Cedars-Sinai Blog

Essential Oils: What You Need to Know

A woman smelling an essential oil

Plant oils are potent. Here’s what you need to know.

Can the scent of lavender calm your nerves?

Will a mixture of eucalyptus and coconut oils massaged on your chest to help you breathe a little easier?

Essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus have gained popularity in aromatherapy and are sometimes used as alternatives to traditional pharmaceuticals.

While they’re generally safe, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you decide to try them.

While it’s true that essential oils offer certain health benefits, they also have the potential to cause harm.

Essential oils 101

Essential oils are made by distilling the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and bark of plants with steam or water. These highly concentrated oils are then inhaled, ingested, or can be applied to the skin through a lotion, cream, or oil.

“There are thousands of different plants that can be used to produce different extracts,” says Dr. Susan Rabizadeh, chief of dermatology at Cedars-Sinai.

And while it’s true that oils offer certain health benefits, they also have the potential to cause harm, especially in pregnant women, babies, and people who have compromised immune systems.

To enjoy aromatherapy—and play it safe—follow these essential oil dos and don’ts.

Susan M. Rabizadeh, MD, MBA

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Essential oil dos

Read labels

Use a carrier oil

Try a test

Pay attention to the point of entry

Essential oil don’ts

Don’t overdo it

Don’t use oils instead of meds

Don’t ignore reactions

Don’t use photosensitive oils in the sun

Playing it safe