So first off, what are they? Essential oils are what make certain plants and fruits smell the way they do. Those little bottles we are used to seeing them in now is what happens after they have been carefully extracted from the plant and bottled. It's important to realize that it can take hundreds of pounds the real life plants to get enough essential oil to fill those little brown bottles we are so used to seeing. So, basically, that means essential oils are super strong.
If used properly, there are many studies showing the effectiveness of essential oils for a variety of applications, including stress relief (like chamomile) and antimicrobial treatments (like tea tree oil). Also, since they come directly from plants that grow in nature, they can be a natural, chemical-free way to achieve these outcomes.
Because they are oils, they are also extremely versatile. They can be diluted in carrier oils, like coconut or canola oil, and diffused to make a room smell pretty. Or, they can be added to cleaning supplies or DIY solutions to mask the smell of the cleaning agent without adding any "fragrance" chemicals, which have been shown to contain a mixture of up to 200 other chemicals, some of which are associated with health issues like infertility and asthma.
While essential oils occur naturally in our world, it doesn't mean they are without risk. The risk generally comes from the fact that essential oils are so strong. If used properly, they are generally agreed to be pretty safe, but if you use too much they can become dangerous, and in some cases cause pretty nasty reactions. This depends on the type of essential oil, and how much of it you use, but there are quite a few documented cases of people getting sick, developing burns from skin contact (1), or even hospitalization if ingested.
As essential oils have become extremely popular over the last few years, we keep learning more about how they interact with our world and our bodies. One thing that has come up is learning that certain types of essential oils, namely lavender and tea tree oil, can mess with people's endocrine systems. This means that your body's natural hormone processes get screwed up, and in certain cases regularly using products with lavender and tea tree oil has been found to cause prepubescent boys to start growing breasts. (2) The good news there is that when they stopped using the lotions, soaps, and hair gels with lavender essential oils, the problem resolved itself - whew! But, this just goes to show how powerful these oils can be on your body, especially if you use them all the time. Remember, each drop is like walking around with pounds of that plant on you, so use them sparingly.
Another consideration to keep in mind when using essential oils is that not everyone responds to them the same way. Often babies, children, and pets are more sensitive to them, so even small amounts can irritate them. We'd say go very easy on using essential oils or products that contain them in or around your baby, and ask your doctor or pediatrician if you are nervous or have questions. (3)
Same goes for pets. In general, both cats and dogs have way better senses of smell than people do, so what might smell pleasant in a large room to us, might be extremely overwhelming for your pets. (4) Also, be careful that they aren't accidentally licking the essential oils in any way. Just because they are safe for humans to use, does not mean they are safe for cats and dogs to eat. Bottom line, just be aware of your pets around essential oils and make sure they don't seem to be bothered in any way by them. If you are nervous, talk to your vet about it first.
The VerdictEssential oils should be used carefully and in moderation. Don't just run with the idea that they come from nature, so it's safe to use large amounts all the time. While you want to use them in moderation, we do suggest using essential oils properly instead of other things like candles or "fragrance" including body wash if you want a way to smell fresh and beautiful all day.
1) Miller, Karen. A Woman Developed Third-Degree Burns After Using DoTERRA Essential Oils. Self. April 27, 2017.
2) Henley DV, Lipson M, et al. Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils. New England Journal of Medicine 2007; 356:479-485.
3) Harper, Emma. Safe Essential Oils for Babies and How to Use Them. Healthline. July 1, 2016.
4) Wismer, Tina. Do Essential Oils Pose a Risk to Pets? VetStreet. May 26, 2016.