Is It Safe To Ingest Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts made from things found in nature, like lavender, tea tree, and peppermint. They're often used as aromatherapy or applied topically to help with various ailments and conditions.

While more scientific research on the use of essential oils is needed, some studies have found that they can help lower cortisol levels, prevent anxiety, and fight microbes (via WebMD). Even though essential oils have been used for centuries, it doesn't mean they don't have associated risks. One significant risk that concerns health experts is related to quality. There are plenty of products on the market with unsubstantiated health claims, and since these products don't require FDA approval, they're not regulated by any governing or medical body. This means that you may not really know what's in that bottle of peppermint oil. Aside from quality issues, ingesting essential oils can be dangerous and pose serious health risks for you and other family members.

What happens if you swallow an essential oil?

While some studies show the benefits of using essential oils for aromatherapy or for topical use on the skin, they should not be taken internally, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Potentially harmful effects can occur due to inconsistent plant species, contaminants, drug-interacting ingredients, or allergens. Some particularly dangerous outcomes include seizures, hallucinations, and coma. 

Essential oils can be particularly unsafe for children. Unfortunately, when young children ingest these oils or even use them topically, it can lead to serious health complications. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center saw a rise in children being admitted to their poison center for ingesting essential oils. "The rule of thumb in toxicology is 'the dose makes the poison' so all essential oils are potentially harmful," said Justin Loden, certified specialist in poison information at the Tennessee Poison Center. "In children, poisoning typically occurs when they try to swallow the oil, but choke so that a little of it goes into the lungs which causes pneumonia; it only takes 2 milliliters (less than half a teaspoonful) to do that."

If you're starting to use essential oils, keep them securely away from children. Additionally, you may want to consult with your physician to discuss the risks, benefits, and proper usage of them first.