Essential Oil Safety for Pregnant & Nursing Women

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, "can I use your products while pregnant or breastfeeding?" The answer is: "most of them, but with caution, and please consult your doctor first". I really hate giving that answer because its not definitive and I know with so many unknowns in pregnancy, all you want is a clear answer. But in order to maintain transparency and keep my customers safe, that has to be my answer. Often times, physicians don't even know the answer because 1) they don't know the strength of the essential oils in products 2) they aren't educated in aromatherapy, and 3) the guidelines are sometimes unclear. My goal in this article is not to answer this controversial question as it applies to essential oils in cosmetics, but to educate you and give you the resources you need to make an informed decision for yourself. 

beauty oils with roses

The controversy

Essential oils are highly concentrated and powerful plant elements that can penetrate our membranes and travel through the body quickly. In general, essential oils are likely to cross the placenta because of their molecular weight, which however, does not necessarily indicate a hazard.

There is much misleading and contrary information on the web about whether or not it's safe to use essential oils during pregnancy and while nursing. This confusion comes from the fact that some EOs are safe and some are not,  some have different safe levels of dilution, while others are unknown. There's also the time frame of use, - its recommended to be cautious in the first 3 months of pregnancy however care should actually be taken during your entire pregnancy. The cases of toxicity during pregnancy almost always result from a pregnant woman taking large, toxic doses of essential oils that are high in the constituents: camphor, Sabinyl acetate, aromatic ketones, phenols, ethers and aromatic aldehydes. I'm not going to get into the the affects of these constituents because it gets really scientific but for the sake of this article I'm going to call them potentially toxic. We don't really know a lot about what is safe because honestly, there's not many studies since testing on humans is considered unsafe and unethical. Even with animal testing, results may vary within a litter or between species. One interesting thing to note is that, even though definitive safety information isn't available for many essential oils during pregnancy, the same is true for may over the counter and prescription drugs. In fact, less than 1% of pharmaceutical drugs are tested on pregnant woman. Due to the lack of definitive information, it's important to adhere to the general safety guidelines put forth by the NAHA & IFPA or trusted experts such as Robert Tisserand.

flowers and herbs

Essential oils to avoid

This will look like a long list, but there are still a great number of essential oils you can use with care. Some of the oils on this list are not even available and many are not regularly used by the mainstream.  According to the well-respected book, Essential Oil Safety, by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young, the following essential oils should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing. Many of the oils on this list are corroborated by  National Associtation for Holistic Aromatherapy and The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists:

Unsafe Essential Oils  (List #1)

  • Anise
  • Star Anise
  • Araucaria
  • Artemisia Vestita
  • Atractylis
  • Sweet Birch
  • Black Seed
  • Buchu
  • Calamint
  • Carrot Seed
  • Cassia
  • Chaste Tree
  • Cinnamon Bark
  • Costus
  • Blue Cypress
  • Indian Dill Seed
  • Bitter Fennel
  • Sweet Fennel
  • Feverfew
  • Genipi
  • Hibawood
  • Ho Leaf
  • Hyssop
  • Lanyana
  • Spanish Lavender
  • Mugwort
  • Myrrh
  • Myrtle (aniseed)
  • Oregano
  • Parsley Leaf
  • Parsley Seed
  • Pennroyal
  • Rue
  • Dalmation Sage
  • Spanish Sage
  • Savin
  • Tansy(not to be confused with blue tansy)
  • Thuja
  • Western Red Cedar
  • Wintergreen
  • Wormwood
  • Green Yarrow
  • Zedoary

Essential oils to restrict(use with caution) while pregnant or lactating (List #2)

The oils in this list do each have their own dosage limits, however it's my personal belief that it would be best to avoid them all together, rather than keeping track of dilutions. Many of these are rare and not often used in beauty applications:

  • Lemon Basil
  • Bosweillia Papyrifera
  • Champaca
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Leaf
  • Lemongrass
  • May Chang
  • Melissa
  • Myrtle (honey & lemon)
  • Nasturtium absolute
  • Lemon Scented Tea Tree
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Lemon Verbena

No one should use the following, pregnant or not (List #3)

  • sassafras
  • cassia
  • pennroyal
  • mustard
  • elecampane 
  • wormwood

Safe dilution

Since essential oils are organic substances, they will cross the placenta barrier and have the ability to affect the fetus. However due to evaporation, only a small amount of essential oils actually penetrate a woman's skin if using the proper dilution which means only a miniscule amount is reaching your baby.

According to the  The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists most oils(with exception of those listed above) are safe for use during pregnancy in proper dosage/dilution. Essential oils work with the body, not against it when used in the proper dosage. 

"the human body is intelligent and that the essential oils (found in everyday food and drink) are no stranger to the human metabolism. The body knows how to break them down and utilize them to balance the human physiology" - IFPA

The recommended dilution for pregnancy is 1% or less, for all skin applications however, essential oil expert, Robert Tisserand, indicates that the recommended topical dilution is somewhere between 1%-4% for whole body application. In the bath the pregnant woman should add no more than 4 drops of essential oil. Here at Argan Republic, our rule of thumb is to use 2% or less of essential oils in all our products excluding our Remedy spot treatment, which is 4%. In our Belly Butter & Baby Ointment, we reduce the dilution to 1% essential oils to make them completely safe for mother & baby. 

Keep in mind that the total quantity of essential oil absorbed into the body varies according to the total area of the skin application, dilution of oils, plus health and integrity of the skin. Tisserand recommends the dilution for a non-pregnant person 15 years or older should be 2.5% with a maximum of 5% in a massage application. 

Quality of essential oils

It's important to use and eat only the most pure, natural, and non-toxic products and foods while pregnant. Essential oils should be pure, certified organic or wild crafted, and therapeutic grade. Only purchase essential oils from reputable sources known for honesty and integrity to be sure you are using the highest quality oils. Most suppliers will list their standards on their website and give clear indications of essential oil origins and distillation methods.

flowers herbs and beauty balms

Essential oils in beauty products

Although its rare to see this information listed on product packaging, an honest brand should be able to tell you the percentage of essential oils used in each individual product. Do not rely on the brand to tell you if their product is safe for pregnancy, using the information we've given you above, be your own investigator. 

  1. Read the ingredients list
  2. Ask the brand what the dilutions are
  3. Ask about which oils are organic
  4. Make an informed decsicon
  5. Use mindfully

Benefits of Essential oils in pregnancy

There are a number of pregnancy discomforts that can be eased with the use of essential oils at the proper dilution, but remember that moderation is key:

  • Frequent Urination

- Sweet marjoram, cypress, neroli

  • Abdominal Discomfort 

- Juniper, benzoin, lavender

  • Heartburn 

- Sandalwood, Roman chamomile, petitgrain

  • Hemhroids 

- Cypress, sandalwood, peppermint, sweet orange

  • Morning Sickness

- Petitgrain, sweet orange, mandarin

  • Stretch Marks

- Lavender, frankincense, rose, chamomile

  • Varicose Veins 

- Cypress, sandalwood, sweet orange

  • Water retntion

- Petitgrain, geranium, bitter orange

Summary

This can be a lot of information to absorb on top of your already growing list of pregnancy precautions. Ultimately, its up to you to decide whether or not you want to use essential oils during pregnancy. If you do decide to use them:

  • avoid using or drastically decrease use of essential oils during the first trimester and take care in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.
  • Do not use essential oils on Table 1 - shown below
  • Reduce/restrict use of the essential oils on Table 2 - shown below
  • make sure those you use, are certified organic and wild crafted
  • use essential oils in less than a 1% dilution(recommended), or 2% dilution if you feel comfortable. 
  • do not ingest essential oils
  • if you're unsure, consult your doctor or a certified aromatherapist

TABLE 1

Table 1 - the toxic 43


TABLE 2

Table 2 - the cautious 13


bliss belly butter

Try the Argan Republic Bliss Belly Butter

Goal: Stretch-mark prevention, maintain healthy, soft, elastic skin while pregnant

Use: Day and Night

Skintype: All

Why we love it: It's safe for both mama & baby, and pampers mother's to-be

Benefits: This creamy, melty pot of belly butter bliss will keep your pregnant belly comfortable as it grows with baby. We lovingly selected natural and organic oils including certified organic argan oil, that promote and restore skin elasticity, stimulate collagen production, boosts skin natural ability to regenerate and prevents scars & stretchmarks. Bliss Belly Butter is packed with active, clean ingredients in a 100ml jar that will last your entire pregnancy to keep your body feeling loved. All ingredients were specifically chosen because they are non-toxic for both mom and baby! We only used the finest, highest-quality organic, wildcrafted and non-gmo ingredients to ensure no chemicals will touch your precious little one. The Bliss Belly Butter is the absolute best for your precious pregnancy. 

bliss belly butter

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Argan Republic cannot be held responsible for any actions made, implied or expressed by anyone as a result of this guidance.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are in no way intended to heal, prevent or treat any illness. Please consult your doctor if you are seeking medical advice.

References:http://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/

http://naha.org/assets/uploads/PregnancyGuidelines...

https://aromaticstudies.com/aromatherapy-pregnancy...

Book "Essential oil Safety", second edition - by Robert Tisserand & Rodney Young