Essential Oil Cautions: Skin Irritation, Photo-sensitivity & Pets

Citrus-Essential-OilsWhile essential oils are natural products derived from plants, there are affects you should be aware of before using.  Every oil, like every plant, has a different chemical composition and set of attributes that effect how they should, or should not, be used.  Below are a few cautions; it is important to research each oil for the intended use.

Skin Irritation

For some people, a “hot oil” (essential oil high in phenols) merely feels like a tingly, cool sensation on the skin.  For others, these oils can irritate the skin especially when used neat (undiluted without a carrier oil).   Common oils that fall into this category include: Peppermint, Wintergreen, Tea tree, Clove & Basil.  Not to say these oils should be avoided, but it’s important to research the properties of each, and safe dilutions for application.   For example,

  • A dilution of Clove (Syzgium aromaticum) is used in the dental profession on gauze to treat dry socket, but if used straight would burn gum tissue.
  • The antimicrobial properties of Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil make it an effective agent for bacterial, viral and fungal skin issues, but direct use can cause high skin irritation, especially to areas surrounding the affected skin condition.


Citrus oils are susceptible to UV radiation which can cause severe sunburn, blistering or long-lasting change of skin color. The most notable oils to avoid before exposure to sun include (in order of sensitivity) are: Bergamot, Lime, Lemon & Grapefruit.


Essential oils should not be diffused around birds, reptiles or fish.  Polyphenolic essential oils (including Cinnamon Bark, Eucalyptus and the hot oils mentioned above) can interfere with a cat’s liver function, and should not be applied topically or diffused around them.  Dogs may have allergenic skin reactions to Clove, Juniper, Wintergreen and Yarrow.   A good rule of thumb is to limit diffusing to 20-30 minutes.  Humans become “nose blind” after that period, and you may risk overexposing an animal that cannot leave the area.

  • If you are trying to prevent dogs from biting/chewing*, Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a solid choice as it tastes like metal and is the most gentle & mild of essential oils.
  • To naturally repel ticks*, effective oils include: Geranium (Pelargonium gaveolens),  and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).

* Dilute more for smaller species.

Essential oils are powerful substances, and research should be done for every intended use, especially when used on children, elderly and those with medical conditions.

Comments are closed.

Powered by

Up ↑