Are all essential oils safe?

CHARLESTON — The use of essential oils for medicinal use (drinking the product, placing the oil on the skin or in a vaporizer), air freshening, and cleaning has increased in popularity over the last several years. Despite their widespread use and popularity, some of these oils can be a poison hazard, especially if used incorrectly.

Essential oils are made from plants by removing the oils that give plants their associated aromas. Essential oils are usually named after their plant source. For example: eucalyptus oil, clove oil, sassafras oil. Unlike medications, essential oils are not tested or regulated. Therefore, it is not possible to know if the bottle actually contains what is written on the label. In some cases, the same oil may contain different ingredients or different amounts of ingredients.

Essential oils typically do not come in child resistant containers and can be easily opened by children who are attracted by the smell and curiosity. Examples of oils which can be toxic if children swallow them include:

  • Oil of wintergreen – often used to relieve muscle pain, clear stuffy noses, or as a flavoring
  • Tea tree oil/Melaleuca – often used to treat skin wounds.
  • Oil of camphor/camphorated oil – often used for itchy bug bites or to treat burns

The West Virginia Poison Center recommends the following regarding essential oils:

Store all essential oils up and away from children and pets. Many essential oils are not in child-resistant (“child-proof”).

Consider the use of safer alternatives. For example, triple antibiotic ointment instead of tea tree oil for treatment of simple cuts.

Never overuse an essential oil. More is not better.

If you have a poisoning concern, call the West Virginia Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

About the West Virginia Poison Center:

The West Virginia Poison Center provides comprehensive emergency poison information, prevention and educational resources to West Virginians 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The WVPC is staffed by nurses, pharmacists and physicians with special training in treatment of poisonings. Located in Charleston, WV, the WVPC is a part of the West Virginia University-Charleston Division and located next to CAMC Memorial Hospital. Toll-free:1-800-222-1222.

Submitted by Carissa McBurney, community outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Poison Center.