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Safe Use of Essential Oils: Decoding Labels and Recognizing Risks

  • 2 min reading time

Essential oils have gained significant popularity in Singapore and worldwide due to their potential health benefits, including easing headaches, fighting fatigue, lifting mood, supporting digestion, and aiding memory [3]. Aromatherapy, which utilizes these oils, refers to a range of traditional, alternative, or complementary therapies [2]. However, their usage must be carefully regulated to prevent any adverse effects.

Safe Usage of Essential Oils

The safety of essential oils depends on the frequency of use, quality of the oils, and the way they are used [4]. Essential oils require dilution to prevent adverse reactions, and concentration levels should ideally be kept below 5 percent [1]. Diluting at 1 percent equates to adding approximately one drop of essential oil to a teaspoon of carrier oil.

Inhalation is the fastest way to benefit from using the oils and can help balance mood and emotions [6]. However, essential oils should always be diffused in a well-ventilated area and for a limited period, typically not exceeding 60 minutes.

Direct application on the skin should be carried out with caution. Always dilute oils with a carrier oil before applying to the skin and do a patch test to check for any allergic reactions [5].

Understanding Essential Oil Labels

In Singapore, essential oil labels can often be confusing. They may contain terms like "therapeutic grade," "pure," "natural," or "certified," but these are largely marketing terms and don't have standard definitions.

A "pure" essential oil means it hasn't been mixed with other substances, but it doesn't necessarily indicate its quality or safety. "Therapeutic grade" implies the oil could have health benefits, but without standardized regulation for this term, it could be misleading.

The best way to assess the quality of an essential oil is to look for the botanical name of the plant (e.g., Lavandula angustifolia for lavender), the part of the plant used, the method of extraction, and the country of origin.

Potential Risks and Recent Misuses

Despite their natural origins, essential oils can pose risks if misused. The potential side effects include skin irritation, burning, allergic reactions, and, in extreme cases, toxicity [5].

There have been cases in Singapore where essential oils were improperly used. For example, applying undiluted essential oils directly to the skin, leading to severe irritation and burns. In another incident, a family used a diffuser for extended periods, causing headaches and dizziness due to overexposure.


Essential oils offer a myriad of potential benefits. However, it's crucial to understand the safe ways to use these potent plant extracts and decode their labels. Always remember that natural doesn't always equate to safe, and when in doubt, seek advice from a certified aromatherapist or healthcare professional.

Note: This information is accurate as of May 2023 and may change as new research becomes available. Always consult with a healthcare provider


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