Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Worth the Hype?

Gayle Nicholas Scott, PharmD


September 15, 2015

In This Article

Are Essential Oils Safe to Use?

The use of essential oils appears to be safe for most people, on the basis of the low frequency of adverse effects reported in the medical literature.

Most adverse effects have been skin irritation and contact dermatitis after application of essential oils to the skin. The most frequently implicated essential oils are bergamot, laurel, lavender, peppermint, tea tree oil, and ylang-ylang.

Inhalation has been associated with adverse effects more rarely.[18]

Patients with broken skin, poor circulation, epilepsy, and asthma should use essential oils with caution.

Very little information is available about the oral use of essential oils as aromatherapy.

Safety in pregnant women or children has not been established. In the limited research available, aromatherapy does not seem to have adverse effects on the mother (eg, duration of labor, mode of delivery) or the baby.[14]

Two studies have used topical lavender essential oil applied directly or in bathwater for colicky[19] or crying[20] infants, but adverse events were not addressed in either report. Given the higher surface area-to-weight ratio of infants, caution is advised with topical application.[21]

In summary, more large-scale, well-designed, randomized, controlled trials are needed to define the role of essential oils in medical care. Essential oils should not be used in place of established medical therapy to treat, cure, or prevent disease.


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