Should anyone take essential oils internally?

At the Complementary Health Professionals office we are receiving numerous calls and emails about internal use following the advocacy of such practices from certain multi-level marketing sales companies. To help all our members, we have produced a policy statement on the subject advising anyone who may be considering becoming such a sales advisor and we know that other professional associations have made similar announcements. But what are the consequences of taking oils internally and why is this such a big issue here in the UK? Another question we are being asked more and more frequently is "what is a therapeutic grade essential oil and how does this compare to 100% pure essential oils?” This article aims to put the myths to rest and give the aromatherapist and general consumer the clear facts. Let's take each issue separately and start with internal use.

Firstly, the Aromatherapy Council (AC), the lead body for Aromatherapy in the UK, states in its Core Curriculum that essential oils should only be applied topically (a copy of which can be found at http://www.aromatherapycouncil.org.uk/standards). This means that all aromatherapists who have undergone accredited aromatherapy training in the UK or followed the UK syllabus will not have studied the complex pharmacology of how essential oils interact with our internal systems. Therefore they are not qualified to administer essential oils internally without further medical training, nor are they insured. There is a possibility of essential oil molecules being changed by digestive enzymes, strong acids and metabolism in the gastrointestinal tract and potential for liver damage (Price 2012). As an aromatherapist, what you will have learned is that essential oils are complex natural chemicals, some of which contain harmful toxins and you will have studied essential oil chemistry in some depth. As a result, you will know that even topically, essential oils need to be diluted in a base product in the main as they can cause skin irritation and sensitisation. Therefore, it is my belief and that of the majority of highly trained aromatherapists I have the pleasure to call my colleagues, that only an aromatherapist who has had extensive training can advise on the correct use of essential oils on the skin, especially where the client is taking medication or may be pregnant.

One case in point is a recent posting on Facebook of a woman who applied essential oils neat on her skin and then went to a tanning salon, exposing herself to UV radiation. Aromatherapists are trained to know which oils are phototoxic and to advise clients accordingly, so this situation with terrible burns would not have occurred in trained hands. Additionally, we as aromatherapists would rarely advocate undiluted application of essential oils even onto the skin with a few exceptions.

Marguerite Maury, who was a trained nurse and surgical assistant, is affectionately known as the Mother of Modern Aromatherapy Practice. In the 1940's, she lectured on the subject and fundamentally developed the topical method we use in practice today because of concerns surrounding the internal use of essential oils by doctors in France and she ad