Updated: Dec 19, 2019
Please excuse the appearance of my copy of Tisserand and Youngs' 2nd Edition of Essential Oil Safety, 2007. I do pride myself in how I care for a book. I have since this picture repaired my precious book. It is in this condition out of much use and love. I rely on it daily and have for many years. It is the one book that started with my career as an Aromatherapist. It is the book that explained to me the importance of respect for oils and sustainability, the importance of having a basic knowledge of essential oil chemistry, the importance of safety, knowledge before use and so very much more. According to Tisserand, the book is based on reading 4,000 research papers over 25 years. It was obvious that some sort of guidelines needed to be set and although guidelines can change with emerging research, it gives us a basis for safe use of essential oils. I had the book for some time before taking my certification. With that, I found that a certification program alone was not enough, and I took the best Aromatherapy certification program. Going more in depth into the chemistry and safety as well as specific dilution rates of essential oils is a must in order to have the ability to blend with the safest most therapeutic efficiency that you can offer yourself and those you blend for.
As a former college Instructor, I noticed that students tend to skip sections, hopping around looking for answers and missing key information. An example is on the first day I would hand out the textbooks to my students. When they returned the next day, I asked them what the first thing was they turned to and rarely if ever was it the “introduction” of the book. This is so relevant and even more so with the Essential Oil Safety book.
A great deal of information is presented in the introduction. From the introduction includes quotes such as “Much of the safety information available online is misleading, confusing, wrong or simply absent”. Tisserand continues with clarifying the importance of ensuring that oils you purchase have a botanical name accompanying the description as well as a knowledge of the composition of the oil. Moving on, he continues with “Aromatherapy is not a single discipline but can include almost any application of essential oils to the human body. This would include natural perfumes (mixtures of essential oils, absolutes, etc.). We live in a world replete with toxic substances, yet ‘hazard’ should not be confused with ‘risk’. The presence of a toxic substance (hazard) is only problematic if exposure is sufficiently great (risk). Almost all edible fruits contain acetaldehyde, a probable human carcinogen. BUT bananas and blueberries are not regarded as carcinogenic because the amount of acetaldehyde are extremely small, and because the amounts of acetaldehyde are extremely small, and because there are large quantities of antioxidants, antimutagens and anticarcinogens also present in the fruits. Many essential oils, herb extracts and food contain tiny amounts of single constituents that alone, and in substantial amounts are toxic, but the parent natural substance is not toxic”. To refer to an easy reference of contraindications, turn to Appendix A.
Why Appendix A? In Appendix A, you'll find Clinical Safety starting on page 655. Before using any essential oil, start here. This section addresses health and reaction concerns with essential oils including but not limited to interactions with various diseases, interactions with medications, importance of diluting, oral dosing, patch testing, Cancer treatment, pregnancy, etc. It also points you in the directions of various boxes that include oils to avoid during pregnancy, very young children and children in general, elderly, medication contraindications, concentrations suitable for children, and more.
Next, let's look at dilution rates. Knowing dilution rates is important but the same dilution rate does not apply to all oils. Dilution does two things; 1) Slows the evaporation rate of your oil(s) allowing a higher percentage of penetrable components to enter the skin and 2) dilution protects the skin from possible irritation and/or sensitization. Dilution is dependent on many factors; safety per oil, the therapeutic action, site of application (total area), the individual, age, sensitivity (health and integrity of skin), the temperature of the skin. Before we go to the dilution charts, let’s look at the Essential oil profiles beginning on page 187.
The book has provided 400 profiles. Before you dig in, read the “Information given in the profiles” to better understand the terms used. For example, the common name for Lavender is Lavender. The botanical name, not to be confused with Latin name, is Lavendula angustifolia. Why is this important? Many plants, including Lavender, have several species (Latin name). I often see Tea tree referred to as “melaleuca”. This is a partial Latin name which can be any number of oils including Tea tree, Cajeput, Niaouli, honey Myrtle. Continue to read through this section before digging into the profiles. Tab your page; make notes, highlight.
We’re going to start at the very beginning with African Bluegrass on page 189. Don’t worry that this is not one you’ve used or are familiar with. Tisserand lists name, synonyms, botanical name and the family plant. The source of plants can be from leaves, grass, flowers, resin, roots.
Next are the key constituents. These components are the molecular structure within the oil. The therapeutic use and safety are dependent on these constituents. The first constituent listed for African bluegrass is b-Myrcene which is found in this oil and many more. It is part of the chemical family Monoterpene and can be found on page 603. A monoterpene is a chemical family amongst others that apply to essential oils and in these chemical families is where you find the various components (constituents). Any given oil can have more than one chemical family and anywhere from 2-200 components within the oil. You’ll find b-myrcene in many oils you may be familiar with. A few are Rosemary, Hemp, Hop, Juniper Berry, African Bluegrass, Lemongrass, white Pine, Ravensara leaf, Frankincense Boswellia frereana, and many more. Not all will have the same percentage as it varies from oil to oil. After each component, Tisserand has listed the approximate percentage of each component within the oil. I say “approximate” because it will have a slight variation in percentage depending on where your oil comes from and batch to batch. Tisserand has given an average range for each constituent, with B-Myrcene in the African bluegrass ranging from 15.4-20.2%.
STOP! I know you are tempted to look up each component under this oil but before you do, let’s discuss the rest of the information on the oil.
The next topic under the oil is Safety Summary and dependent on oil and if it applies to that particular oil, you may find acute toxicity, potential hazards (i.e.; potentially carcinogenic), contraindications, maximum adult dosage, maximum dermal use levels, and safety advise. He will also list any regulatory guidelines that may apply, any organ-specific effects such as adverse skin reactions or reproductive toxicity and systemic effects. The components (constituents) of concern will be mentioned here as well.
Components of essential oils is listed separately since they in themselves are where are safety concerns and therapeutic actions come from. Turning to page 603, we will find the pre-mentioned b-Myrcene. Under components you find notes, pharmacokinetics, adverse skin reactions, possible toxicity, in various areas including subacute, sub chronic, reproductive, mutagenicity and genotoxicity, etc. Although this all seems a bit confusing, at the end, Tisserands sums it up for us by noting that this is a non-irritating, non-toxic and non-allergenic and an antimutagenic component.
However, if we turn to page 641 and review the component Thymol and the safety advise, this particular component or constituent is quite the opposite in that it is a skin irritant if not used at or lower than a 1% maximum, and in cosmetic products at a low 0.5%, keeping in mind that “maximum” is for adult, healthy, unopened skin. Internally, thymol has antiplatelet aggregation activity, and is cautioned when taking anticoagulant drugs, major surgery, childbirth, peptic ulcers, hemophilia or other bleeding disorders. Thymol and components that are high risk is why we cringe when we see oils being taken internally.
Learning components therapeutic actions will help guide you in choosing your oils. You'll also discover that not all components penetrate the skin, some do but not well and others, such as b-myrcene, penetrate well and help support those that penetrate poorly such as b-caryophellane, by assisting them along and into the blood stream. B-caryophellane is praised for its amazing ability to combat pain but it couldn't do it or would give poor results without assistance. How cool is that!? Not only can b-myrcene offer support in penetration, others you can look to for this would include terpinene-4-ol and linalool (penetrates easily). Limonene does as well but in the sun or a tanning bed, it can cause photosensitization, which can be quite painful. Using it cautiously and with this in mind, it offers great penetration. These can be found on your GC/MS reports that should be provided with the oils you purchase.
The next section I’d like you to turn to is page 649, General safety guidelines. Here we find “first aid, safety in health, and general safety measures. Mr. Tisserand explains the signs and symptoms of toxicity including local skin irritation, allergic reaction, and photosensitization, especially related no undiluted oils. This section gives sources where to report injuries. On page 650, box 15.1 gives you the suggested general first aid procedures to follow if injuries occur. This includes injuries from ingestion, inhalation, eye contact, and skin contact.
Further down, he lists specific oils of concern and signs and symptoms to watch for. How can we avoid these injuries? On page 651 lists the guidelines to follow to prevent or manage adverse reactions.
The next two pages lists three charts: Essential oils that present a high risk of acute toxicity and carcinogenicity, Essential oils that present a known or probably risk of acute toxicity if ingested by children of 6 years and this chart continues on page 653. We’ll stop there today and next I will discuss Clinical Safety and by the time we are done, this book will remain by your side as your best reference guide.
Clinical Safety (pg. 655-660): This section starts with “Note: We advise checking the Safety Summary of individual essential oil profiles before using an essential oil”.
Clinical safety is a list of clinical terms and definitions and includes terms such as “baths” and do’s and don’ts for oils and water, safety with children, childbirth, eyes, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), patch testing, pregnancy, skin, sunlight/sunbeds, undiluted essential oils, vaporization and various other terms. This section is invaluable and brings to light many terms and concerns in the Aromatherapy world.
Since oral dosing is a “hot” topic these days, I do want to take a moment and quote some of the oral dosing information that Mr. Tisserand provided. “Oral dosing is accompanied by an increased risk of toxic reaction because of the possibility of higher blood levels and the potential risk of overdosing. Oral dosing increases the risk of interactions with prescribed drugs and radiotherapy, and of adverse reactions in specific groups, such as those with porphyria, or in pregnant women.
In order to avoid gastric irritation, orally ingested essential oils should be diluted in a suitable vehicle. In order to be effective, enterically coated capsules are needed in some cases, it is not recommended that anyone self-prescribe essential oils orally. Only practitioners permitted to do so according to the laws of their country of residence should prescribe essential oils for oral ingestion.” Tisserand, EO Safety, ED. 2007, pg. 658.
An example is the illness IBS which occurs in the lower bowel; something I personally have dealt with. Enteric capsules can make it through our system to the lower bowel where they dissolve where regular capsules would not work since they dissolve before reaching the lower bowel. What carrier is used is also relevant. Again, it's wise to consult with an Aromatherapy Practitioner for internal use.
Please review my article on my blog “Ingestion of Essential Oils-Cautiously Approached” for further information on ingestion and other applications of essential oils.
If you do not have this great book, I hope that this has encouraged to get it. And if you have it but felt intimidated, I hope this has eased that. The next section is on page 665. Many times, I see the question “how do you know what the dilution rates are”? Turning to page 665. You will find conversion tables for essential oils. Of course, these are standard rates and will vary depending on the oil, age of client, any possible medications or health issues.
To further understand dilution rates and much more, I highly recommend taking Robert Tisserands course on safety "The Essential Oil Master Class" offered through his website at https://tisserandinstitute.org. Along with his Masterclass are many other remarkable courses through his institution and presented by Mr. Tisserand as well as other remarkable people with various degrees of Aromatic knowledge. To learn more on the chemistry of essential oils, one of the best programs I've taken and enjoyed tremendously was Dr. Joy Bowles Chemistry Certification Program, Level 1 and I am planning on working on Level 2. It was a true new understanding to the workings of essential oils. Check out the course at https://tisserandinstitute.org/online-courses/
I’ve helped you work through several sections and now you are ready to take on this remarkable book. I hope you continue your journey into the world of Aromatherapy.
Other remarkable books I've gathered and enjoyed through the years include:
1. The Practice of Aromatherapy, Dr. Jean Valnet
2. The Aromatherapy Practitioner Manuals, Sylla Sheppard-Hanger
3. CO2 Extracts in Aromatherapy, Madeleine Kerkhof
4. The Art of Aromatherapy, Robert Tisserand
5. Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Gabriel Mojay
6. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Vol I-Foundations & Materia Medica, 3rd. Ed., Salvatore Battaglia
7. Harmonized Aromatherapy, Shanti Dechen
8. Clinical Aromatherapy, Jane Buckle
9. The Heart of Aromatherapy, Andrea Butje
10. The Aromatherapy beauty Guide, Danielle Sade
11. The Complete Book of Essential Oils, Valerie Ann Wormwood
12. Authentic Aromatherapy, Sharon Falsetto
· 1. Tisserand and Young, 2007 2nd Edition Essential Oil Safety
· 2. https://tisserandinstitute.org/online-courses/
· 3. https://www.soulessentialsduo.com/single-post/2017/10/02/Ingestion-of-Essential-Oils-Cautiously-Approached-by-Rehne-Burge-CA