are phenomenal. Some fight viruses, others relieve headaches, ease anxiety, or reduce inflammation. But ” although natural, they are not harmless, emphasizes Joëlle Le Guehennec, director of the French School of Integrative Aromatherapy (EFAI) and author of Essential oils are life (éd. First). Accidents due to improper use are more common than you might think “. To benefit from their benefits in complete safety, precautions are essential.

Essential oils: how to choose them?

Not all commercial essential oils are 100% pure. They may contain some synthetic compounds. Their method of extraction is also sometimes doubtful, which does not guarantee an optimal concentration of active ingredients. To ensure their quality, opt for the BEBBD (botanically and biochemically defined essential oil) or HECT (chemotyped essential oil) label. Also make sure the product displays the full name of the plant to avoid confusion. Certain botanical species in fact group together different varieties which do not present the same therapeutic potential or the same side effects. Globular eucalyptus, for example, is remarkable against respiratory infections, while lemon eucalyptus is indicated against joint inflammation (arthritis, tendonitis, etc.). Likewise, ” thujanol thyme is an antiseptic that does not cause any concern, while thymol thyme is delicate to use due to its neurotoxicity “, specifies the specialist in alternative medicine Michel Odoul, specialist in alternative medicine and author of Tell me how to get better and better every day (ed. Albin Michel). Preferably buy in pharmacies or health food stores.

Precautions for handling essential oils with care

To limit the risks, do not handle essential oil near a flame because some are flammable. After mixing or massaging, wash your hands with soap to prevent accidental contact with the eyes. Corneal damage is possible. ” In case of eye projection, rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water for at least 10 minutes, then pass a cotton ball soaked in a mild vegetable oil until the burn subsides “, advises Joëlle Le Guehennec. If the pain persists, medical advice becomes necessary. Essential oils do not mix well with the inside of the ears and nose.

Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children

Although the law imposes safety caps on the bottles, the unexpected can always happen. Store your essential oils up high or in a locked cabinet. In case of accidental ingestion of a few drops, first rinse the child’s mouth, then ” give it a c. to s. of charcoal powder (or a few capsules) to swallow with water “Advises Joëlle Le Guehennec. It is important not to make him vomit or give him milk, otherwise the situation will be aggravated. If the child has swallowed more, or if he becomes listless, call 15 or the poison control center in your area.

Essential oils: better to use them diluted

Many essential oils contain irritating or caustic molecules (terpene aldehydes, aromatic phenols, etc.), such as savory or oregano. We must therefore redouble vigilance in self-medication. In the absence of specific advice from an aromatherapist, dilute them to 10% with a vegetable oil before using them for skin application. They will not be less effective, on the contrary: the effect will be more lasting over time because their speed of absorption is slowed down. And as the oils do not mix with water, adding a few pure drops in the bath is also to be avoided: they will stay on the surface and can burn the skin. ” It is essential to mix them beforehand with a surfactant, a special bath base or liquid soap. “, explains Joëlle Le Guehennec.

Beforehand, we test its sensitivity to any new essential oil

Twenty-seven different allergens have been identified in essential oils, including limonene, linalool, geraniol or citronelol. As each skin has a different sensitivity, it is better to carry out a test on a small skin area before spreading the product on a large area of ​​skin, especially if you have an allergic ground. Dilute the oil (1 to 2 drops in 1 teaspoon of olive or jojoba oil) and apply it in the crook of the elbow or on the inside of the wrist. Wait 20 to 30 minutes. If redness appears, repeat a test by diluting it further. And if the skin reacts again, avoid this essential oil. If an allergic reaction occurs 24 hours later (edema, urticaria, etc.), banish it completely.

Oral essential oils: caution in self-medication

Distillation, which extracts essential oils from plants, strongly concentrates their active ingredients and reveals new compounds that did not exist in the original plant. Some turn out to be less harmless than they seem at first glance. This is the case of compact oregano, savory, cloves or cinnamon which should never be taken internally on its own. “, explains Michel Odoul. As a safety measure, do not swallow any in self-medication, unless it is offered in pharmacies or health food stores in the form of oleocapsules or gastro-resistant beads.

What are the contraindications for the use of essential oils?

Unless they consult a real expert in aromatherapy (phytotherapist or specialized pharmacist, for example), pregnant and breastfeeding women should ignore essential oils because some are abortive or toxic to babies. Their use is also not recommended for children under 36 months by the cutaneous route and under 6 years by the oral route. In addition, never use a diffuser or an essential oil sprays in the presence of an asthmatic.

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Aromatherapy: no prolonged use

In high doses, some essential oils are toxic to the liver, brain or kidneys. ” Their use in self-medication should be limited to a short period, no more than 4 to 5 days, estimates Michel Odoul. And no need to put too much: doubling the number of drops will not boost their effectiveness. Sometimes it’s even the other way around “. If you are taking long-term drug treatment, check with your doctor that this essential oil is compatible with its prescription.

Beware of the sun with certain essential oils

Essential oils from the citrus family (lemon, orange, tangerine, bergamot, etc.) are photosensitizing because they contain furocoumarins, molecules which exacerbate the harmful effects of UV rays on the skin. After skin application, exposure to the sun is therefore strictly prohibited. And in summer, also avoid their oral use. Be careful also with those of angelica, verbena and celery.

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