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Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals.
by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs, Churchill Livingstone, 650 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10011. 1995. 279 pp. $42. Illustrations ISBN 0-443-05260-3. Available from ABC BookStore, #B169.

Given the extraordinary interest in aromatherapy from both the public and health care practitioners, this book fills the need for a sweeping guide for anyone using or treating with essential oils. Robert Tisserand, an icon in the aromatherapy field and author of The Art of Aromatherapy (1977), teamed up with Tony Balacs, a pharmacologist and molecular biologist, to write this much-needed technical and practical guide on the safe use of essential oils.

Essential Oil Safety addresses areas of concern such as potential dangers of poisoning, essential oils and children, skin problems, risks in pregnancy, cancer, epilepsy, and oral administration. Tisserand states, "The majority of essential oils are harmless and the growth in popularity of aromatherapy is testament to their many benefits. However, there have been `scare stories' about some oils, which has led to confusion. Essential Oil Safety resolves these issues, alerting users to possible dangers and dispelling unfounded myths."

Even though this book is geared toward health care practitioners, it includes many references to clinical studies within the 537-item reference section. The indices (chemical, safety, and botanical) and guidelines relate practical information about chemical constituents of essential oils and their usage. The boxes and tables scattered throughout each chapter are easy to understand and the chapter summaries provide the reader a chance to digest the wealth of data presented. The chapter notes provide further discussion and clarifications of items in the text and are full of the authors' vast knowledge of the subject. This book has information on 300 essential oils; of these 95 are profiled by botanical name, family, source of oil, notable constituents, acute oral LD50, hazards, cautions, contraindications, maximum use level, toxicity data and recommendations, and comments and "compare" comments (essential oils with similar chemistry and/or hazards).

In the "Safety Guidelines" chapter, the authors emphasize the need for improved labeling on products, and for safer packaging, especially with regard to young children. There are guidelines for practitioners' safety as well as the consumer. Recommended labeling includes a "use-by date," or other indication of useful lifespan, the botanical name of the originating plant, the part of the plant the oil came from, if relevant, and the percentage concentration of essential oil, if the product is diluted.

Of interest is a chapter on cancer, with descriptions of tests for carcinogenicity, a section describing carcinogens found in essential oils, and a table listing essential oils to be avoided in aromatherapy due to their carcinogenic potential. As John Caldwell, toxicologist, states in the foreword, "`natural' certainly does not always mean `safe.'"

The chapter dealing with the administration of essential oils addresses the issue of oral ingestion. According to Tisserand, "...essential oils should only be prescribed orally, for therapeutic purposes, by primary care practitioners such as medical doctors and medical herbalists (a trained profession in the U.K., the primary author's home)." This advice is based on the fact that a dose received orally has a higher bioavailablity than through inhalation or topical application.

The authors touch briefly on the current topic of essential oils and their interaction with drugs by stating that very little data is available on the subject. However, they do state that the interaction most likely occurs at the level of cellular receptors. There are excellent tables showing established incompatibilities, probable incompatibilities, and possible incompatibilities of drugs and essential oils.

This is not a book to look at once and put away. It can be used as a reference many times over. Essential oil safety is a complicated topic with a multitude of variables.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Penny King