Essential Oils 101: What You Need to Know Regarding Safety, Terms, and More

Essential oils.

You’ve heard about them, right? Maybe your friend is starting with essential oils, maybe your favorite blogger creates recipes around essential oils, or maybe you’ve seen a photo of someone on your Instagram feed putting essential oils in their food to flavor it.

But do you really know about essential oils? I’m talking about the basics like what they are, if it’s really safe to ingest them, and if all essential oils are safe for kids. The biggest misconception is thinking that because essential oils are natural, they’re safe. Truth is, just because they’re natural doesn’t mean we need to throw out all our safety precautions and believe what anyone says.

I’ve had the awesome opportunity to ask Retha, a certified aromatherapist from Plant Therapy, some really general (but important) questions that I had about essential oils– sort of like an essential oils 101.

To be honest, I didn’t know the answer to many of these questions but now I feel a lot more enlightened and confident in using essential oils in my home, around my child, and for my health. I hope you feel enlightened as well and can move forward feeling more confident in using the amazing powers of essential oils in your home.

Plant Therapy Essential Oils


Everyone talks about essential oils, but what exactly ARE they?

An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. Unlike a carrier oil, essential oils are not fatty oils but volatile meaning that they evaporate very quickly. Essential oils can be obtained from many different parts of the plant including leaves, bark, seeds, flowers, etc…

Does organic mean anything when it comes to essential oils?

It can but in my personal opinion, a certified organic essential oil is not always better than an oil that is not organic. A lot of essential oils are “organic” meaning the plant is grown without herbicides or pesticides. However, these essential oils cannot be labeled organic unless certified organic through the USDA.

For an oil to be certified organic and labeled as organic through the USDA, every step of the process has to be overseen by the USDA. That means not only the farmers, but every single company that handles the plant/oil has to also be certified through the USDA for the product to be labeled organic. This is very time consuming and costs a lot more money. A lot of farmers that produce essential oils, are small and most are in foreign countries where the organic process is not the same as in the US. Therefore, it would not make sense for these farmers and companies to get certified organic through the USDA and therefore the oils that come from these farmers and companies, cannot be labeled “organic”.

Now if we go beyond the certification of organic, some people still want to know if herbicides or pesticides were used on the plants. Here are a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. A lot of plants naturally have no need to be sprayed with chemicals or pesticides and the essential oils that come from these plants are technically organic. This is a long list of essential oils but some that are included on this list are:  Rosalina, Niaouli, Sandalwood, Pine, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Spruce, Fir, Clove, Cinnamon, Camphor, Valerian Root, Ginger, etc…
  2. Depending on the plant, when it was sprayed and when it was distilled, the amount of pesticides left in the oil are very, very small. Especially when you think about how much oil you are actually using.

Robert Tisserand said, “…the levels of biocide in an essential oil are vanishingly small- a few parts per million. So logically speaking, there may not be much difference between organic and non-organic essential oils…”.

Essential oils are popular but do you know the basics behind them? In this essential oils 101 post, you'll learn important things like safety, terms, and more!

Is there really much behind the term “therapeutic grade”?

No. In the United States there is no grading or certifying of essential oils. “Therapeutic Grade”, “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade”, “Pharmaceutical Grade”, etc… are marketing terms and only marketing terms.

When truly looking for quality, it is important to know what testing the company does. It really is through the actual testing of the essential oils that shows their quality. GC/MS testing for every batch of essential oil is VERY important. Along with this test, another very important test is an olfactory test or smelling the oils. If the company has experts who can do these various tests and then compare all test results,that is some of the best ways to really know the quality of the oil.

Are essential oils safe to use directly on the skin?

I do not recommend this. I always recommend you dilute essential oils when using them topically. Essential oils are very drying and if not diluted can quickly dry out your skin. Essential oils also evaporate very quickly and by diluting the oil in a carrier oil, you are stopping the essential oil from evaporating so quickly and therefore are getting more essential oil so you can use less. Read more about this topic here.

What about ingesting them?

I do not recommend essential oils be ingested unless under the direction of a qualified aromatherapist who can administer the oils this way. I NEVER recommend ingesting essential oils by adding drops to your water though. Read more about this topic here.

What are the best ways to use essential oils?

There are so many different ways to use essential oils. My absolute personal favorite and often the best way to use essential oils is through inhalation. I love diffusing oils. Another one of my personal favorite ways to use essential oils is in my cleaning products. Not only does my house smell amazing, but I know it is really clean!

How does Plant Therapy obtain their oils?

Plant Therapy works directly with farmers, distillers and suppliers to obtain our oils. We have very close relationships with them and they know exactly the quality that we expect.

Essential oils are popular but do you know the basics behind them? In this essential oils 101 post, you'll learn important things like safety, terms, and more!

I’m pregnant and/or nursing. Are there any oils I should absolutely stay away from?

Yes. In Essential Oil Safety by Tisserand and Young, there is a list of oils that should be avoided completely while pregnant and nursing. Some of the oils included in that list are: Aniseed (Anise) Carrot Seed, Cinnamon Cassia, Cinnamon Bark, Fennel Sweet, Myrrh, Sage, Tansy (not to be confused with Blue Tansy), Wintergreen, etc…

Are all oils kid safe?

No. There have been many studies that show children having adverse reactions to some essential oils. Oils high in menthol and cineole for example, have been shown to cause breathing problems in young children. Also some of the hotter oils are not recommended for young children because they are more sensitive than adults. Plant Therapy carries a line of synergies that were formulated by Robert Tisserand specifically for children ages 2-10. We also will be adding a “KidSafe stamp” on all of our single oils that we consider to be the safest for young children when diluted.

What are the top 5 versatile oils?

This is a hard question and will really vary per person. My personal top 5 most versatile oils are Lavender, Tea Tree, Lemon, Peppermint and Oregano.

This post is sponsored by Plant Therapy. However, the opinions and photos are of my own. Authenticity is important so I would never promote any brand or product that I wholeheartedly don’t believe in. My readers are my number one priority and I always recommend companies and products that I believe will benefit my readers. 

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  1. This is such important information. EO’s are so powerful and can be so effective when they are used safely. I LOVE PT’s oils and specifically their KidSafe line since I have so many little ones running around here 🙂 Great article! Pinning this!

  2. I’ve heard lots of buzz about them, but I haven’t tried them myself yet. I want to learn more, though!

  3. I use a roller ball applicator of lavender, lemon and peppermint (diluted) to treat my allergies. Just roll it across the back of neck when my sinuses start to bother me. Works like a charm!

  4. I have heard so many people talking about Essential Oils but haven’t really learned anything about them until this post. Thanks for all the useful information. – Katy

  5. I am just getting into Essential Oils. I am also 26 weeks pregnant. I had no idea there was a potential hazard with some of the oils. Great Info!

  6. I haven’t gotten into many of the essential oils. I use a few in my bath salts and sugar scrubs. But I agree, natural doesn’t mean safe. There are plenty of naturally occurring plant toxins.

  7. I’ve always been wary about ingesting Essential Oils .. They have great benefits for the hair and skin but i would somehow never put it in my system like “that” . Thanks for the very informative article

  8. Great info! Robert Tisserand is such an amazing resource for the Essential Oils community. One great thing I learned from him is to store essential oils in a fridge to make sure they stay fresh as long as possible.

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