If you take a look on Instagram or Pinterest, you'll see that essential oils have been getting a lot of love in the last few years. There's no doubt that using lavender oil on your pillows and sage oil in your hair is trendy, but is it safe?

In some situations, no, it's not.

Essential oils might seem harmless because they have the word "natural" stamped on their bottles, but these trendy products can come with some seriously dangerous side effects if you don't do your research.

Here are 5 ways essential oils can do more harm than good:

Oversensitivity to the Sun

Certain essential oils have a tendency to make your skin overly sensitive to the sun, which can turn the smallest exposure to sunlight into a painful sunburn. Some of the oils that can increase photosensitivity are:

  • Lemon essential oil
  • Lime essential oil
  • Grapefruit essential oil
  • Orange essential oil
  • Bergamot essential oil

These oils have wonderful properties, but make sure you're not applying them directly onto your skin - especially right before you go outside.

Unsafe for Pregnant Women

Using essential oils when pregnant is a risky business, despite what you might see online. Even using certain oils on skin can cross the placental barrier and impact an unborn baby.

Ingesting oils can be even more devastating. Swallowing some oils, such as pennyroyal, can cause miscarriages or severe damage to your child.

Your best bet as an expecting woman? Work closely with a professional to choose the right essential oils or simply avoid them all together.

Essential oils are still dicey when it comes to breastfeeding women (since the oils can penetrate and effect breast milk) and they can even be dangerous for babies, children, and teens. This is mainly because some essential oils have hormone-like properties that can mess with the body's natural hormones, something that's still especially fragile in growing humans.


One of the most common essential oil horror stories you hear is that overuse of oils on skin can cause horrific rashes. These cases are not just true, but actually fairly common.

We hesitate to suggest a Google search of these burns, especially if you have a weak stomach. But just know that they can happen and can often be quite severe.

A number of essential oils can cause these rashes and they have been known to stem from direct application as well as armotherapy mist.

"Patchouli oil is notorious for causing what is known as a phototoxic reaction," Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Refinery29. "If you are exposed to sunlight and that oil is on the skin, a severe burn-like reaction may occur. People commonly develop redness, burning, stinging, peeling, and even blistering."

Make sure to check with your doctor before incorporating essential oils into your beauty routine, and be sure to monitor how much you use. Each use should only require 3-5 drops, and it's best to dilute the oils with water to reduce the risk of harsh reactions.

Allergic Reactions

Oftentimes, the rashes mentioned above are caused by an allergic reaction to the essential oils. But, worse still, overuse of harmful essential oils can create a permanent aversion to certain ingredients.

That's right - you can create allergic reactions.

Eventually, if you keep exposing your body to something harmful, the body's natural response will develop into a permanent reaction.

Irritation of Throat

Ingesting essential oils is more popular than you might think. People swallow oils to boost their immune systems, supress their appetite, and help their digestive tract.

We can't speak to how well oils accomplish these things, but we do know that there are plenty of serious dangers that come along with this risk.

Inhaling some oils, like eucalyptus, can seriously irritate the respiratory tract - particularly in babies and children. Should a child accidentally ingest any essential oils, call poison control right away; while waiting for assistance, dilute the swallowed oil with milk, yogurt, or some other creamy food.

And ingesting oils can do much worse:

  • Peppermint is used for gastrointestinal discomfort. However, using varieties with pennyroyal oil can poison the liver.
  • Wintergreen is used in some over-the-counter skin preparations to relieve pain, but it can be very dangerous if swallowed from the bottle. Essentially, swallowing oil of wintergreen is like swallowing a large number of adult aspirin.
  • Eucalyptus is used for its soothing effects when inhaled, for example during a cold or cough. But if swallowed, it can cause seizures.
  • Likewise, sage oil has been used as a scent, seasoning, and remedy, but can cause seizures in children if swallowed.

In general, the best policy is always to avoid the swallowing of essential oils to prevent these devastating effects.

To all of the ride-or-die essential oil fans out there, we're not trying to come down too hard on these often useful products. As long as you do thorough research, or consult with a professional about the best types to use in day-to-day life, utilizing these oils can be helpful and healing.

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