A common question that we get asked is “Can You Drink Essential Oils?” This is a huge topic and one that causes a lot of controversy amongst professionals and enthusiasts alike. Some are for it; some against. The truth lies somewhere in between, meaning that whilst ingestion of essential oils is a valid application method, it is neither the best, nor the safest. Many factors need to be taken into account when it comes to ingestion. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, it is certainly not something for the essential oil enthusiast to try at home, following recipes they found on google or social media.
The topic has many layers - essential oil quality, the yield and potency of essential oils, GRAS status and what it means, biology and how oils change when ingested. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ingestion. It is a complex subject, one that not many people take all factors into account. Let’s break it down into some of the various factors that need consideration if someone asks “Can you drink essential oils?”.
Don’t I Already Ingest Some Essential Oils Anyway? What’s The Problem?
We’re often asked, “Can you drink essential oils if they are labeled as food grade?” and yes to a certain extent you can, and indeed you probably do. One of the most significant users of essential oils is the food and flavoring industry. Oils are used to enhance food and beverages. The difference between how the food and flavoring industry and the wellness industry use oils is the amounts that are used when they are ingested.
When used as flavoring, oils are used in minute amounts. The industry calls this “parts per million” or PPM. It’s not necessarily the oil itself that’s the problem, it’s the dosage.
Strictly speaking, the essential oils they use are often not quite the same thing as you’re using either. The food and flavoring industry uses rectified and deterpenated or folded oils. This means they have undergone processes to remove certain problematic constituents. This industry also doesn't administer them directly into water or straight into a pill either. They are heavily diluted into fatty substances like oil or butter.
Can You Drink Essential Oils if You Dilute Them Properly?
Oils and water don’t mix. So if you put a drop of lemon oil into a glass of water, it doesn’t matter if it’s a teaspoon of water or a gallon, that drop of oil is not diluted. Therefore, no matter how much water you add to it, you are still drinking 100% essential oil.
When you think about how we say maximum dilution of 3% (for most essential oils) for just putting it on the skin, you can see how that might be a problem.
You can actually dilute them into a carrier oil or other fat, into honey or vodka, but because they circulate around the body differently, the maximum oral dilution is different to standard guidelines around topical dilution.
The concerns about how the oil is metabolized in the liver will be different if you have inhaled the oil vs topical vs ingestion.
You need a lot of knowledge and some heavy textbooks to be able to navigate those safety parameters
Can You Drink Essential Oils if The Label Says Pure?
Pure, authentic and quality oils are important. We only want to use oils that are high quality in the air to inhale, and on our skin, but because they are so pure, they could cause potential harm to our bodies.
In short, purity does not signify safety. Whilst oils are derived from plant materials in nature. We know that nature contains dangerous things. Think arsenic. Think poison ivy. All natural, but deadly. In the wrong amounts, essential oils can be as well.
So If I Asked The FDA, Can You Drink Essential Oils, What Would They Have To Say?
The FDA has a strong opinion around essential oil ingestion. Essential oils are generally classified as a cosmetic, a drug, or both, by the FDA. According to the FDA website, they state that "under the law, drugs must meet requirements such as FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before they go on the market." The FDA also goes on to state that if a product is intended for a therapeutic use, such as treating or preventing disease, or to affect the structure or function of the body, it’s a drug”.
Can You Drink Essential Oils If They Are Food Grade?
According to the FDA, ingesting essential oils is safe for human consumption as flavor ingredients. The FDA has designated a status for some essential oils saying that they are generally regarded as safe.
This status is known as GRAS.
Many people erroneously assume that GRAS means they can be ingested safely because of this status, but this would be incorrect.
In fact, the status means the oils are generally safe for use as their intended purpose. The intended purpose for them is for the food and flavoring industry. Battaglia (2018) points out that GRAS status doesn’t mean that it is safe to use in aromatherapy or safe to ingest.
It is also important to note that not all essential oils have GRAS status. Thus, ingesting ones without that status could be extremely dangerous, and toxic to your body. They can induce seizures, coughing fits, nausea, vomiting, or in extreme cases comas. There have been reports of all of these happening globally, alongside a huge rise in the number of essential oil poisonings being reported.
We also need to take into account that essential oils can interact with medications you might be taking. They can render them ineffective or invalid, and in turn make you sicker because you are no longer receiving the required dosage.
Can You Drink Essential Oils Safely If You Only Add One Drop To Water?
We’ve already addressed how the oil will not be diluted and we know that essential oils are extremely potent. They are created from large amounts of raw material to produce one small bottle of oil. A single drop of Rose Otto essential oils is said to take between 30-50 roses to produce. One drop of Lemon essential oil is estimated to be between one whole lemon to 3 lemons. Whole bunches of Basil or Coriander are used to create one drop of oil. These examples show us that the amount of raw material used to create essential oils is big. We simply don’t use that amount of raw material in our food or water.
One drop may seem harmless, and alone it could be. But for those who are following ingestion recipes online, they are not only ingesting. They are using essential oils in every product, numerous times a day. They are diffusing oils continuously. Separately and alone these things are fine, but when done together, continuously, the amount accumulates. And this is what makes one drop a problem. It could be that one drop that tips the delicate balance of the body.
I Have A Cold. I Need To Boost My Vitamin Levels. Can You Drink Essential Oils Now?
You could. But not only might it be dangerous, but it will be useless too.
Only oily parts of a plant pass through distillation, and for the most part vitamins are water based. They do not pass through distillation and contrary to what some marketing campaigns tell you, there are no vitamins in essential oils. There is zero nutritional content, either vitamin or mineral, and to be honest, they taste so bad, it wouldn’t be our choice any way.
I Have Cancer - Can You Drink Essential Oils To Help That?
Oh how we wish we could answer yes to this one. You have no idea how heartbreaking it is to receive emails from people desperately clinging onto this. And trust us, we get it. But sadly there is no evidence to say that drinking frankincense essential oil will help.
Just as vitamins and minerals are not found in essential oils, the same applies for boswellic acid, the molecule scientists are investigating for its anti-cancer properties. This time it doesn’t pass through distillation because the molecule is too big.
I’ve done it and I’m fine, nothing has happened to me.
Glad to hear it, but as stated above essential oil poisonings are on the rise. For many who have tried it, it has resulted in inflammation of the mucous membranes, inflammation of the lips, stomach pains and vomiting. According to essential oil safety expert, Robert Tisserand, near-fatal cases happen every year. He also notes that “ingesting large amounts of essential oil, either in one dose or over time, can lead to toxicity”. So you may have “gotten away with it” this time, you might not be so lucky the next time. You can read some of the adverse events that have been reported on the Tisserand Institute website.
Can You Drink Essential Oils If The Label Says It's Safe For Consumption?
Whilst some suppliers of essential oils do have this on their labels, there is a growing voice within the industry that tells their customers not to ingest their oils. This does not mean that the quality is inferior or even, not pure. They are doing so out of safety for their customers. They are being responsible providers. Here at VINEVIDA we support the safe use of essential oils and do not recommend ingestion, and accordingly have labeled our bottles as such.
The French model of aromatherapy encourages ingestion, and the German and English models do not. I follow the French model so I’m fine.
According to Sheppard-Hanger, the separation of different application methods started as a joke. She says that what started as a joke, gathered momentum with the popularity of essential oils and the direct selling model. Mojay states that the so-called 'French' and 'British' labels are being used to mislead and mystify. So, what are these so-called models or schools of thought in aromatherapy?
It is purported that the English style of aromatherapy is topical application only, the German-style is inhalation only, and the French model is ingestion. The truth is aromatherapists get taught all methods of application depending on the level of training they are completing. In France, ingestion is carried out by physicians and pharmacists who have undergone medical training and aromatic medicine training. They use a tool called the Aromatogram that shows what essential oils will be effective against an isolated pathogen. It is not self-administration of oils by just drinking essential oils. When we look at the Aromatic Medicine approach, we see oils are not just ingested through the mouth, but also by other means into the body too, namely vaginally and rectally. As stated earlier, unpacking and understanding this level of information requires high levels of training with huge textbooks.
Where Can You Read More About This subject?
A quick Google search of the term “Can you drink essential oils” will render millions of results. Trying to work out who is right and who offers the solution is not easy to decipher. Here are some blogs and articles written by qualified and trained experts in aromatherapy.
We’ve only just scratched the surface of the topic of drinking or consuming essential oils. As stated above, it really is a huge topic with lots of aspects to consider.
As a business, Vinevida would answer the question “Can You Drink Essential Oils” as a point blank “No, it’s not safe”. Both the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists would also say the same. In the end though, it can only come down to your own personal choice. Your body, your choice. However, if you are considering doing so, please inform yourself of the dangers and pitfalls before you do so.
Battaglia, S (2018). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Volume 1 Foundations and Materia Medica, Black Pepper Creative Australia
Mojay, G (Undated). 'British vs. French Aromatherapy' – a myth... or a smokescreen? A open letter to Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, Director of the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, Access date 26 May 2022. https://www.facebook.com/notes/626169521382737/
Sheppard-Hanger, S (Undated). The Truth Behind Aromatherapy Schools of Thought. Access date: 26 May 2022
Tisserand, R (Undated). What to do in case of adverse reaction, Access date 26 May 2022.