Answers to Safety Questions: The Essential Oil Safety Pop Quiz Results (Part 1)

Answers to Safety Questions: The Essential Oil Safety Pop Quiz

Thank you to the 552 people that took part in The Essential Oil Safety Pop Quiz! Are you ready for the answers?

One thing that I’ve learned with researching essential oils is that you can never know everything and that the collective knowledge about essential oils is constantly growing and changing. Two of the questions have different answers now than when I wrote them and I will explain more when we get to those.

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One person commented that “Your survey is not at all set up for accurate results. Several of Your answers are given away in the next question. I went through and changed all my answers when I realized this.” In my introduction to the quiz I stated that “The Essential Oil Safety Pop Quiz is meant to get a sense of what knowledge you have of essential oils in this moment. Please answer questions without searching out the answers online or from friends. The more honest your answers are in this moment, the more valuable the results of this quiz will be to the aromatherapy community.” I probably should have added to not go back and correct your own answers.

The point of the quiz was twofold: 

  1. Get a sense of what people know about essential oil safety without any preparation (studying); and
  2. Educate. Some questions were set up to give you just enough info that you would want to know more, or you may have even guessed the answer.

I love this comment, because it means at least one of those objectives (I’d argue the most important one) was reached!

Just as the quiz was divided into three parts, I will be sharing the results in (at least) three different articles:

  1. Safety Questions
  2. Injury Questions
  3. Usage & Demographic Questions
Correct Answer Correct answers will be marked with a green checkbox.
info If you see a blue information icon it means that something has been changed and will be explained further in my comments.

You will notice that some of the questions have “Missing Data.” This just means that some people did not answer these questions at all. This may possibly have been a glitch in the form. I’ve included the numbers here so that each question will add up to 100%.

Although I took Statistics for Sociology and assisted a Sociology professor with his statistical studies in college, that was a lot of years ago and I’m a bit rusty. Still, there’s a lot of good data here. I’m sure there are lots of ways to look at it, and I’m going to start with the most basic.

Now let’s get on to the answers!

1.

What is the standard maximum dilution rate for Children over 2 years old, Elderly, or Immunocompromised?

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct Answer1%30555.25%
Blank Box2%15027.17%
Blank Box5%6611.96%
Blank Box20%315.62%

Here’s a repost of a graphic to help you remember dilution rates:

Essential Oil Quick Dilution Guide For Blending - Marvy Moms

If you’d like some help figuring out how much essential oils to add to your blends to achieve these dilution levels, be sure to check out my Essential Oil Dilution Calculator.

2.

Which of the following citrus oils are NOT phototoxic?

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxGrapefruit & Bergamot13925.18%
Correct AnswerDistilled Lime, Sweet Orange & Bergamot FCF37467.75%
Blank BoxLemon, Lime & Bitter Orange397.07%

Phototoxic oils cause severe burning of the skin when the wearer applies the oil to their skin and is then exposed to direct UV Rays from sunshine or tanning beds within a certain period of time. This is much worse than just a “bad sunburn” and can lead to permanent scarring. Each phototoxic oil has a different max dilution before this is an issue and it is important to know what these limits are before using them in your blends. A good rule of thumb is that if it is an essential oil of a citrus fruit then it could possibly be phototoxic. The exceptions are listed above. Always research safety concerns before using any essential oil.

3.

Due to the high concentration of menthol in Peppermint, it should not be used on children under the age of:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank Box212422.46%
info5-623642.75%
Blank Box85710.33%
Blank Box10-1213524.46%

At the time that this quiz was originally written, the recommendation was to not use peppermint on children under the age of 5-6. Robert Tisserand has since clarified his safety recommendation and now says that it is best avoided on children under three years old. He further states that it is okay to diffuse around kids over three and that it can be applied topically at up to 0.5% on kids 3-6 years old.

4.

Oils high in what component should not be used for children under 5 years old, as it can cause CNS and breathing problems in young children? Oils with this component should also be used with caution on children between 5-10 years old.

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxLimonene498.88%
Blank Boxa pinene346.16%
info1,8-cineole41975.91%
Blank BoxLinalool498.88%
Missing Data10.18%

This is the other question in the quiz that has a different answer now then when the quiz was first released. Robert Tisserand has further clarified his stance on eucalyptus essential oil as well. According to these new guidelines, eucalyptus can be applied topically at a dilution of 0.5% or diffused for children under three and it can be applied topically at a dilution of 1% for kids over three years old.

Robert has graciously agreed to share his graphic with you here as a visual reference:

Eucalyptus and Peppermint for Young  Children - Tisserand Institute

I am truly grateful for this clarification! Most things in aromatherapy, as in the rest of life, are not simply yes or no. There are a lot of maybes and ifs, and it’s important to say so when that’s the case. I’m glad my child is over the age of five so this is less of a personal concern for me at this point, however, as an aromatherapist, I will continue to caution parents about these oils. Even at these lower dilutions it’s important to be aware of why they have cautions and to monitor kids when they are being used. This is true of any essential oils used on or near children (or anyone for that matter).

In Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, 2nd Edition, Tisserand and Young caution that essential oils should not be used directly on the developing skin of infants less than 3 months old (I’d go with adjusted age for preemies).

The general recommendation is to always consult with a certified aromatherapist prior to using any essential oil on children under the age of two years old. In fact Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute recommends avoiding direct inhalation and skin application of essential oils on children under the age of five. She suggests that hydrosols, carrier oils and butters are a safer alternative, but the occasional use of lavender for first aid for children over the age of two is fine.

We tend to love our oils so much that we forget that essential oils are not always the answer. I’ll be sharing more about that in a later article…

5.

Essential oils that have a high amount of Menthol include Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxSpearmint (Mentha spicata)9016.3%
Correct AnswerCorn Mint (Mentha arvensis)10018.12%
Blank BoxBergamot Mint (Mentha citrata)244.35%
Blank BoxWintergreen (Gaultheria fragmentissima wall)33660.87%
Missing Data20.36%

60.87% guessed Wintergreen on this question. The fact is that there is absolutely no menthol in Wintergreen essential oil. As with Birch essential oil, Wintergreen contains over 90% Methyl salicylate. Wintergreen can have as much as 99.5% Methyl salicylate!

Corn mint has a similar chemical composition to peppermint and is often used as an adulterant to “stretch” peppermint for a higher profit. Dishonest suppliers may even put 100% corn mint in a bottle and put a peppermint label on it. While chemically and organoleptically (they smell alike) similar, corn mint is not considered by aromatherapists as a replacement of peppermint on a therapeutic level.

6.

Essential oils that can have a 1,8-cineole content of 30% or more include (check all that apply):

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct AnswerCajeput (Melaleuca leucadendron var. cajuputi)15528.08%
Correct AnswerCardamom (Ellettaria cardamomum)7313.22%
Correct AnswerEucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus globulus)41475%
Correct AnswerEucalyptus Radiata (Eucalyptus radiata)37167.21%
Correct AnswerHelichrysum gymnocephalum (Helichrysum gymnocephalum)7313.22%
Correct AnswerLaurel Leaf (Laurus nobilis)10318.66%
Correct AnswerMyrtle (Myrtus communis)7613.77%
Correct AnswerNiaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia ct 1,8 cineole)25546.20%
Correct AnswerRavintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8 cineole)32358.51%
Correct AnswerRosemary ct camphor (Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor)32258.33%
Correct AnswerSaro (Cinnamosma fragrans)12322.28%

Who is surprised to see that ALL of these oils can have a 1,8-cineole content of 30% or more? I got this list by going to the Aromatics International website and doing a chemical component search to show me oils with 30-100% 1,8-cineole. This is a great tool to find essential oils that are high or low in any given component.

I emailed Robert Tisserand to ask, “In the quiz I talk about other essential oils that can contain a significant amount of 1,8-cineole. Would I be correct in saying that the dilution rates recommended for eucalyptus would be the same for other 1,8-cineole rich oils, provided that there are no additional safety concerns for those oils?

He replied to say, “In the infographic (see question #4 above), I addressed the most pressing questions, but many others remain. I think you could include Cajuput, Niaouli and Ravintsara with similar guidelines to Euc. globulus and radiata.”

Thanks, Robert!

7.

Essential oils containing a significant amount of  methyl salicylate (component in aspirin) should not be used with people that have blood clotting disorders, are on blood thinners, or by children due to risk of Reye’s syndrome. Which of the following essential oils contain enough methyl salicylate that this is a concern?

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct AnswerWintergreen (Gaultheria fragmentissima wall) and Birch (Betula lenta)42877.54%
Blank BoxSpearmint (Mentha spicata) and Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)458.15%
Blank BoxEucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus globulus) and Eucalpytus Radiata (Eucalyptus radiata)7613.77%
Missing Data30.54%

I’m glad to see that so many people know this one!

8.

Essential oils should not be ingested in water because:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxEssential oils are hydrophobic (repelled by water)162.9%
Blank BoxEssential oils can damage the mucous membranes lining the mouth, throat, and intestines274.89%
Blank BoxEssential oils do not dissolve in water and therefore float to the top of the water and are essentially neat (undiluted) as they pass through the digestive system.6311.41%
Blank BoxNone of the above244.35%
Correct AnswerAll of the above42076.09%
Missing Data20.36%

I’m pleased to see that 76.09% got this one right! Bravo! While, I don’t like to focus on the negative, I am still bewildered that 24 people answered this question as, “None of the above.” I’m hoping that those same people will come back and read the answers to this quiz and go forward with new (to them) information. I was speaking to a fellow aromatherapist the other day and she commented that the fact that oil and water do not mix is “second-grade science.” While this may sound a bit flip to someone that didn’t already know that, it’s also true. This is not new information. Oil and water do not mix and putting them down your gullet does not change this fact.

I’m not saying NEVER ingest essential oils. As I stated above in question #4, “Most things in aromatherapy, as in the rest of life, are not simply yes or no. There are a lot of maybes and ifs, and it’s important to say so when that’s the case.” There are times that the internal use (ingestion, suppositories, etc…) of essential oils may be warranted. Such internal use should always be done with much consideration and research and with the guidance of someone that understands the risks and benefits and the best method of use. Taking essential oils daily in water is not such an instance. There is no reason that I can think of that this is a good idea. And definitely never just because someone else said they do it and haven’t had a problem. While internal use may sometimes be the right route, that does not ever include putting drops in your water and swallowing. Refer to question #9 below to see the quickest way to get essential oils into your bloodstream. Spoiler Alert: It’s not ingestion!

9.

Essential oils reach the bloodstream the quickest when they are:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxApplied topically14125.54%
Blank BoxDiffused529.42%
Correct AnswerInhaled (using an inhaler)437.79%
Blank BoxIngested30955.98%
Missing Data71.27%

The fact that only 7.79% people answered this question correctly is very telling. What’s more telling is the fact that 55.98% thought that the quickest way to get essential oils into the bloodstream is through ingestion. This may explain why people are so willing to casually ingest essential oils. Who wouldn’t want the quickest result?

How is it possible that essential oils reach your bloodstream quickest through inhalation? When you inhale an essential oil, the constituents of that oil enter your nasal cavity and lungs where there are mucous membranes. On the other side of the mucous membranes are capillaries. Essential oil constituents pass over your mucous membranes and into your capillaries which then deliver those constituents directly into your bloodstream, which is then carried throughout your body.

Not all essential oils should be directly inhaled. I once made the mistake of inhaling Black Pepper essential oil directly from the bottle. My nose and mouth burned and my sense of smell and taste were dulled well into the next day. Be sure to know the safety of all routes of any oil you use.

Inhalation is also quite effective because the olfactory system is the only system that bypasses the thalamus and sends information directly to the cerebral cortex. This is why inhaling an essential oil can quickly alter mood and can have an effect on our ability to concentrate.

Fun Fact: In October 2014, the NY Times reported that olfactory receptors have been discovered throughout the body including in the “liver, the heart, the kidneys and even sperm.” Skin is also said to have odor receptors! I’m excited to see where else this research leads!

10.

Sensitization (aka: allergic contact dermatitis) is an allergic reaction. This reaction can include itching or hives in places other than where the oil was applied, can impede breathing, and can seem severe compared to the small amount of essential oils applied. The reaction becomes more severe with each application and the oil causing the reaction should be discontinued. The risk of sensitization is increased by the following:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxUsing oxidized or old essential oils on the skin.50.91%
Blank BoxUsing oils neat (undiluted)13424.28%
Blank BoxEssential oils high in aldehydes (such as Lemongrass and Melissa)40.72%
Blank BoxUse of essential oils on an open wound20.36%
Correct AnswerAll of the above40573.37%
Missing Data20.36%

Another question that many people knew the answer to (73.37%) and 97.65% of you at least knew that using essential oils neat (undiluted) can lead to sensitization! This is an essential oil safety awareness victory! I’m guessing that these numbers may be different for people that did not take the quiz or there wouldn’t still be so many people using essential oils neat on a regular basis. So keep getting the word out there!

11.

What is the max dermal limit (dilution percentage) for Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)?

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct Answer0.7%20336.78%
Blank Box0.9%447.97%
Blank Box1%12522.64%
Blank Box2.5%10218.48%
Blank Box5%7613.77%
Missing Data20.36%

Lemongrass is commonly used in pain blends and it is important to follow maximum dermal limits to avoid developing sensitization to this powerful oil. Lemongrass is a known sensitizer due to its high citral (combination of neral and geranial) content. 63% of people surveyed did not know the max dermal limit, so spread the word!

12.

What is the max dermal limit (dilution percentage) for Melissa (Melissa officinalis)?

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank Box0.7%9517.21%
Correct Answer0.9%9417.03%
Blank Box1%17331.34%
Blank Box2.5%10819.57%
Blank Box5%7914.31%
Missing Data30.54%

Melissa can aid in sleep, is calming, comforting in grief, and is strongly anti-viral. Most people love this gorgeous oil, yet not many know that it too can be highly sensitizing due to its high citral (combination of neral and geranial) content. In Essential Oil Safety 2d, Tisserand and Young further recommend adding an antioxidant to Melissa to slow down oxidation.

13.

A kid-safe alternative to Peppermint is:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxWintergreen (Gaultheria fragmentissima wall)6211.23%
Correct AnswerSpearmint (Mentha spicata)44981.34%
Blank BoxEucalyptus Globulus (Eucalyptus globulus)397.07%
Missing Data20.36%

Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute often recommends spearmint as a kid-safe alternative to peppermint. Good to see that over 80% responded with the correct answer! Please refer question #4 above about safety concerns with eucalyptus and children as well as question #7 about why wintergreen should not be used with children.

14.

A kid-safe alternative to Eucalyptus radiata or Eucalyptus globulus is:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxRosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor)14325.91%
Correct AnswerCedarwood (Cedrus atlantica, Juniperus virginiana, or Cedrus deodora)40473.19%
Missing Data50.91%

This is another recommendation by Andrea Butje of Aromahead Institute.

15.

“Hot” oils are any essential oil that causes a hot or burning (sometimes tingling) sensation when applied to the skin. These oils should be used no higher than max dermal limit for that particular oil (usually less than 1%). Hot oils should be used with extreme caution with children, elderly, and people with sensitive skin. A patch test is recommended to check for reaction with anyone that has not used these oils before. Some examples of oils that are considered to be “Hot” oils include (check all that apply):

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct AnswerClove Bud (Eugenia Caryophyllata)48788.22%
Correct AnswerCinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)50491.3%
Correct AnswerCinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)33560.69%
Blank BoxLavender (Lavandula angustifolia)40.72%
Correct AnswerLemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)15427.9%
Correct AnswerOregano (Origanum vulgare)44981.34%
Correct AnswerPeppermint (Mentha x piperita)34161.78%
Correct AnswerThieves (blend of Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) bud oil, Lemon (Citrus limon), Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) bark, Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata) leaf, and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) leaf)47686.23%
Correct AnswerThyme ct thymol (Thymus vulgaris ct thymol)26447.83%

I’m happy to see that such a high percentage of folks know which oils are hot oils. None of them are 100% though, so be sure to review this list carefully!

16.

Thieves (blend of Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) bud oil, Lemon (Citrus limon), Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) bark, Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata) leaf, and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) leaf) should be avoided with kids under the age of 10-12 due to which of the following concerns:

  # of Responses% of Responses
Blank BoxLemon (Citrus limon) is a phototoxic oil.10.18%
Blank BoxEucalyptus and Rosemary contain high levels of 1,8-cineole and can cause breathing issues in small children.498.88%
Blank BoxClove and Cinnamon oils are "Hot" oils and can burn a child's sensitive skin.325.8%
Blank BoxAll of the above.43578.8%
Blank BoxIt could cause your child to become a thief and end up in jail as an adult.40.72%
Blank BoxNone of the above. I use Thieves on my child all the time with no problems.285.07%
Missing Data30.54%

In case you didn’t notice, I inserted a little comic relief into this question! I in turn got a chuckle back when four people responded that Thieves blend “could cause your child to become a thief and end up in jail as an adult.” I do hope they were kidding as much as I was!

What I didn’t laugh about was that 28 people answered, “None of the above. I use Thieves on my child all the time with no problems.” Just because you use it all the time and haven’t had problems *yet*, does not change the safety facts and that Thieves is not suited for young children.

Although Robert Tisserand has clarified that eucalyptus can be diffused and used in low dilutions in young children (see graphic in #4 above), this does not change all of the other reasons that Thieves is best left for adults. There are plenty of alternatives that can achieve similar results that are a better choice for kids. Use them! Oh, and congrats to the 78.8% of the people that answered this one correctly!

17.

Nearly 50 essential oils should be completely avoided during pregnancy. Some commonly used oils that should be avoided during pregnancy include (check all that apply):

  # of Responses% of Responses
Correct AnswerBirch, sweet (Betula lenta)33861.23%
Correct AnswerCarrot Seed (Daucus carota)15027.17%
Blank BoxChamomile, German (Matricaria recutita)5710.33%
Correct AnswerCinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum)40873.91%
Blank BoxFrankincense (Boswellia carterii)9216.67%
Correct AnswerHo Leaf, ct. camphor (Cinnamomum camphora ct. camphor)36065.22%
Blank BoxLavender, (Lavandula angustifolia)203.62%
Correct AnswerLavender, Spanish (Lavandula stoechas)12121.92%
Correct AnswerMyrrh (Commiphora myrrah)18433.33%
Blank BoxOrange, Sweet (Citrus sinensis)264.71%
Correct AnswerOregano (Origanum vulgare)36065.22%
Correct AnswerPennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium)38770.11%
Correct AnswerRue (Ruta graveolens)34963.22%
Correct AnswerSage, Dalmatian (Salvia officinalis)27149.09%
Correct AnswerSage, Spanish (Salvia lavandulifolia)27349.46%
Correct AnswerWintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima)42877.54%
Correct AnswerYarrow, green (Achillea nobilis)29553.44%

While there is no definitive list of what essential oils are “safe” during pregnancy, there are many to avoid altogether. The above list is only partial, so be sure to research any oil you plan to use while pregnant. Find less extreme alternatives (herbs, homeopathy, etc…) when possible, and only use in the lowest dilution (no more than 1%) for the duration of your pregnancy. If you do want to use essential oils, then use them sparingly. Daily use is NOT recommended.

Well, there you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the safety of essential oils and had some fun while doing it.

So, how did you do? Where there any answers that really surprised you?

Continue learning with these great resources:

Comment below if you’d like more detailed info on any of these (or other) safety topics.

Read more Marvy Moms articles on Essential Oils.

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About Emily Carpenter

Emily is a Web Whiz, Blogger, Speaker, Student, and Mom. She is the owner of WhizBang! Web Solutions LLC, and the founder of Marvy Moms. She loves working from home so that she can be there for every possible moment with her son, JW. Learning as she goes, Emily breastfed, bought cloth diapers (but never used them), made her son’s baby food, had a family bed for nearly two years, and loves spending time with her son. Emily is a certified Level II Reiki practitioner and offers her services both in-person and remotely to people interested in this energetic healing modality. Emily is currently enrolled as a student at the American Academy of Homeopathy to become a Certified Classical Homeopath and has earned a diploma in botanical medicine at Botanical Medicine Institute. She is also a Certified Aromatherapist, and received her training from Aromahead Institute.