Are Essential Oils and Oil Diffusers Safe?

The use of essential oil diffusers such as the popular “Air Wick Essential Mist Diffuser” can be extremely relaxing. Many essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus are touted to have a variety of benefits ranging from pain relief to boosting your mood. But can essential oil diffusers actually be dangerous to your health and pollute your air? 

Essential Oils: An Unregulated Industry

Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and therefore are exempt from disclosure of their ingredients on their label. This unfortunately leaves consumers left in the dark regarding what exactly is in their essential oils and the possible health effects. To get a clearer picture of the possible health effects of these essential oils, let’s take a closer look at an independent study.

safety of essential oils

Study: Essential Oils Release Dangerous VOCs Into Air

A study tested 24 commercial essential oils, including 12 claiming to be “natural” or related terms, such as organic, 100% pure, or plant-based. 188 different VOC gases were found among the 24 essential oils, 33 of those being considered hazardous, such as acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. The hazardous VOC toluene was found in 50% of the essential oils. Every essential oil tested emitted at least one or more dangerous VOCs into the air.

essential oils release toulene

Does This Mean Essential Oil Diffusers Are Dangerous?

Although there are dangerous VOCs created by essential oils, could the levels be so low that it does not present a health risk?

One study sought to answer this and determine the levels of dangerous VOCs emitted from essential oil diffusers. Even though many VOCs were found in the air, the total concentration of VOCs in the room was considered to be below guideline recommendations and considered safe for use. 

For example, the high levels of toluene found during the testing of 4 different essential oils were .00025 ppm. The Japanese threshold for toluene is .07ppm, 2800-times higher than the levels found from the essential oils. 

Total concentration levels of all VOCs combined peaked at .6 ppb throughout the test. 

Although overall levels of VOCs remain low, this does not dismiss the possibility that essential oils are 100% safe. It is possible that one of the many VOCs released into the air from essential oils could cause harm at very low levels. More research is needed. 

Summary: What Should You Do?

Although all essential oils release VOCs into the air, there is inconclusive evidence on whether the low levels released into the air can cause negative health effects. 

To stay on the safe side, Smart Air recommends:

  1. Don’t overdo it. This is in regard to the amount of time used diffusing essential oils into the air and the number of essential oils used in your diffuser. Keep exposure to 15 minutes-1 hour. 
  2. Use a carbon filter. A carbon filter is a filter that can be used on an air purifier. Carbon filters are effective at trapping the VOCs that are emitted into the air from the essential oils. Note, they may also weaken the essential oil smell itself. Recommendation: Use a carbon filter in areas of the home where you want to reduce essential oils in your air.

Free Guide to Breathing Safe

Want to learn more about breathing clean air? Join thousands more and stay up to date on protecting your health.

Notify of
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Smart Air low cost purifiers

Smart Air is a social enterprise and certified B-Corp that offers simple, no-nonsense air purifiers and provides free education to protect people from the harms of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.

Certified B-Corp air purifier company