The following excerpts are from Aromatherapy Undiluted- Safety and Ethics
Copyright © Tony Burfield and Sylla Sheppard-Hanger (2005)
[modified from a previous article “A Brief Safety Guidance on Essential Oils” written for IFA, Sept 2004.]

Because of the rapid growth of aromatherapy practices since the internet has arrived, the use of undiluted essentials oils has increased dramatically – especially amongst holistic therapists and lay people who use oils without any safety training. Uninformed people at trade shows, fairs, and hundreds of entrepreneurial single trader businesses on the internet sell concoctions of essential oils without a thought about any possible risks. Natural perfumers (‘botanical formulators’), untrained therapists, even consumers are using undiluted oils on the skin without knowing they could be setting up setting up the conditions for sensitization to occur. Sensitization is becoming the principle problem of this profession, and the aromatherapy profession is largely in denial over it. One reason is that therapists were badly instructed by mentors or suppliers at trade shows and conferences, or they may have read a popular high-street book and decided that since oils are natural they will not be harmful. One acupuncturist in her twenties that I (SSH) spoke to recently said that she routinely puts several drops of some 2 or 3 neat essential oils directly onto her hands and runs down the clients spine with this mixture first, before working on the feet (still applying undiluted oils) – prior to commencing acupuncture treatment. Since she learned the risks of this approach, she now dilutes her oils, saving
money, and achieving the same therapeutic effects (thus far), keeping everyone safer and avoiding lawsuits.

Efficacy – is neat really better? We know that ‘more’ is not always ‘better’, and that diluted oils work just as well. It is also true that some essential oils show one set of physiological properties at lower concentrations and another set of effects at higher levels …It’s also true that essential oils can produce psychophysiological effects at concentrations below odor threshold or odor recognition levels.

Safety – we know that undiluted oils can be inflammatory; and the use of undiluted essential oils is not safe. Not only do they bring risks like burns and injury if undiluted, but also the risks of sensitizing both your subject and yourself. Remember the healer’s rule to first “do no harm”. Why risk it?

Legal perspective – if we use oils undiluted, do they (as we say), “penetrate the skin” which could legally be considered administering a drug, and if so are we practicing medicine without a license here? Not everyone agrees that diluted oils necessarily penetrate faster or yet permeate the bloodstream. We also don’t know much about toxio-kinetics – this being one of the areas that the SCCP have criticized essential oil toxicology studies as being deficient in. So if we accept we have progress to make in toxicological understanding, it makes sense to err on the side of caution with sensible measures to protect ourselves, and to be aware. We do however know which oils should not be used on the skin, and how to dilute them. If someone has a problem after a treatment you have given with your product, and decides to sue you, do you have liability insurance? Is it up to date? Do you really think you would stand a chance if you knowingly put a well-known irritant/sensitizer on a client, who then develops a severe reaction and decides to sue you? Would it be worse if you didn’t dilute? Do you think it matters to a judge if you have never seen or known of anyone who’d have a bad reaction and therefore assumed it was safe? These are issues that should be addressed if one chooses to use neat oils or an irritant/sensitizer.

Ethics – This topic is the crux of this entire paper and the take home message. If the reader did not understand anything else, please understand this. Ignorance is not an excuse and will not hold up in a court of law (at least in the USA). When we use oils undiluted, or any of the toxic oils, or the known irritant/sensitizers we break the first rule of healers: “do no harm”, because we are a danger first to ourselves, secondly to our clients and third, our profession. If you don’t care about yourself, please care about your clients and the entire aromatherapy profession…

Raindrop Therapy – There is a growing phenomenon called “Raindrop Therapy”, which uses seven single neat oils (4-6 drops each: thyme, oregano, followed by of cypress, birch, basil, and peppermint) neat, and 3 essential oil blends (only 2 are diluted in almond oil). This concoction represents a huge dermal insult from several milliliters of undiluted oils that are known-irritants being dripped onto the spinal area of subjects’ backs. After working the oils in with the fingertips along the spine, the area is covered with a warm towel “while they rest” (Stewart, 2003). The diluent (“V-6 mixing oil”) was used only if the “burn gets too bad”. This is followed by neat application again on the both legs of 2-3 each drops of these 4 oils (in this order): cypress, birch, basil, and peppermint (

These treatments have become quite common in homes, spas, and treatment offices, as they claim to
cure everything from brain injury to scoliosis (which is “due to a virus”). Testimonials abound for this miraculous cure, as they tend to do in multilevel businesses, and the use of undiluted oils sells a lot of product up and down line. Unfortunately horror stories also are emerging, as injured folks seek relief and want to finally tell their story. Often the business owner trusts the therapists and has no idea this is even being performed. Many injured parties don’t want to admit they got burnt (no pun intended), so few get reported to the authorities, but it won’t be long before someone gets sued over this. “Raindrop Therapy”, as it is currently cannot be supported as a recognized aromatherapy “best practice.”

For full paper see:

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