Do you know how to tell essential oil fact from fiction? Uncover 10 surprisingly common essential oil myths with a certified aromatherapist and trained herbalist so you’re not fooled.
My young son was crying, holding onto his arm right where I had applied a single drop of essential oil and bandaid just minutes before.
I pulled his hand back and was horrified to see the bandage shriveling up against his skin like melted plastic.
He had a wart there. A well-meaning friend gave me some oregano essential oil, telling me it would kill the virus and remove the wart. So I did what she suggested without knowing what I was doing or asking more questions.
The pain on his face and the melting bandage on his skin gave me the biggest essential oil safety lesson I’ve ever had.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only person who’s been fooled by an essential oil myth. You can find this bad information almost anywhere essential oils are sold or used.
But after years of study and an aromatherapy certification, I know better information is out there, too. You just have to know where to look.
You can start here with these 10 surprisingly common myths and we’ll debunk them together.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, your cost is the same but I can earn a commission. Thanks!
Why Essential Oil Myths Matter
Essential oil myths matter because bad information usually gives you bad (and sometimes harmful) results. If you fall for an aromatherapy urban legend, you can end up with unpleasant consequences, like
- Spending too much money by buying oils you don’t really need,
- Wasting the oils you have by using more than what’s necessary,
- Not getting the results you want because the advice you followed was full of hype or fear,
- Suffering an adverse reaction after short-term or long-term use, like my son experienced.
With better information at your side, you can confidently use and enjoy essential oils in your home. You can add them to skincare, topical remedies, and cleaning sprays; use them for physical discomforts and emotional support; and even enjoy aromatherapy baths, all while knowing you’re using them safely and effectively.
Where You’ll Find Essential Oil Myths
One of the reasons essential oil myths are so tricky is that they’re so widespread. You can find them
- On websites from natural health gurus, essential oil sales representatives, and wellness enthusiasts,
- In person at health food stores, essential oil “classes” and sales presentations, and in casual conversations,
- On social media posts, comments, and memes.
It’s hard enough getting started with natural remedies when it’s all new to you; much more so when bad information is lurking around every online click!
This doesn’t mean you should be scared to use essential oils or suspicious of everyone who talks about using them, though.
It just means you have to be careful with what essential oil advice you follow, cross-reference any information you’re given, and never be afraid to ask more questions. Those are all the things I should have done with my son’s wart treatment, but didn’t know to do.
To help you sort out aromatherapy fact from fiction, I’ve compiled 10 of the sneakiest, most common essential oil myths in the natural health world. You might be surprised to see what made my list!
10 Widespread Myths about Essential Oils
Myth 1: There is only one pure essential oil brand.
You can find many quality essential oil brands at a variety of price points. Brand name and price tag don’t necessarily mean you’re getting a product that’s better than all others. (But clearly, avoid the cheapo “essential oils” sold at discount stores for prices too good to be true.)
As an herbalist and aromatherapist, one of the most common questions I’m asked is how to know which essential oil brands are best. I like to look for brands that
- Offer batch-specific GC/MS reports (these detail the chemical profile of every batch of essential oil),
- List the source plant’s botanical name clearly on the bottle, along with the common name,
- Share where the plant material was grown,
- Distill organic or sustainably wild-harvested plant material (to ensure it’s free of pesticide residue),
- Share appropriate safety and usage suggestions, like diluting in carrier oils and avoiding internal use without consulting professionals. Safety guidelines apply to all essential oil brands.
Since you don’t have to worry about choosing the only pure essential oil brand, you can sample different brands to see which you like best. You could even purchase small bottles of one useful essential oil, like lavender, to compare the brands and get a feel for their prices, selection, and customer support.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can see some of my personal favorites here.
Myth 2: Make sure the essential oils you use are therapeutic grade.
In the United States, no independent organization grades essential oils by quality. For the most part, therapeutic grade is a marketing term and not a guarantee of quality.
All true essential oils are therapeutic by nature. In order for an essential oil to not be therapeutic, it would have to be a synthetic fragrance oil, a reconstructed oil, or a highly adulterated oil. But if it’s a true essential oil, distilled from plant material, it will offer therapeutic support.
Some companies use the term therapeutic grade to mean genuine, unadulterated, pure essential oil with nothing added or taken away. This also distinguishes the oils from fragrance oils, flavoring oils, or other scented products.
So don’t worry if you see a brand that seems to offer a quality product but doesn’t say that their oils are therapeutic grade. And if you see the term therapeutic grade used, try to find out exactly what the brand or salesperson means.
Myth 3: You need a big collection of essential oils to get started.
Most essential oil starter kits include six to ten essential oils and cost around $100. If you want to go bigger with more oils or add proprietary blends to your starter kit, your cost only increases.
If you’re a beginner, you might find the price tag and learning curve for a multi-bottle starter set too steep to dive in.
But you actually don’t need an extensive set to get started. With a small collection of the most important essential oils, you can meet many of your family’s needs without going over budget or getting overwhelmed.
Begin with a small number oils and give yourself an easier and more economical start.
Myth 4: Essential oils don’t have side effects.
Essential oils are extremely concentrated substances that demand careful use. It’s important to always follow safety guidelines and watch for possible sensitivities or reactions when you use essential oils.
You can experience side effects when you use essential oils, especially if you use them incorrectly.
- Using them on your skin can result in irritation or pain, especially if the oil is “hot” (meaning it’s prone to irritating skin and mucus membranes) or not diluted enough.
- Some citrus essential oils, like lemon and lime, can cause phototoxicity. This is a reaction where your skin burns severely in sunlight.
- Too much skin exposure can result in sensitization, leaving you unable to be around a particular essential oil, similar essential oils, or all essential oils.
- Inhaling too much can cause nausea, headaches, and dizziness.
- Babies, young children, pregnant women, elders, people with chemical sensitivities, and pets are all more susceptible to side effects. It’s vital to use extra caution if you use essential oils around these people and animals so no one is hurt (or worse).
- Extreme exposure has caused seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death.
You can read actual essential oil injury reports here.
Usually, if you follow safety guidelines, you can enjoy essential oils without worrying about unpleasant or harmful side effects. But it’s still important to be aware that, like anything else, essential oils absolutely can have side effects.
Myth 5: You can apply essential oils straight to your skin.
A friend once told me that after his wife attended an essential oils sales presentation, she applied neat (undiluted) peppermint essential oil across his forehead when he had a headache. It didn’t take long for his face to have a bright red streak of fiery, irritated skin! He never wanted to go near essential oils again, and I couldn’t really blame him.
As I mentioned earlier, essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts. Since they’re so potent, you should always dilute them when you put them on your skin. That goes for every brand, no matter how pure and “therapeutic” it is.
If you don’t dilute your essential oils, you can eventually become overly sensitive to them. This is aptly called sensitization and can manifest as itching, swelling, or redness anytime your skin is exposed to essential oils. Once you experience a sensitization reaction, you may never be able to use certain, or any, essential oils on your skin again.
Different essential oils require different dilution rates, and some people (like babies) need milder dilutions than other people. If you want to make it easy to safely dilute essential oils, be sure to check out my printable resource The Essential Oils Quick Reference Guide. It takes the guesswork out for you.
Myth #6: Essential oils are a powerful remedy to take internally.
As an aromatherapist, I’m extremely concerned with the trend of freely ingesting essential oils. I’ve seen people demonstrate this by adding them to their water, placing them in homemade capsules (calling them insert-health-need-here “bombs”), or even dropping them directly under or on their tongue.
This is terribly dangerous advice and an immediate red flag. Anytime you see someone share this kind of guidance, you can know immediately that the person isn’t a trusted source for essential oil information.
Improperly ingesting essential oils can lead to serious digestive tract and liver damage. (Remember what the single drop of essential oil did to my son’s bandage?) Additionally, you’re at much greater risk for neurological adverse events like seizures, dizziness, and loss of consciousness when ingesting oils.
Finally, remember that water and oil don’t mix. When you drop some essential oil into water, it doesn’t freely disperse so it’s diluted. It floats on top in its full strength. If you decide to drink that essential oil and water combination, the oil hits the sensitive tissue in your throat and mouth, increasing your risks for tissue irritation, injury, and even long-term damage.
Myth 7: The best place to apply essential oils is the bottoms of your feet.
Check out the skin on the bottoms of your feet. Unless you get daily pedicures, it’s probably quite thick and tough. That’s just what you need for walking, but not for absorbing essential oils.
I’ve heard people reference all the pores on the bottoms of our feet, suggesting they make our feet “like sponges.” But pores don’t help our bodies absorb anything. They’re used to push out sweat and sebum.
While this myth isn’t dangerous, it’s a tricky one for a few reasons. First, it’s been repeated for so long that many essential oil enthusiasts don’t even question it. Second, it’s inefficient, but not dangerous. You can put essential oils on the bottoms of your feet and occasionally get some benefits.
Finally, it’s usually connected to reflexology points with detailed foot diagrams, so it looks really convincing. These points are used in acupuncture and acupressure, but there’s no basis for using them with essential oils.
If you want to apply essential oils to your skin so your body can absorb them, choose thin skin. And, of course, dilute them first.
Myth 8: Essential oils are in the Bible.
Since I’m an open Christian, many people are surprised to hear me say that essential oils aren’t in the Bible. But it’s true.
Most historians and aromatherapists agree that steam distillation, the process used to create most essential oils, wasn’t advanced enough to produce essential oils until the 10th century. The Bible was finished hundreds of years prior to that.
Yes, the Bible speaks of plants and natural materials like myrrh, frankincense, and cinnamon. It also alludes to herb-infused olive oil which can be quite fragrant and healing.
But there’s absolutely no evidence that essential oils are in the Bible or were used during those time periods. It’s an illogical stretch to assume that just because the Bible mentions plants and plant products, it’s referring to the essential oils produced from those natural materials. Rather, Scripture is simply referencing the plant itself.
This myth, unfortunately, seems to be another marketing ploy.
Myth 9: Essential oils help you detox and balance your hormones.
Your body naturally detoxifies through a number of processes including digestion, breathing, sweating, and others. Essential oils rarely do anything to accelerate those processes. Dietary changes, herbal remedies, exercise, and other approaches are much more effective at encouraging normal detoxification.
Similarly, hormonal balance relies on sensitive feedback loops throughout the body. And while many herbs can help restore hormonal balance when there is actual imbalance, there’s much less evidence that essential oils can do the same thing. Essential oils might ease some symptoms of hormonal imbalances, like insomnia or acne, but they don’t address the root causes.
Sometimes people claim that rashes and other legitimate adverse reactions are just “detox reactions,” but that’s also untrue. If you develop a rash while using essential oils, something is wrong and you should stop immediately.
Myth 10: There’s an oil for that.
Essential oils are one tool to keep in your natural medicine cabinet, but they’re not always the best tool to use. In fact, as much as I enjoy my oils, they’re rarely the first remedy I reach for in my own home or my top choice for my clients. That’s because they don’t often address root causes.
Think of it this way.
Imagine someone has high blood pressure.
He drinks at least a full pot of coffee throughout the day at his stressful job, where he regularly puts in 12-hour shifts. He loves fast food, sleeps around 5 hours a night, and smokes in the evening to relax.
This man could bathe in lavender essential oil and he’d still have high blood pressure because of his diet and lifestyle.
So before you try to find the perfect essential oil to help you with a health need, first find out if aromatherapy is the best way to address it. If you’re not sure how to decide, check in with an herbalist or seasoned aromatherapist.
Where to Find the Truth About Essential Oils
I’ve heard people end up so frustrated with the conflicting essential oil information they read online, they throw up their hands and declare it’s impossible to know who to trust. It’s just one person’s opinion against another’s.
Thankfully, that’s not the case.
There are many sources for reliable, trusted information on essential oils, including books, digital resources, and free online articles.
- I offer two aromatherapy resources to help you know how to use essential oils safely and effectively.
Essential Oils: Separating Truth from Myth dives deeper into these myths and others, giving you a solid foundation of essential oil truth.
The Essential Oils Quick Reference Guide puts the most important safety and how-to guidelines right at your fingertips with printable charts and checklists.
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) and Alliance of International Aromatherapists offer basic general educational articles on essential oils and aromatherapy.
- Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Keville and Green and The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Lawless are both practical, understandable books for beginners.
- Many aromatherapy schools, like the Tisserand Institute, share excellent information in their blog articles, newsletters, and social media posts.
- Pubmed and Google Scholar offer a wealth of research studies on specific essential oils, blends of essential oils, and aromatherapy in general.
- Many aromatherapists work privately with clients to provide individualized essential oil education and/or custom blends. You can learn about my Thriving Health Consultations here.
The Lasting Lesson of My Son’s Arm
Despite the scare my son and I experienced with oregano oil, he didn’t have any lasting injury or skin damage on his arm.
After removing the bandage, rubbing down his skin with coconut oil, and washing it thoroughly, his arm quickly felt better. I was grateful that the pain and irritation left once we washed off the oil.
But the safety lesson never left me. It made me committed to using essential oil wisely and helping others do the same.
Essential oils don’t have to be a confusing mess of half-truths and potentially dangerous myths. There is better information out there when you know where to look and what to ignore.