I’m a big old safety nerd, and students are always happy to find sections on safety in my soapmaking and formulating classes. Since I’m currently in the middle of writing a whole series about using essential oils, I figured it’s high time we address some ingredient and formulating safety as well as using essential oils safely!
Let’s start with ingredient and formulating basics:
You should always keep Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), now known as Safety Data Sheets (SDS), for every ingredient in usage in your products or workshop. The SDS/MSDS will advise how to manage the material, store the material, and administer first aid or handle a spill. A binder full of SDS/MSDS should be readily available and clearly marked for quick reference by anyone, including emergency response personnel.
You should always wear personal protection gear (PPG) when handling ingredients, formulating products, manufacturing products, and handling finished products. A common GMP-compliant checklist of PPG includes: a hairnet (and beard net for those with facial hair), a pair of gloves, a coverall or lab coat, protective eyewear, shoe coverings/booties, and a respirator or face mask.
You should have safety protocols in place for the safe handling, storage, and disposal of ingredients and products used in formulating. The safety procedures should also be readily available and clearly marked for reference by anyone, including emergency response personnel.
Using Essential Oils Safely: Safe Storage Practices
Essential oils are highly concentrated constituents derived from plants that possess both aromatic and, if you should believe it, medicinal value. Essential oils are smaller and more compact in molecular size and shape than actual oils, which allows them to penetrate at a cellular level more readily than low molecular size oils like jojoba, coconut or olive. The small molecular size is what makes them more aromatic than vegetable oils. For example, while olive oil inherently does have a scent; it is not as potent as an essential oil.
As such, storing and using essential oils safely is utterly important to both you and those who will be exposed to your workspace.
Many soapmakers still make their products in their own kitchen, or in their own home. Extra precautions need to be in place to protect others who may encounter your raw materials. Children, pets, and other unsuspecting individuals should never have direct access to essential oils. Store your essential oils safely, out of reach of children and pets, preferably behind lock and key.
Do not store your essential oils in high locations, where they may fall and break or where you may fall when accessing them.
Essential oils are flammable materials, and should be kept away from any fire hazards such as an open flame or heat source, including candles, gas furnaces or stovetops, fireplaces, matches, etc. Not only is a heat source a dangerous proposition for using essential oils safely, but constant temperature changes can negatively affect their shelf life.
It is optimal to store essential oils in a cool dark location with temperatures between 35° F and 40° F. If possible, dedicate a fridge to storing essential oils and other fragile ingredients. Many essential oils will become more viscous or develop crystallization when stored in cooler temperatures. Simply warm the bottle with your hands or in warm water to loosen the essential oil back up.
Darkly colored glass, such as amber and cobalt glass, are the ideal containers for long term storage of essential oils, as they help protect essential oils from light. Keep the bottles capped when not using essential oils, and try to keep essential oils in appropriately sized containers.
Using Essential Oils Safely: Safe Handling & Usage
I’m sure you can only imagine that since essential oil storage has a few guidelines, there’s plenty of guidelines to follow for using essential oils safely when you are handling them!
When using essential oils in formulating, always use chemical-resistant glass or stainless steel to mix, measure, and weigh essential oils. Many essential oils will quickly break down or melt plastic materials, and they should be avoided when using essential oils.
It’s extremely important to avoid skin contact with essential oils, as they are extremely strong and can cause dermal irritation, chemical burns, and more. Wear chemical-resistant gloves when handling essential oils. Always keep essential oils away from your eyes, and wear protective eyewear when handling. Before using any essential oil, consult the SDS/MSDS for first aid information so you are prepared.
Avoid prolonged exposure to essential oils as much as possible. Reduce your exposure to essential oils by ensuring your workspace has adequate ventilation, as well as air filtration or purification, and wear an appropriate respirator. When using essential oils, take frequent breaks to get fresh air and drink plenty of water. Working on essential oil blends or formulating with essential oils for hours on end can cause headaches/migraines and nausea.
Some essential oils can cause allergic reactions or sensitization. To minimize your exposure and reduce your risk for sensitization, protect yourself and put your health first. You only have one body, do not jeopardize your health for your company!
As always, you should consult the SDS/MSDS of your specific essential oil, but as a general rule, here are first aid guidelines for using essential oils safely:
- If an essential oil gets in your eyes: Immediately flush eyes with plenty of cool water, or saline solution for at least 15 minutes. Get medical attention immediately, if irritation occurs.
- If an essential oil gets on your skin: Remove contaminated clothing, and wash the affected area with soap and cool water. Some SDS/MSDS recommend diluting the contact site with a carrier oil prior to washing. Get medical attention immediately, if irritation occurs.
- If you ingest an essential oil: Immediately call Poison Control. In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach the American Association of Poison Control Centers,
It should go without saying, but essential oils should never be used undiluted on the skin or taken internally without strict medical supervision. You should never advocate such usage for yourself or for others unless you are a certified and qualified individual. Injuries from improperly using essential oils happen often. Aromatherapy United collects and compiles injury reports. It’s definitely worth your time to review past reporting to remind yourself of the importance of using essential oils safely!
Certain essential oils should not be used by individuals with particular medical conditions. Consult each individual essential oil’s available safety information through a reputable resource or the supplier from which you purchase your essential oils.
If you spill an essential oil, immediately evacuate the area and cover the spill with an inorganic, non-combustible absorbent material. Some common household materials include clay kitty litter, baking soda, and sand, but hazmat sorbent kits are much more effective at cleaning up an essential oil spill. Ventilate the area, and wash thoroughly after cleaning up the spill. Take it from someone who has dropped a 16 ounce amber glass bottle of peppermint essential oil, you want to keep spill clean-up materials at the ready!
Contact your state’s environmental agency or waste disposal organization to dispose of essential oils. Never pour essential oils down the drain or dispose in ordinary trash receptacles. Essential oils are considered hazardous materials and will require special disposal procedures in accordance with your locale’s regulations.
Additional Resources for Using Essential Oils Safely
- Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety book is far and above the best reference guide and resource you can get on using essential oils safely. It may seem expensive, but if you plan on using essential oils in your formulating, it is a must-have.
- The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is a fabulous resource to explore essential oils and aromatherapy, as well as find reputable aromatherapy programs.
- The American Herbal Council is a great research tool with extensive libraries of information about herbal and botanical materials.
- PubMed is a huge database of millions of citations from medical and scientific literature, including MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.
- The International Fragrance Association establishes guidelines for safe usage, and works with the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) to determine these guidelines based on scientific analysis rather than unconfirmed reporting or speculation.