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Toxic Essential Oils

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When applied topically, essential oils produce irritation to the skin. It is used as medicine and is toxic if ingested or inhaled into the pores of the body.

Written by

Swetha. R.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At January 30, 2024
Reviewed AtJanuary 30, 2024


The use of essential oils has grown significantly in recent years, but toxicity is a possible risk that should not be overlooked despite the benefits of aromatherapy and other therapeutic uses. While often considered natural and harmless, essential oils can pose risks when used incorrectly or excessively. Toxicity in essential oils refers to their potential to cause harm or adverse effects on health due to misuse or improper handling.

What Is Essential Oil?

Toxic essential oils refer to concentrated plant extracts that contain chemical compounds capable of causing adverse effects or harm to individuals when used inappropriately, excessively, and without proper precautions. These oils contain constituents that, in high concentrations or when exposed to the body in excessive amounts, can lead to various adverse reactions, ranging from skin irritations to more severe symptoms.

What Are the Uses of Essential Oil?

Aromatherapy is one of the primary uses of essential oils. Inhalation of aromatic compounds through diffusers or direct inhalation is believed to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve mood. Essential oils are dissolved with carrier oils and applied topically for skin care, such as treating acne, moisturizing the skin, soothing irritations, or relieving muscle soreness and joint pain.

Some essential oils possess antibacterial and antifungal properties, making them effective natural alternatives for household cleaning products. Oils like tea tree or lemon are often used in DIY cleaners. Certain essential oils are believed to have therapeutic properties. For example, peppermint oil may help alleviate headaches, eucalyptus oil might aid in respiratory issues, and lavender oil can improve sleep. Essential oils are added to shampoos, conditioners, or hair treatments for their potential benefits in promoting healthy hair, reducing dandruff, or stimulating hair growth.

Some culinary-grade essential oils are natural flavorings in cooking and baking, adding unique and concentrated flavors to dishes and beverages. Oils like citronella, lemongrass, or lavender are believed to repel insects and are used in natural insect repellents or diffused to deter pests indoors. In certain traditional or alternative medicine practices, essential oils are used for their perceived medicinal properties to address various ailments. However, their efficacy in medical treatments may vary and should be used cautiously.

What Are the Types of Essential Oils?

Citrus Oils are extracted from citrus fruits like lemon, orange, grapefruit, and lime. These oils often have refreshing and uplifting scents and are used for their energizing and mood-enhancing properties. Herbal oils are produced from lavender, peppermint, chamomile, and rosemary. Lavender, for example, is known for its calming effects, while peppermint is often used for its cooling and invigorating properties.

Floral oils are derived from rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and geranium. These oils typically have sweet, floral scents and are popular in aromatherapy for relaxation and mood improvement. Woody oils are obtained from trees and woods like cedarwood, sandalwood, pine, and cypress. These oils often have grounding and earthy scents, believed to promote a sense of stability and relaxation.

Spice Oils are derived from cinnamon, clove, ginger, and black pepper. These oils tend to have warm, spicy aromas and are used for stimulating and invigorating properties. Resin Oils are extracted from resins such as frankincense and myrrh. These oils often have rich, warm scents and are valued for their calming and meditative effects.

What Are the Causes of Toxic Essential Oils?

Essential oils contain different chemical compounds, some of which can be toxic in concentrated forms or in excess. For instance, certain oils may contain high levels of compounds like phenols or ketones that can be harmful when not properly diluted. Using essential oils in excessive quantities or applying them undiluted directly to the skin can overwhelm the body's tolerance levels, leading to adverse reactions. Ingesting essential oils, which are highly concentrated, can be particularly risky as they may cause irritation to the digestive tract or even lead to systemic toxicity.

People can have varying degrees of sensitivity or allergic reactions to specific compounds in essential oils, making them more susceptible to adverse effects even with small amounts. Contaminants or impurities in essential oils and the use of adulterated or low-quality oils can increase the likelihood of adverse reactions. Improper diffusion methods, inhalation, or topical application without following recommended guidelines can also contribute to toxicity.

What Are the Symptoms of Toxic Essential Oils?

If used undiluted or in high concentrations, some oils can cause burns or blisters. Inhaling certain essential oils, especially in excessive amounts or poorly ventilated spaces, can produce breathing difficulties or airway irritation. Ingesting or consuming certain essential oils can result in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or other gastrointestinal discomfort.

Some individuals might experience headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness when exposed to certain oils' strong or concentrated aromas. For those sensitive or allergic to specific compounds in essential oils, exposure can trigger allergic reactions such as itching, swelling, or hives. In severe cases of toxicity, exposure to certain essential oils may lead to neurological symptoms like confusion, seizures, or even loss of consciousness.

How to Manage Toxic Essential Oil?

Immediately stop using toxic essential oils. If the exposure occurred through skin contact, washing the contact area is essential. Avoid further exposure to the oil. Ensure proper ventilation in the area where the exposure occurred, especially if the toxicity resulted from inhalation. Reduce the amount of the essential oil by diluting the afflicted region with a carrier fluid (such as coconut or olive oil) if the oil was applied directly and causing discomfort.

In some cases, applying a soothing agent like aloe vera gel may help ease discomfort. If symptoms persist or worsen, or if there's ingestion or severe reactions, seek medical attention immediately. Contact a healthcare professional poison control center or visit the emergency room for appropriate guidance and treatment. When seeking medical help, provide as much information as possible about the essential oil used, the application method, the duration of exposure, and the symptoms experienced.

This will aid healthcare providers in administering appropriate care. Take precautions to prevent further exposure. Store essential oils securely, out of reach of children or pets. Be cautious about the potential risks of using essential oils, and always follow recommended guidelines for their safe usage. Educate yourself and others about the potential risks associated with essential oils. Understanding proper dilution methods, safe usage guidelines, and being aware of individual sensitivities can significantly reduce the chances of toxicity.


Essential oils, while natural, are potent substances that demand respect and caution in their usage. Understanding the potential for toxicity and being mindful of proper application and dosage are paramount. By acknowledging the causes, symptoms, and management of toxic essential oils, individuals can harness their benefits safely while minimizing the risks associated with their use.

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Swetha. R.
Swetha. R.



essential oil toxicity
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