French Aromatherapy: The Truth About Internal Use of Essential Oils

French Aromatherapy: The Truth About Internal Use of Essential Oils

What is French Aromatherapy?
There is a popular misconception that the practice of French Aromatherapy justifies ingesting essential oils on a regular basis. The practice is more nuanced than that and the term "ingestion" should be replaced with "internal application" as this includes methods of application such as rectal suppositories and vaginal pessaries as well. There is much to be understood about the complexity of French Aromatherapy as the internal application of essential oils and herbal preparations. This is the only difference between other valid schools of thought often referred to as British and German or Anglo-Saxon Aromatherapy which do not advocate internal application of essential oils.

[Side note: I have completed my coursework and exams for my French Aromatherapy certification through the New York School of Aromatic Studies and am in the process of finishing my case studies for the final paper that I am writing on stress and aromatic preparations.]

French Aromatherapy uses the following methods of essential oil application

  • Dermal application (this also includes limited use of undiluted application)

  • Oral route (always using an excipient or dispersant in liquids, sublingual use, cough syrups, and cough drops)

  • Rectal suppositories and vaginal pessaries

  • Diffusion and Inhalation

  • All other methods practiced through the Anglo-Saxon model

Internal application, via the oral route, of essential oils involves more than just putting a couple drops of lemon oil in your water or tea or seasoning foods with essential oils as a replacement for fresh or dried herbs and spices.

There are several methods of internal applications using proper excipients and dispersing agents for each method because as we know - oil and water do not mix. Excipients include: solubol or disper, honey, alcohol, gelatin capsules, herbal tinctures, herbal pastilles, neutral tablets (only available in Europe, but homeopathic blank tablets might be a comparable replacement,) sugar cubes, honey, fatty oil capsules, charcoal, tinctures, bread, rice flour capsules, syrups, dried powdered herb capsules.  [New York Institute of Aromatic Studies] When you add essential oils to your water, they will just float on the surface and when you drink from your glass you in essence will be ingesting undiluted essential oils. This may not cause any noticeable discomfort or issues, but can cause internal damage over time.

French Aromatherapy does not advocate putting drops of essential oil in your water or tea without using one of the aforementioned excipients, nor does it advocate cooking with essential oils - these are both common misconceptions about the practice of using essential oils internally. Cooking with essential oils can be a costly endeavor and much of the therapeutic value will evaporate with heat - especially the heat required to cook or bake any type of food dish.

While French Aromatherapy advocates using essential oils internally this is not usually intended for frequent or daily use for long periods of time and there is much emphasis on safety considerations for ingesting essential oils — regardless of purity or quality. There are different doses and duration of use specific to acute or chronic conditions -- this applies to both adults and children.

Why Use Essential Oils Orally?
Oral use of essential oils is primarily used for "digestive disorders, infectious diseases, immune support, candida infections, liver detox/cleanse, liver support, preventative to tropical diseases, colds, coughs, flu, sinusitis, oral candida, periodontal disease, mouth ulcers, terrain support, urinary tract infections, insomnia, some acute nervous states: anxiety, etc." [New York Institute of Aromatic Studies]

As for sublingual use, which means placing one drop of oil under the tongue, this can help with the rapid onset of therapeutic action as the absorption is 3-10 times greater than the traditional oral route, but is often short acting. Sublingual use can be self-administered, but it can be challenging to get just one drop - I suggest using a pipette or a syringe so that you do not accidentally use more than one drop. 

Internal Application Essential Oil Safety
There are numerous safety considerations to take into account when using essential oils internally - just because they are GRAS or 100% pure does not mean that they do not come without any contraindications or safety precautions.

  1. It is absolutely imperative to know your essential oils! You should be proficient in your knowledge of commonly used essential oils and maintain your proficiency as you add essential oils to your collection.

  2. If you are taking any prescription medications or even dietary supplements these can interact with the internal use of essential oils.

  3. It is recommended to evaluate internal use every 2-4 weeks and make any necessary adjustments or discontinue the treatment.

  4. Oral route should be avoided with certain medical conditions or ailments. Someone with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease may not be able to tolerate mint in any form and taking a preparation with peppermint or other mint might make them ill and agitate their symptoms.

  5. Be aware of any red flags that indicate the need to seek medical attention such as a sudden onset of chest pain, high fever, abdominal pain, disorientation or confusion, hypertension, difficulty walking, shortness of breath or other urgent medical condition.

  6. Know the contraindications and cautions for each essential oil that is being used internally especially if they interact with any medications. 

  7. Consider the duration of internal use: in some cases, a semi-toxic essential oil can be used for acute conditions, but it should not be used long term for chronic conditions. Gentler oils may be used over a longer duration, but still should be carefully monitored.

Recommended Oral Dosages & Duration
For Adults, the typical recommended oral dosage is 1-3 drops up to 2-3 times a day. The maximum daily dose is 12 drops per day depending on age, general health, medications, purposes, and condition. 

For Children, the oral route is used when they are over 7 years old. Some exceptions apply such as cough syrup for children who are 5 or 6 years old. Otherwise, rectal suppositories are used to treat infants and children under 7 years old.

For acute conditions: Oral dosage should be used for up to 21 days total starting with a high dosage for 1-4 days and then reduce to lower dosages for the subsequent days.

For chronic conditions: Essential oils should be used orally only 21 days out of the month, then go a week without oral use. 1-2 drops 3 times a day can be used for an extended period of time, but it is recommended to have blood work done including liver panels when you are taking essential oils internally for over 1 year.
[New York Institute of Aromatic Studies]

The Truth About Internal Use of Essential Oils
While I am trained in French Aromatherapy, I do not advocate using essential oils internally beyond the aforementioned dosages and duration. There is a lot of misinformation on the web and you have probably come across it on websites, blogs, Facebook groups, and from well-meaning friends who have been inadvertently passing along such misinformation. Internal use of essentials oils is a highly controversial topic among the aromatherapy community - many advocate to never take essential oils internally, while others, like myself, are generally okay with it as long as you know what you are doing and follow the safety guidelines that I included above. 

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