December 14, 2018

Essential oils like Doterra are increasingly popular, but they might not be as harmless as we think.

They may seem like a harmless product, and you might feel that you’re helping out a friend or family member by buying from them.

Unfortunately, essential oils may be a lot less innocuous than you think, as CHOICE recently discovered.

NSW Poisons Information Centre does not recommend consuming essential oils or even using them on your skin without a carrier oil (which dilutes essential oils before they’re applied to the skin).

“There’s very little information around the safety and efficacy of most essential oils, although we do have good data around the toxicity of a few,” says Genevieve Adamo, the centre’s senior specialist in poisons information and toxicovigilance.

“Eucalyptus oil, clove oil and peppermint oil are particularly nasty – ingesting as little as 2–3ml can cause sedation or drowsiness and 5ml can cause coma.

“We’ve also seen instances where people have picked up the wrong bottle and inadvertently dosed their child or baby with 5ml of an essential oil instead of 5ml of a medicine. That has the potential to cause serious poisoning.”

Ingestion of some essential oils can cause:
•mucosal irritation
•and chronic exposure can potentially cause organ damage.

“Even with very small exposures there’s a risk that they can be aspirated into the airways which can cause a chemical pneumonitis, which is damaging to the lungs,” says Adamo.

If poisoning occurs from ingesting essential oil, call 000 or the poisons information hotline on 13 11 26.

Doterra’s website states that “all [essential oil] application methods are safe when used appropriately including aromatic, topical, and internal methods” and that oils can be used in recipes to replace herbs or spices, added to water, tea, smoothies or other drinks, or taken internally (the company also provides recipes).

“People have a perception that anything natural is safe and that’s not the case,” says Adamo.

2–3ml can cause sedation or drowsiness and 5ml can cause coma

In 2017, NSW Poisons fielded 66 calls about exposure to Doterra oils. So far in 2018, there have been 90.

“We’re certainly seeing a much larger number of calls about exposures to these essential oils, which used to be unheard of,” says Adamo.

“We have significant concerns around the fact that we do not know if the people selling essential oils have any independent qualifications or training, and that the Poisons Centre has never, to its knowledge, been consulted to provide information regarding the safety or toxicity around essential oils for the purpose of using it to train people.”

Jon Wardle, associate professor of Public Health at Sydney’s University of Technology says it’s important to remember just how concentrated essential oils are, and that companies selling them often promote use that isn’t evidence-based.

“To be fair, even Doterra has put some money into research, but most of the research that does exist [into essential oils] is all relatively limited and inconclusive,” says Wardle.

Be wary who you are buying from!

Both Adamo and Wardle say they have growing concerns about the rise of unregulated, home-based ‘wellness’ distributors who dispense advice to consumers that they’re not qualified to give.

“The main concern is that a lot of sellers are just normal everyday people – no medical training, no health literacy, they’re not qualified professionals able to make judgements,” says Wardle.

“Would you consider buying medications from people who aren’t qualified health professionals?” she says.

“And the people who are selling these products need to consider their responsibility and liability in the information that they’re providing to their customers.”

Share your comments below

Image via CHOICE

  • Thanks for the article you wouldn’t think they could harm you!


  • And essential oil are very dangerous to pets too! The tea tree oil in particular can be poisonous to dogs.

    • Yep! So important to care for pets too and to be ever cautious.


  • Essential oils can become really dangerous gases if they’re heated up. I avoid all of them. No matter the brand.


  • I know you’re not supposed to use essential oils when you’re pregnant but plenty of people do.


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