Essential Oil Safety

We all love to use essential oils and they can be incredibly useful, but some of them can be extremely harmful when in contact with the skin. Here are some essential oils to be wary of. 

Dermal Irritants

A dermal irritant will produce an immediate effect of irritation on the skin. The reaction will be represented on the skin as blotchy or redness, which may be painful to some individuals. The severity of the reaction will depend on the concentration (dilution) applied.General safety guidelines include: avoid application of known dermal irritant essential oils on any inflammatory or allergic skin condition; avoid undiluted application; avoid application on open or damaged skin; and dilute known dermal irritants with appropriate vegetable oil or other carrier.

Tip: Use a skin patch test!

Common Dermal Irritants:


-Cinnamon Bark or Lead (*Bark is more irritating than leaf)

-Clove Bud




-Lemon Verbena



-Thyme containing Thymol

Dermal Sensitizers

Repeated exposure to these oils on the skin will cause sensitization. It occurs on first exposure to a substance, but on this occasion, the noticeable effect on the skin will be slight or absent. However, subsequent exposure to the same material, or to a similar one with which there is cross-sensitization, produces a severe inflammatory reaction brought about by cells of the immune system. Sensitization is, to an extent, unpredictable, as some individuals will be sensitive to a potential allergen and some will not, so it’s best to avoid these oils.

Dermal Sensitizers


-Cinnamon Bark

-Peru Balsam

-Verbena Absolute

-Turpentine Oil



-Oxidized oils from Pinaceae family (e.g., Pinus and Cupressus species) and Rutaceae family (e.g., citrus oils)


An essential oil that exhibits this quality will cause burning or skin pigmentation changes, such as tanning, on exposure to sun or similar light (ultraviolet rays). Reactions can range from a mild color change through to deep weeping burns. Do not use or recommend the use of photosensitizing essential oils prior to going into a sun tanning booth or the sun.


-Angelica Root



-Distilled or expressed grapefruit (low risk)

-Expressed lemon

-Expressed lime

-Orange, bitter (expressed)


Mucous Membrane Irritant

A mucous membrane irritant will produce a heating or drying effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, nose, and reproductive organs. It is recommended that mucus membrane irritating essential oils not be used in a full body bath unless placed in a dispersant first (e.g., milk, vegetable oil).

Mucous Membrane Irritants



-Cinnamon bark* or leaf

-Clove bud* or lead*



-Thyme containing thymol*



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