Plant Power: Essential Oil Safety Primer

May 05, 2016

Essential oils are volatile molecules found in the cells of aromatic plants. They are the lifeblood of plants. We extract them by steam distillation and physical expression of raw plant matter. Essential oils have been used for centuries to address and support physical, emotional and spiritual issues.

The growing popularity and availability of essential oils puts us in contact with them more and more in our products. Essential oils are natural, so why would there be safety considerations? They exist in plants for two reasons: protection and communication. (1) They attract pollinators and insects that are beneficial to the plant, they protect from predators and illness, and they deter herbivores from munching (ever wonder why your garden herbs are deer resistant?). It makes sense that essential oils can function in similar ways when used by humans. The right amount of them can balance congested skin, soothe a headache, stimulate uterine contractions or ease anxiety. The wrong amount can cause skin irritation and other adverse or unwelcome side effects. THEY ARE POWERFUL and should not be underestimated!

Pretty often we’re asked about the safety of essential oils in our products and so we’ve put together a quick and easy primer to answer your most frequently asked questions. We will be updating this post, so check back!


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The use of essential oils during pregnancy and nursing is a confusing topic- and a simple google search yields a ton of contradictory information. Here are 3 rules of thumb for pregnancy:

1. Be sure to always consult with your health practitioner about essential oil use during your first trimester. Every body and circumstance is different! It’s better to err on the side of caution and safety.

2. Never rub essential oils directly onto a pregnant belly.

3. It is also recommended to avoid neat or internal application of essential oils..

If you have specific questions regarding essential oils and use, please get in contact!

Safe: Cardamon, German and Roman Chamomile, Frankincense (species carterii), Geranium, Ginger, Neroli, Patchouli, Petitgrain, Rosewood, Rose, Sandalwood, and other nontoxic essential oils (includes Lavender (species angustifolia), all Citruses, etc).
Avoid: Basil (ct. estragole), Clary Sage, Lemon Basil, Frankincense papyrifera (species carterii is okay), Lemon Balm, Lemon Leaf, Lemongrass (may irritate skin: use below 1%), May Chang, Melissa, Myrtle, Nasturtium, Lemon Tea Tree, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Verbena

MMT + Pregnancy
If you’re super sensitive to scent (that pregnant nose!)- we have a  few unscented items like our Face + Body Cream, Cocoa Skin Cream and most of our Baby line. The only products that we don’t indicate while pregnant are the Black Walnut Sage Soap and Tangerine Basil Soap and please do a patch test with our Lavender Lemongrass Body Oil before using to make sure you don’t experience irritation. Our Cleanser and Salt Scrub contain Basil (ct. linalool) with is generally regarded as safe.

Children 6 years or under
Young children can use many essential oils but the safest are Lavender, Sweet Orange and Roman and German Chamomile. Please note that dilution should be below .5%. The list to avoid is long, but many of these are rarely used in skin care. I’ve highlighted the most common that are worth noting.
Avoid: Ajowan, Basil, Birch (sweet & tar), Buchu, Cajuput, Calamint, Cassia, Cinnamon, Clove, Cornmint, Eucalyptus (species radiata is okay), Feverfew, Garlic, Genipi, Ho Leaf (ct. Camphor), Hyssop (ct. Pinocamphone), Lanyana, Spanish Lavender (Lavandula stoechs), Leek, Mugwort, Niaouli (ct. Cineole), Nutmeg, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Pennyroyal, Peppermint, Perilla, Pimento, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), Tansy, Tea Tree, Tejpat, Thuja, Thyme, Western Red Cedar, Wintergreen, Wormwood

MMT + Children
Our Baby Line is perfect for children of any age. The Lavender Lemon and Rose Pink Clay soaps are great too. For adolescents and teens, the deodorants and facial care products are absolutely fine and great for getting your kid started on the natural route!

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Cats are missing a liver enzyme that most mammals have that allows them to metabolize many constituents in essential oils. It’s generally regarded as UNSAFE to use essential oils topically on cats, and they should never be administered internally. The use of some hydrosols is okay topically. When diffusing, maintain good ventilation and circulation of fresh air. Make sure your cat can leave the area and only diffuse for 15 minutes at a time. (2)
Avoid: all Citruses, Basil, Birch, Clove, Hyssop, Oregano, Pennyroyal, Savory, Tansy, Tarragon, Tea Tree, Thuja and Wintergreen

Some essential oils can be used safely with great results at a LOW dilution with dogs. The guidelines for children under 6 are the ones to follow. Once again, hydrosols can be just as effective and are much less risky. (3) We love lavender hydrosol for repelling bugs on our family dog!

MMT + Dogs
Our Shampoo Bar and Insect Repellent are safe for dogs.

Birds + Other Small Animals
No, just don’t. Please make sure not to diffuse essential oils around these small and sensitive animals either!

Some essential oils can cause the skin to burn easily when exposed to UV rays- meaning you can’t go out in the sun for 12 to 14 hours after applying these oils. Most of these are citrus essential oils, but not all citrus essential oils are phototoxic- and when used in low dilutions there is minimal risk of sensitization. Proper dilution is between 0.5% and 1%.
Phototoxic: Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon (expressed), Lime (expressed), Mandarin Leaf, Bitter Orange, Rue, Angelica Root, Cumin
NON-phototoxic Citrus: Bergamot FCF, Lemon (distilled), Lemon Leaf, Lime (distilled), Mandarin, Sweet Orange, Satsuma (expressed), Tangelo, Tangerine, Yuzu

MMT + Photosensitivity
We only use Bergamot FCF in our products, so when you see it listed, rest assured! Our Grapefruit Deodorant and Tangerine Lime Lip Balm both contain photosensitive oils in quantities below .5% as indicated. Please patch test both to make sure you are not sensitive.

1., Robert Tisserand, Date Unknown
2. Vicki Rae Thorne & Robert Tisserand, “Is Essential Oil Safe for Your Cat?”, Animal Wellness Magazine, July 2011
3. Nayana Morag, “The Aromatic Dog”, Off The Leash Press, LLC, June 2015

Resource & Bibliography
Essential Oil Safety, Robert Tisserand
The Aromatic Dog, Nayana Morag
Advanced Aromatherapy, Kurt Schnaubelt
National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy Website
Aromatherapy Level One Certification, NYIoA

Our products and the information on these pages are not intended to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose any medical condition and are not a substitute for the medical advice of a trained physician.

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