Are Essential Oils Safe to Ingest?
Over the last few years, essential oils have become increasingly more popular. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find essential oils in the homes of individuals who had never even heard of them 5 or 10 years ago. And now, essential oils are readily available and affordable (for the most part) for individuals that are looking for effective natural remedies.
However, with more and more people turning to essential oils, there has been a significant increase in conflicting information on how they should be used. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how these natural wonders really work. And in truth, there isn’t a lot of scientific research available on essential oils. However, this is changing due to the fact that more research is being devoted solely to their therapeutic properties every day. But it still begs the question: are essential oils safe to ingest?
Nature’s potent wonders
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of plant material.1 It requires a very large amount of plant matter to extract enough for one bottle, or even just one drop of essential oil. They are effective, natural, and very potent. This is extremely important to remember. Just because something is completely natural doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used with caution, regardless of whether you’re ingesting it, using it topically, or even diffusing it. In fact, just one drop of peppermint oil is the equivalent of more than two dozen cups of peppermint tea!
Why ingest essential oils?
You may be wondering if it’s even really necessary to discuss ingesting essential oils. We know that diffusing them and using them topically is effective, so why bother with ingesting them at all? But with their increase in popularity, certain essential oil distributors began touting their effectiveness when used internally, and it quickly became a common practice. Many claims have been made about how a drop or two in a glass of water can help you lose weight, cure headaches, fight off illness, and more. This caused many people to start practicing this method of essential oil ingestion without questioning the safety of it. Adverse reactions started to be reported and aromatherapists and healthcare practitioners quickly became concerned.
Now, the goal has become to prioritize educating essential oil users in matters of safe usage practices. And the truth is, ingested essential oils do absorb into the bloodstream faster than those applied topically.2 This means that they have the potential to work faster and in a more concentrated manner in the body if ingested, giving us the potential for more natural treatments for ailments and disease. But, it also means that there is a greater chance of overdose, allergic reaction, or even interaction with other medications. In fact, a 2012 journal article reported the effects of a near-fatal case where an individual consumed large amounts of peppermint oil.3
How are essential oils ingested?
Essential oils can be ingested in a number of ways. However, I’d like to discuss 3 of the most common ways people ingest them and which ways are best.
As mentioned above, it’s a fairly common practice to add a drop or two of essential oil to a glass of water. However, I do not recommend this. Here’s why: essential oils are not water-soluble, meaning they do not mix with water. So if you add a drop of essential oil to your water, the oil is just going to float on the top. It won’t disperse at all, leaving it at full concentration. So when you drink it, it won’t be diluted and your mucus membranes will be exposed to the full concentration of the essential oils. This, in turn, could potentially cause irritation. Many individuals do this daily and even multiple times a day, exposing their mucus membranes and even GI tract to potential irritation again and again.
One of the easiest ways to ingest essential oils is to add them to your food to enhance flavoring. In fact, a single drop will suffice for an entire recipe. They can be added to casseroles, soups, pastries, or just about any other recipe you like. However, I personally prefer to use the whole herb when cooking as opposed to essential oils.
By far, the best way to consume essential oils is to use enteric-coated capsules. Because the essential oil is protected by the enteric-coating, it helps protect your mucus membranes and GI tract. Some aromatherapists and healthcare providers will also suggest using vegetable or gelatin capsules. Usually, a drop or two of essential oil is mixed with a vegetable oil such as coconut or olive oil and then put into a gelatin or vegetable capsule. Although not preferable to the enteric-coated capsules, vegetable or gelatin capsules are a significant improvement over drinking the essential oil in water.
What does the research say?
Although not nearly enough research has been done on ingesting essential oils, there are a few scientific studies available that we can look at. For instance, an overview of multiple studies conducted on the efficacy of peppermint essential oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and abdominal pain suggests that it may be a viable treatment option when used internally.4 It should be noted, however, that the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy states that the ingestion of peppermint oil should be used with extreme caution. And even if ingested in enteric-coated capsules in appropriate amounts, it can still cause undesirable side effects.5 Still, a 2009 study testing the effects of lavender essential oil suggests that ingesting it for low levels of anxiety may be beneficial.6 Furthermore, the results of another study conducted in 2009 indicate that ingesting bitter orange essential oil may promote gastric mucosal healing.7
Sifting through the data
So, the question still remains: are essential oils safe to ingest? As you can see, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” The truth is that SOME essential oils may be safe to ingest while others definitely are not. The FDA even has a published list of essential oils that are GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.”8 But it’s also important to note that this list doesn’t include crucial information such as dosage amounts or potential reactions. And because there are essential oils that should never be ingested, extreme caution must be used. Additionally, ingesting essential oils long-term is never recommended.
These reasons and more are why I highly recommend that you seek the advice of a qualified health practitioner or aromatherapist before you decide to start ingesting essential oils. This is a personal decision that is up to each individual, and it’s one that is best made with the aid of a qualified professional that can give you all the facts.
Some things to keep in mind
Additionally, there are several things to keep in mind when considering ingesting essential oils, especially when it comes to the type of essential oils you choose.
1. Use high-quality, pure essential oils
For starters, you want to make sure that you have high-quality oils that are 100% pure. You do not want essential oils that have been stretched with synthetic fillers or other substances. You should be able to know exactly what products you’re putting in your body. If that information is not abundantly clear on your essential oil bottle, do not ingest it. Essential oil companies that have integrity will make the information you need readily available.
2. Use fresh essential oils
You also want to make sure you have the freshest essential oils possible. You should not use essential oils that are past their shelf life or that have begun oxidizing because they have been exposed to heat and/or light. Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark place to help preserve their shelf life. When you purchase essential oils, check to see that they have been stored properly and then make sure to do the same at home.
3. Use organic essential oils
Try to purchase organic essential oils if at all possible. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, anything else that has been sprayed on the plants will be concentrated as well. You certainly don’t want to be consuming a concentrated dose of pesticides if you choose to ingest essential oils! The best way to avoid this is to purchase organic essential oils.
4. Take precautions
While it’s true that some essential oils may be safe to ingest, it doesn’t mean that everyone should do it. Health, age, and medications are all things to consider when deciding whether to use essential oils internally. And because they are highly concentrated substances, VERY little is needed. Use precautions and again, I would highly recommend you consult with a trusted and qualified healthcare provider or aromatherapist. They can guide you to the right essential oil and the right dosage amounts. And most importantly, if you start to experience adverse reactions, stop using essential oils immediately and consult with your healthcare provider.
So, are essential oils safe to ingest? We’ve seen that research suggests that there are essential oils that may be considered safe to ingest. And not only that, but the research even seems to indicate that they may be viable natural remedies to treat specific conditions. On the other hand, it’s clear that there is still a lot of research needed on ingesting essential oils. We also know that there are essential oils that should never be ingested and that extreme caution should be used if you do choose to consume them. And while certain essential oils may be safe to ingest, really, it comes down to the individual. Before making your decision, educate yourself on the safety and usage of specific oils, and remember to seek out the advice of a trusted holistic healthcare provider.
About Nicole Stine
Nicole Stine is a certified herbalist who has numerous aromatherapy and natural health certifications. She is passionate about using herbs and essential oils safely and thoroughly enjoys researching and writing about natural health, as well as creating her own formulations.
1. Shutes, Jade. “Essential Oils Defined.” National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Naha.org.
2. Tisserand, Robert, Rodney Young, & Elisabeth M. Williamson. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals (London, UK: Churchill Livingstone, 2014).
3. Nath, S.S., C. Pandey, & R. Debashis. “A near fatal case of high dose peppermint oil ingestion – lessons learnt.” Indian Journal of Anesthesia 56, no. 6 (2012): 582-584.
4. Grigoleit, H.G., & P. Grigoleit. “Peppermint oil in irritable bowel syndrome.” Phytomedicine 12, no. 8 ( 2005): 601-606.
5. “Peppermint Safety Info.” NAHA. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Naha.org.
6. Bradley, B. F., S. L. Brown, S. Chu, & R. W. Lea. “Effects of orally administered lavender essential oil on responses to anxiety-provoking film clips.” Human Psychopharmacology 24, no. 4 (2009): 319-330.
7. Moraes, T. M., A. L. Rozza, H. Kushima, et al. “Healing actions of essential oils from citrus aurantium and d-limonene in the gastric mucosa: the roles of VEGF, PCNA, and COX-2 in cell proliferation.” Journal of Medicinal Food 16, no. 12 (2013): 1162-1167.
8. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessdata.fda.gov.