Are essential oils safe to ingest? There is an awful lot of controversy throughout the internet on whether or not it is safe ingesting essential oils.
Many people say no, while just as many others give testimonials on how they've never had any issues, and even feel better than ever when they do. Then there are many who are coming out to warn others about internal injuries.
Before we dive into some of the science, please know ingesting isn't needed. The biggest problem I have with ingesting (although I personally have on occasion to accomplish a specific goal), is that there is very little research done, especially in regards to how oils effect our digestive tracts. I'll do my best in this article to summarize the research we have been able to find.
What The FDA Says About Ingesting Essential Oils
Although the FDA regards essential oils as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) for ingestion, many certified aromatherapists advocate against ingesting oils.
Arguably there are many substances the FDA refers to as GRAS that we shouldn't be within 10 feet of… so I tend to take FDA guidelines with a grain of salt, so to speak.
Essential oils are legally considered supplements. Supplement safety and effectiveness are not regulated by the FDA.
This does not mean it is ok to pop open a bottle of essential oil and start drinking it!! This also does not mean all essential oils are created equally.
You should first know where your oils come from and how to choose which ones, and which brand, to use before getting started. There is a lot to be said about knowing where your food comes from… essential oils are no different.
It is true, you can receive just as many health benefits from oils using them by diffusing or applying topically, arguably more since inhaling and rubbing them (diluted) on your skin reaches the blood stream faster and without digestive intervention.
How Ingesting Essential Oils Effects Your Body
Metabolizing essential oils sometimes causes the production of electrophiles in your liver. Electrophiles are highly reactive molecules that may become toxic without additional processing. With that said, any substance in large enough quantities may overwhelm your liver and produce more electrophiles than your liver can metabolize.
This is where the digestive risk is with consuming essential oils internally, risking the health of your liver, and reducing your glutathione levels. This stresses the importance that IF you are going to ingest essential oils to ensure you're only ingesting them in small amounts.
Importantly, it takes a LOT of essential oils to deplete glutathione, produce electrophiles, or cause liver damage. Studies suggest that 0.5 mL/kg of cassia essential oils in rats may deplete glutathione. If this data were scaled up, it would take 35 mL to even start to deplete glutathione in a human body.
There is a report of a one-time ingestion of 30 mL of pennyroyal essential oil that resulted in massive hepatic necrosis in an 18-year old girl. Because of this information, we do not recommend ingestion of excessive amounts of essential oil.
The risk of ingesting large amounts of oil is also evident in two other case reports of children aged 15 months and 2 years ingested between 5-20 mL of clove essential oil. Both children suffered liver damage as a result.
In rats, large doses of menthol in soybean oil (equivalent to 15 mL/day) for 28 days caused vacuoles in the liver.
Reviewing this data, it is likely that damage to the liver is dependent on the dose (as is the case with most supplements). We can plainly see that massive doses, especially massive doses over time, may cause liver damage.
I really hope I don't have to say it, but just in case… PLEASE DO NOT INGEST A FULL BOTTLE OF ESSENTIAL OIL, even if the FDA does list it as GRAS.
Should you ingest essential oils?
Asking if something is safe is different from asking if it's something you should do.
Should you? Honestly, only you can answer that.
As I've mentioned earlier in my safety series, essential oils are a very personal experience. Some practices and oils will work for one person that may or may not work for you.
Each oil will affect different people differently and is largely dependent on your individual biology. They are also highly concentrated, and deserve to be treated with respect.
Many people ingest essential oils regularly and feel better for doing so. Some people also ingest oils and over time develop medical complications they assumed wouldn't happen because oils are “natural.”
I often cringe when people blindly give advice such as dropping lemon, peppermint, grapefruit, …etc… into their water to drink. These are not oils you would want to put directly on your skin without proper dilution, so putting them in water to drink would be way outside my comfort zone and is not something I would suggest to anyone.
Remember, oil and water don't mix.
I'm not saying those who do are wrong, though I would ask them to continue reading through research literature and not do it every day for years without caution. When using topically, water will cause the oil to spread and drive it further into the skin. This makes “hot” oils such as peppermint feel even “hotter.” Because of this, I cringe seeing people drink oils in water.
If you're looking for a great way to make your water taste better and achieve the health benefits of lemons, add a lemon slice to your water. Dropping lemon oil (or any other type of essential oil) into water can damage your esophagus and strip your mucus membranes. If you're comfortable and set on ingesting oils, please dilute them properly.
Please dilute oils to take internally is very similar to diluting when applying topically…
Common essential oil brands, and whether you may ingest their oils
Many essential oil brands flat out disclose not to ingest their oils. Without discussing or speculating why, we are respecting their decision and also suggesting not to ingest them.
- Ameo/Zija – Yes. Ameo claims their oils are safe for ingesting, and provides information about adding oils to drinks, foods, and supplements. Please note, they do not suggest safe ingesting practices (such as adding essential oil directly to water without any type of carrier). So make sure you are using them internally in a safe manner if you choose to.
- Art Naturals – No. Art Naturals specifically states their oils are for “topical and aromatic use only.”
- Aura Cacia – No. Aura Cacia does not recommend their essential oils to be safe for ingesting.
- doTERRA – Yes. doTERRA claims you may ingest their essential oils, and provides numerous recipes for creating your own supplements, drinks, and food items. Often their suggested internal uses aren't considered safe, with not promoting safe dilution practices. So make sure you are using them internally in a safe manner if you choose to.
- Eden's Garden – No. Eden's Garden specifically states: “Do not use internally, unless directed by a licensed Aromatherapist or physician.”
- Melaleuca – NO. Their labels specifically state their oils are only for aromatic or topical use. I also recommend to absolutely not ingest Melaleuca essential oils. Having been personally injured by their “healthy” claims of their other products and witnessed numerous marketing lies that leads me to have lost 100% of my trust in this company and its quality claims.
- Now – No. Now does not recommend you take their essential oils internally, and there have been many reports of their oils not being true plant-based essential oils.
- Plant Therapy – No. Plant Therapy does not recommend their essential oils to be safe for ingesting.
- Revive – Yes. Revive claims on their website you may ingest their essential oils, but I've noticed they do provide unsafe recommendations on internal use, including dripping directly into your mouth, into your beverages, and making your own supplements completely undiluted. So make sure you are using them internally in a safe manner if you choose to.
- Rocky Mountain – No. Rocky Mountain does not recommend their essential oils to be safe for ingesting.
- Saje – No. While Saje's website specifically does not state to not ingest, their recommended uses are all specifically diffusing or topical use.
- Simply Earth – No. While their website specifically does not state to not ingest, their recommended uses are all specifically diffusing or topical use. Please be careful in following their recommendations for topical or water use… they do recommend using oils in a bath without any way to disperse the oil in the water, which can cause skin reactions. Make sure you're using their oils safely.
- Young Living – YES. In fact, they've created their own label of Vitality Essential Oils to ensure you know which oils are safe to ingest, so there is no risk of mix up… and to conform with the FDA's law that states a supplement cannot be both topical and oral. They also provide recipes for creating your own supplements, drinks, and foods. Sometimes the company and reps do not recommend safe uses in drinks, so make sure you are using them internally in a safe manner if you choose to.
- Veriditas – No. While their website specifically does not state to not ingest, their recommended uses are all specifically limited to diffusing or topical use
A list of essential oils you may ingest, if you choose to
- Basil – may help support your digestive system
- Bergamot – may help support your digestive system, skin, and emotional wellness
- Black Pepper – may help support you digestive and nervous systems
- Caraway – may help support your digestive system
- Cardamom – may help sooth or support your digestive system
- Carrot Seed – may help support your cardiovascular and nervous systems, and your skin health
- Celery Seed – may help support your digestive, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems
- Cilantro – may support a healthy immune system
- Cinnamon Bark – may support a healthy immune system
- Clove – may help support healthy cardiovascular, digestive, immune, and respiratory system
- Copaiba – may help support healthy cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems, emotional health, and skin wellness
- Coriander – may help support healthy digestive and hormonal systems
- Cumin – may help support healthy digestive and immune systems
- Dill – may help support a healthy digestive system
- Fennel – may help support healthy digestive and hormonal systems
- Frankincense – may help support healthy immune and nervous systems, emotional health, and skin health
- German Chamomile – may help support a healthy nervous system, emotional health, and skin health
- Ginger – may help support healthy digestive and nervous systems
- Grapefruit – may help support a healthy cardiovascular system and healthy weight
- Jade Lemon – may help support healthy digestive and immune systems, and skin health
- Laurus Nobilis – may help support healthy respiratory, digestive, and immune systems
- Lavender – may help support healthy cardiovascular and nervous systems, emotional health, and skin health
- Lemon – may help support healthy digestive, immune, and respiratory systems
- Lemongrass – may help support healthy immune and musculoskeletal systems
- Lime – may help support healthy digestive, immune, and respiratory systems
- Marjoram – may help support healthy cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems
- Mountain Savory – may help support a healthy immune system
- Nutmeg – may help support healthy hormonal, immune, and nervous systems
- Orange – may help support healthy digestive and immune systems, healthy emotions, and skin health
- Oregano – may help support healthy immune, respiratory, and musculoskeletal systems
- Parsley – may help support healthy immune and digestive systems
- Peppermint – may help support healthy digestive, nervous, respiratory, and musculoskeletal systems, and skin health
- Rosemary – may help support healthy immune, respiratory, and nervous systems
- Sage – may help support healthy hormonal and immune systems
- Spearmint – may help support a healthy digestive system and emotional health
- Tangerine – may help support a healthy immune system, emotional health, and skin health
- Tarragon – may help support a healthy digestive system and autonomic nervous system
- Thyme – may help support healthy immune and musculoskeletal systems
Pre-Made essential oil blends you may ingest, if you choose to
- Citrus Fresh – may help support a healthy immune system and emotional health
- DiGize – digestive wellness
- EndoFlex – hormonal wellness
- GLF – supports a healthy digestive system, specifically liver and gallbladder health
- JuvaCleanse – helps support healthy digestion and your body's natural detoxification processes
- JuvaFlex – helps support healthy digestion and emotions, specifically through cleansing your liver
- Longevity – helps support a healthy cardiovascular system, and may help prevent premature aging
- SclarEssence – helps support healthy digestive and hormonal systems, and may help reduce bloating and balance your body's pH
- Thieves – supports a healthy immune system
How to properly dilute essential oils to consume:
- Put a drop or two into a capsule, and fill the rest of the capsule up with a seed-based carrier oil (such as avocado, coconut, or olive, oil)
- Dilute a drop of essential oil in a teaspoon of honey prior to adding to tea, lemonade, or water
- Drip a drop or two on to a slice of bread. This way, you won't be harming your esophagus.
- Add your oils to honey before adding to tea
- Add some to olive or avocado oil to create a new spin on your homemade salad dressings, dipping sauces, or other recipes
Adding essential oils to drinks
I see them all over Pinterest, and often have friends and customers ask me if its ok because of it. Again, if you're comfortable with ingesting and have determined its right for your family, I still advocate for you to dilute them appropriately first. Lavender lemonade sounds delicious, but you could have the same results infusing lavender flowers to your lemonade. If you choose to use the essential oil, dilute it in honey before mixing the honey into the rest of the drink.
One thing I DO NOT advocate is adding essential oils to your water. I have a surprisingly large amount of friends who do so and swear by it, but I also am a science nerd who knows how well oil and water mix.DO NOT dilute essential oils in water... oil and water don't mix. Instead, opt for something like honey to add your oils to first, and then stir in your water or drink.
Looking at applying oils topically: when you add them on your skin and feel a burning sensation you know you need to dilute. With that process, if you dilute with water it will drive the oils in faster and make them feel “hotter.” When you use a carrier oil, it dilutes the oil and spreads them out over a larger area and relieves that skin irritation.
When I think of ingesting oils in water, I think of the same thing. If you're going to add oils to water, please add them first to some sea salt, honey, or something that will dissolve them before adding water.
Many oils (like lemon and peppermint) are known for stripping mucous membranes. That's not something I'm comfortable with doing to my esophagus and there has been reports of esophageal damage because of adding oils to water. Of course, those reports do not disclose how much oil was used, so the results are bias and subjective. This is where your personal comfort level and doing your due diligence to research how you plan to use oils is paramount.
Risks to consuming essential oils
There have been many reports of people dying and becoming extremely sick after drinking an ounce of essential oil. Please… don't drink a bottle of oil. 5ml, 10ml, 15ml, or 30ml bottles… they are all meant to have the essential oil drip out of them, not pop off the top and consumed as a whole. This means for those of us with small kids… keep the oils out of reach!
The chemical composition of essential oils contain highly concentrated constituents, which may be harmful or cause discomfort when consumed in quantities higher than a few HIGHLY DILUTED drops.
In addition to adverse reactions like allergies, and unwanted effects on nursing/pregnancy, young children and the elderly, some essential oils contain constituents that when ingested may cause seizures, respiratory failure, and kidney failure regardless of age or circumstance.
- Roman Chamomile Oil (Arthemis nobilis) can cause gastrointestinal upset, allergic reactions, bronchospasm, and can stimulate the uterus.
- Cinnamon Oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) can lead to hypersensitivity, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and oral lesions.
- Clove Oil (Syzygium aromaticum) can cause oral irritation, allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, respiratory symptoms, and seizures.
- Eucalyptus Oil (Eucalyptus globulus) includes 1,8 cineole (eucalyptol) and hydrocyanic acid, responsible for vomiting, abdominal pain, respiratory depression, dizziness, headaches, ataxia, obtundation, coma, and seizures.
- Pennyroyal Oil (Mentha pulegium) contains pulegone, responsible for nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even kidney failure.
- Peppermint Oil (Mentha species) may lead to hypersensitivity, ataxia (a lack of voluntary muscle coordination), and myalgia (muscle pain).
- Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) can cause ataxia, stupor, and sores.
This information can be found in Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed. (2007) in “TABLE 101-1 — Selected Essential Oils and Their Toxicities.”
I don't tell you this to freak you out… but to help provide you with a healthy respect for essential oils and how to use them in a safe manner.
Pre-made supplement drinks featuring essential oils
NingXia Red, NingXia Zyng, and NingXia Nitro are also good (pre-made) essential oil infused drinks offered through Young Living.
The NingXia line of drinks provide an antioxidant boost with some essential oils mixed in appropriately.
I was surprised at how much more clearly I was thinking and more energetic I felt after taking an ounce a day for a week. I do not take more than an ounce a day, and often don't take it every day. I know people who take more, but after trying two ounces in one day I felt like I was stressing my body. Though I do tend to be more physically sensitive and use oils more conservatively. Your body is different from mine, and I'm sure you will notice different results.
These drinks are the only way I ingest essential oils regularly.
Cooking with essential oils
Yes!! You CAN cook with essential oils.
Have you ever looked at the labels on the extracts in your kitchen? I was curious and started looking at mine. The lemon extract in my kitchen cupboard is comprised lemon essential oil and alcohol.
What quality? I have no idea, but if I had to guess based on how much I paid for that extract, I would assume probably “food grade essential oil,” which isn't something you necessarily want in your body.
I ran out of lemon extract the other day and used a few drops of Young Living's lemon vitality essential oil (pre-diluting it in my recipe's called for cooking oil) instead of the extract and LOVED how it turned out – my favorite place to add lemon vitality essential oil is in blueberry pancakes or muffins. Bright and flavorful.
Our favorite essential oils company, Young Living, actually has a whole line of essential oils under the Vitality label that are specific for using to ingest and cook with. They do this because some oils shouldn't be ingested, and some essential oils that may be ingested have species that shouldn't be (like cinnamon). Having the Vitality label helps take the guess work out of which oils you could use internally.
Just a tip when cooking using essential oils... Oils are not herbs. They do not get stronger the longer you cook. If you choose to substitute oils for herbs (which I do a lot when traveling and moving), add the oils at the last moment possible when your pan is on low heat.
When we heat oils too high, they can become damaged and don't provide any therapeutic benefits.
What about using as a mouth-rinse?
I was just reading a study on PubMed, titled An investigation of the effect of an essential oil mouth rinse on induced bacteraemia: a pilot study. I found their results intriguing! Basically, the study found rinsing one's mouth with essential oils reduced bacteria levels in the bloodstream in those having mild-to-moderate gingivitis.
You may also love adding a drop of Thieves blend or lemon essential oil into your coconut oil for oil pulling, but as mentioned above, I do not support dropping oils directly into water without first binding them to some sort of salt or carrier oil (coconut oil is a perfect example of a carrier oil).
Keep in mind, there are oils you absolutely shouldn't consume!
For example, Wintergreen is considered unsafe to ingest. It can cause ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, stomach pain, and confusion. It can be poisonous for children (deadly if ingesting 4-10ml), which is why there is typically a child-safe cap on the oil vials.
Before you ingest, PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don't blindly follow what others do, even “experts” blogging online.
More in my Safety Series:
- 12 Rules for Using Essential Oils Safely
- Diffusing Essential Oils Safely
- Essential Oils – Medication Contraindications
- For a list of our recipes and drinks head over to our recipes list!
- Essential Oil Industry Shocking Secrets You Need To Know
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