Some time ago I joined a Facebook group for essential oil users. The first post I read talked about how citrus essential oils (lemon in particular) can actually melt Styrofoam. In another post, someone claimed that it’s perfectly safe to add a couple drops of lemon essential oil into a glass of drinking water because it “maintains optimal health,” or words to that effect. Yet another poster asked if she could get her child to consume Thieves® essential oil by putting it in ice cream. I resisted making a comment because I am only in that group to lurk, in other words, get fodder for stories about unsafe aromatherapy practices.
I just don’t understand the logic that poster was using. Why would anyone drink something that could damage a substance like Styrofoam, yet advocate that it’s a healthy practice?
Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if a citrus essential oil can damage Styrofoam, couldn’t it injure the lining of your stomach? I wonder if people who do this get ulcers or suffer other health problems. The truth is, as I’ve mentioned in my other blog posts, internal ingestion is a highly inefficient method of essential oil administration, and the acids in the stomach can damage or destroy the essential oil molecules, rendering them ineffective for their intended purposes. (1)
Before we get into the potential hazards associated with internal consumption, I’m going to share some background information on how these oils are fabricated. Citrus essential oils, such as tangerine, lemon, bergamot, sweet orange, and lime, are typically prepared by expression, also referred to as cold pressing. In modern times, the method of extraction is known as the ecuelle a piquer process, which involves a prodding, pricking, sticking action to release the essential oil from the fruit. During this process, the rind of the fruit is placed in a container having spikes that puncture the peel while the device is rotated. The puncturing of the rind releases the essential oil. Centrifugal force is another method used to extract essential oils. The spinning action in a centrifuge separates the majority of essential oil from the fruit juice. (2)
Citrus essential oils can also be made from steam distillation, as with other essential oils. There are a couple of benefits associated with citrus oils prepared by distillation, such as the lack of nonvolatile residues, which can clog diffusers, stain fabric, and shorten the shelf life of the oil, and distilled citrus oils are generally less photosensitizing compared to expressed oils. (3)
Since the majority of a citrus essential oil is derived from the rind (4), it doesn’t sound like something I would want to consume. I don’t know of anyone who eats the rind of a fruit. I usually just throw in the trash or compost it.
Going back to the example of drinking essential oils in water, it’s important to know why citrus essential oils can destroy Styrofoam and other plastic/rubber materials. One of the primary chemical constituents of citrus essential oils are monoterpenes, which are 10-carbon hydrocarbon molecules. In particular, limonene is predominantly found in citrus oils. These chemicals are non-polar organic solvents. This means that they dissolve other non-polar molecules such as petrochemicals. This is why many cleaning products and things like furniture polish are citrus-based. Now it should make more sense not to ingest essential oils. Since they are good organic solvents, they will likely dissolve the lining of your digestive tract and mucous membranes. (5)
I’ll add that since water is a polar molecule, and chemicals such as monoterpenes are non-polar molecules, water and essential oils do not mix.
Even if you consume the essential oil drops in a glass of water, since oil and water do not mix, the water does not dissolve the oil, and will not stop the oil from damaging your digestive tract.
Here is a link to a graphic that literally says “Why use glass when drinking Young Living essential oils? Essential oils dissolve petrochemicals.” These individuals admit that the essential oil will dissolve Styrofoam, yet still advocate drinking the stuff. Crazy.
Another link to an image of essential oils dissolving Styrofoam.
I’m sure some folks will argue that the lining of the stomach is stronger and/or more durable than Styrofoam, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m not about to test this theory out on my own body. What’s wrong with a glass of water with a little lemon juice? Please don’t be tempted to jump on the essential oils bandwagon and do anything that could potentially harm your body. Take good care of it; it is the only place you have to live.
On that note, I would like to know if you have ever practiced essential oil ingestion, such as in drinking water or in gel capsules. Have you ever had a discussion about potential harm in doing so? Has an MLM sales rep tried to convince you that since their oils are “therapeutic grade” they are safe to ingest? Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment below. And to get a copy of my FREE ebook “Essential Oils Made Easy,” head over to www.boldaromatherapy.com and subscribe.
Thank you for your time,
(2), (3) How Are Essential Oils Extracted?
(4) Citrus Oil Guide