Essential Oils are NOT Essential

Sep 27, 2018

Essential oils are used in many fragrances, cleaners, cosmetics, and aromatherapy. They are often sold as a natural alternative to industrial chemicals. Although they are “natural”, are they safe? How do they impact indoor air quality?

A recent study published in the Journal of Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health found significant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from essential oils. The research published in the paper, “Volatile chemical emissions from essential oils” reports on 24 essential oils including tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, orange, peppermint, lime, and coconut.

Each essential oil emitted between 20 – 140 VOCs. The most prevalent VOCs were:

  • alpha-pinene
  • Limonene
  • Acetone
  • Linalool
  • alpha-phellandrene
  • beta-myrcene
  • Camphene
  • Ethanol
  • beta-pinene
  • 3-carene
  • Eucalyptol
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Beta-phellandrene
  • Gamma-terpinene
  • M-cymene
  • beta-trans-ocimene
  • Methanol
  • Terpinplene

Of these, perhaps the most concerning are acetaldehyde, acetone, and methanol. All three are chemicals that are regulated by OSHA for occupational exposures.

Does this mean you need to toss out all your essential oils? You will need to weigh the benefit you receive from them (nice fragrance, smooth skin, etc.) with the potential risks with VOC exposure. Your VOC exposure is typically worse doing a manicure, but that is a one-time event. Many people have essential oil diffusers constantly running and often right next to the bed. I remember breaking the heart of a client when our VOC testing showed that elevated levels in her home were mostly due to her beloved essential oil diffuser.

Just because something like essential oil is natural, doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.