Which Essential Oils Are Non-Toxic?

Essential oils are concentrated extracts derived from the roots, leaves, flowers, or other parts of plants. They contain the “essence” of the plant’s fragrance and therapeutic compounds. Essential oils have become increasingly popular in recent years for their uses in aromatherapy, personal care products, household cleaning products, and as remedies for various health issues.

Essential oils can provide many benefits when used properly at the correct dosages. However, there are also risks of toxicity if they are used incorrectly or excessively. Certain essential oils contain compounds that can be irritating or harmful if used in high concentrations or ingested. Understanding which essential oils have higher toxicity risks and how to use them safely is important.

This article will provide an overview of essential oil toxicity concerns, identify which oils are considered non-toxic, and offer guidance on safe usage.

Toxicity Concerns

Some essential oils can be toxic if used improperly. Essential oils are highly concentrated, so they must be diluted before use on skin. Ingesting essential oils can also be dangerous. For example, mint oil can be poisonous to the liver if ingested, and wintergreen oil contains a compound called methyl salicylate that can be toxic if too much is used.[1] Essential oils like pennyroyal and eucalyptus are also toxic if ingested in large quantities.[2]

Certain essential oils are safe for external use but can be toxic if ingested. Oils derived from citrus fruits, like lemon and orange, are non-toxic topically but can cause significant health issues if swallowed. Menthol-containing oils like peppermint and spearmint are generally recognized as safe for aromatherapy but can irritate the digestive system if ingested.[3]

It’s crucial to follow usage guidelines and dilute oils properly. Talk to a doctor before using essential oils if pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or if you have a medical condition.

[1] “Essential Oils: Poisonous when Misused.” Poison Control, www.poison.org/articles/essential-oils. Accessed [today’s date].

[2] “Are Essential Oils Safe?” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/are-essential-oils-safe. Accessed [today’s date].

[3] “Essential Oils: Poisonous when Misused.” Poison Control, www.poison.org/articles/essential-oils. Accessed [today’s date].

How Essential Oils Become Toxic

Essential oils can become toxic through oxidation, adulteration, and overuse. Oxidation occurs when the plant compounds in essential oils react with oxygen in the air. This causes the chemical structure of the compounds to change into potentially toxic substances. Signs of oxidation include a rancid smell or change in oil color. Adulteration happens when oils are diluted or mixed with synthetic chemicals to increase profits. However, the additives may be toxic. Using too much essential oil, whether by over-diffusing or applying undiluted to skin, can also overwhelm the body and cause adverse effects.

According to a report by Poison Control, “Using too much oil, using the wrong oil, or using an oil incorrectly can cause serious harm.” Essential oil poisoning may show symptoms like rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, seizure, confusion, or slowed breathing. Oils with phenols like clove or oregano can burn skin at full concentration. Toxicity depends on each oil’s chemistry and how it is used.

Signs of Toxicity

Essential oils can cause toxic reactions, especially when misused or applied incorrectly. Some signs that may indicate essential oil toxicity include:

Poison Control states that skin irritation is one of the most common symptoms. Rashes, redness, itching, burning, and swelling can occur on the skin when exposed to toxic essential oils.

Ingesting some essential oils can lead to nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Peppermint, wintergreen, and camphor oils are examples of oils that may irritate the stomach lining if swallowed.

Toxicity can also result in headaches, dizziness, and lightheadedness. This may be from inhaling too much vapor from diffusers or due to the oils’ chemical components.

Severe reactions are possible as well, such as difficulty breathing, chest tightness, blurred vision, abnormal heart rate, and fluid in the lungs. These require emergency medical care.

Parents should watch for unusual symptoms in children if essential oils are used in the home. Babies and young children are more vulnerable to toxicity.

Discontinue using any oil that causes concerning symptoms. Seek medical advice to determine if it caused a toxic reaction.

Non-Toxic Oils

Certain essential oils are considered non-toxic and generally safe to use when properly diluted and handled. Some of the most common non-toxic essential oils include:

  • Lavender – With its soothing, floral aroma, lavender oil is one of the most versatile and popular oils. It can be safely used topically and aromatically.
  • Chamomile – Both Roman and German chamomile oil have gentle, calming properties. They can be used in skin care, aromatherapy, and cleaning products.
  • lavender essential oil being dropped into a diffuser

  • Orange – With its fresh, citrusy scent, orange oil uplifts mood and freshens indoor air. It’s considered non-irritating for most people.
  • Lemon – This invigorating citrus oil has cleansing uses. It also adds a refreshing scent to household cleaners and beauty products when properly diluted.
  • Peppermint – One of the most widely used oils, peppermint provides a cooling sensation. It can be diluted for topical use or diffused for its stimulating aroma.
  • Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus oil is known for its clarifying properties. It is often used in massage oils, soaps, and salves when appropriately diluted.
  • Cedarwood – With its warm, woody aroma, cedarwood oil offers grounding effects. It also repels insects naturally.
  • Bergamot – This fresh, citrusy oil can help provide a sense of calm and focus. It’s commonly found in perfumes and aromatherapy blends.
  • Tea tree – Renowned for its cleansing properties, tea tree oil fights germs naturally when diluted. It also benefits skin and hair used topically.

These gentle, aromatically pleasing oils can provide various benefits. Many high-quality suppliers offer organic versions of these popular oils that are third-party tested for purity.

Using Non-Toxic Oils Safely

Even though some essential oils are considered non-toxic, it’s still important to use them properly to avoid skin irritation or other side effects. Here are some guidelines for safe usage of non-toxic oils:

Dilute oils before applying to skin. Using a carrier oil like coconut, jojoba, or sweet almond, mix 3-5 drops of essential oil per teaspoon of carrier oil. Test on a small patch of skin first to check for irritation. Avoid contact with eyes and sensitive areas.

Don’t ingest oils unless under the guidance of an aromatherapy practitioner. While some oils are ok for flavoring foods or drinks, ingesting oils has risks. Stick to external use only unless you have professional guidance.

Use a diffuser cautiously by following instructions. Don’t diffuse for more than 30 minutes at a time. Give several hours in between diffusing sessions. Place diffusers appropriately to allow circulation – don’t diffuse oils right next to someone.

Store oils properly and watch for expiration. Keep bottles tightly closed and away from sunlight. Don’t use oils past their expiration date – toss them if they smell odd or look cloudy. Buy small bottles and use within 1 year.

Special Considerations

Pregnant women need to be especially careful when using essential oils. Some oils can induce contractions, be passed through breastmilk to the baby, or negatively impact development. According to research from Moreland OBGYN, peppermint, rosemary, wintergreen, cinnamon bark, thyme, oregano, clove, and frankincense should all be avoided during pregnancy.

The National Library of Medicine also advises avoiding anethole-rich oils like aniseed, fennel, basil, and tarragon as they may impact hormones and be unsafe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Always consult your doctor before using any essential oils while pregnant. Some gentle oils like lavender and lemon may be safe if you avoid skin application and solely diffuse small amounts. But take precautions and research each individual oil thoroughly beforehand.

Babies and young children also can’t handle concentrated essential oils. Always heavily dilute any oil used on kids under 2 years old, and avoid diffusing strongly around them. Stick to gentle oils like lavender and avoid anything with potential toxicity.

Sourcing High-Quality Oils

When using essential oils, it is extremely important to source pure, high-quality oils from reputable companies. Many low-quality essential oils may be diluted or contain synthetic chemicals, fragrances, and other contaminants that can be toxic or cause allergic reactions. Pure essential oils that are not adulterated are free from any added ingredients and extracted through careful processes that maintain the natural chemical composition of the oil.

Look for oils that are 100% pure and therapeutic grade. Reputable essential oil companies will openly provide information on their sourcing, testing standards, and extraction methods. Oils should be derived from the correct botanical plant source and unadulterated. High quality oils will list the Latin botanical name and country of origin on the bottle.

When reviewing essential oil brands, look for ones that have a strong reputation for purity and that rigorously test oils for contaminants. Recommended high-quality essential oil brands known for purity include Plant Therapy, Rocky Mountain Oils, and Aura Cacia.

Using properly sourced, pure essential oils from trustworthy suppliers helps avoid toxicity risks and potential side effects from impure or synthetic ingredients.

Alternatives to Essential Oils

For those with sensitivities or who want to avoid essential oils altogether, there are some great natural alternatives to consider. Many herbs, flowers, and carrier oils can provide similar benefits without the risk of skin irritation.

Carrier oils like coconut, jojoba, and almond oil can be used to dilute essential oils or on their own for moisturizing skin and hair. They provide many of the same nourishing properties as essential oils without the high concentration of volatile compounds.

Herbs like chamomile, lavender, peppermint, and rosemary can be dried or used fresh in teas, infusions, and other remedies. The gentle herbaceous quality offers a milder effect compared to their essential oil counterparts.

Other options are things found in nature like aloe vera gel, beeswax, sea salt, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and essential oil substitutes like magnolia and rose geranium. These can provide alternative cleaning, beauty, and therapeutic effects.[https://www.sacredsoulholistics.co.uk/blogs/news/essential-oil-substitutes]

For diffusing, flowers like lavender, rose, jasmine, and vanilla can provide delicate natural fragrance without using synthetics. Overall, evaluating your needs and sensitivities first can help determine if an essential oil alternative may be a better fit.


In summary, most essential oils are safe to use when properly diluted and applied topically. However, certain oils like wintergreen and cinnamon bark can be toxic if misused. It’s important to source high-quality oils from reputable suppliers to reduce contamination risks. Dilute oils appropriately for skin sensitivity, starting with 1% or less. Never ingest oils unless under the guidance of an aromatherapy professional. Monitor yourself and pets closely when diffusing or applying oils, stopping immediately if any adverse reactions occur. With proper precautions in place, essential oils can be an effective complement to a holistic wellness routine.

Moving forward, continue educating yourself about essential oil safety. Seek advice from certified aromatherapists if you have any doubts or health conditions. The wise and mindful use of essential oils allows you to harness their benefits, while avoiding potential harms. Approach essential oils with care, respect, and caution.

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