Avoid These Essential Oils

Avoid These Essential Oils

In this article we will go over several harmful essential oils that could damage your health. It will include harmful methods of consumption. This article will also offer natural substitutes to replace these harmful essential oils. 

Which Essential Oils to Avoid!

There are several parts to this post:

  1. Taking unresearched and highly potent/concentrated essential oils internally/orally means you are playing games with your health.
  2. Citral, a component in nearly all essential oils that smell lemony/citrusy, shuts down the aldehyde dehydrogenase (retinaldehyde dehydrogenase) part of your alcohols & aldehydes detox pathways. This is VERY BAD and will contribute to “vitamin” A toxicity.
  3. Learning the high-carotenoid (“plant vitamin A”) essential oils so they can be AVOIDED.

An Important Blog Post on Essential Oils: Why I Avoid Essential Oils

New readers to the blog should be aware of my body of work surrounding “vitamin” A toxicity. The reason why I am highlighting the dangers of essential oils is, in part, due to their contributory effects to “vitamin” A toxicity, both by slowing down the body’s detox pathways AND by contributing “vitamin” A to the problem as carotenoids. You may be confused by me calling “vitamin” A a toxin (it’s a vitamin, surely it’s good for you, right?). Check out my paradigm shifting master article on Vitamin A to bring you up to speed. [THIS NEEDS A LINK]

This is a great important blog post to read on the use and reality of essential oils in general:


Let’s keep going. More realities below.

Essential oils are concentrated extracts of plants…so if you are using essential oils internally or topically that come from high-carotenoid (“plant vitamin A”) plants, you are putting tons of toxic carotenoids into your system as well. Orange, yellow, red, and green colored essential oils are overflowing with these toxic carotenoids. 

Following on from the above…if the “dose makes the poison”, and it takes A LOT of plant matter to make essential oils, doesn’t it make sense that by super-concentrating plant extracts, one is really testing the limits of where something may turn from OK into a POISON?

Next, as I say about so many other non-essential supplement-type compounds…no one anywhere has ever died or gotten a disease caused by an “essential oil deficiency”. This means that essential oil treatments are not correcting any nutritional deficiency. What they are doing is inducing drug-like effects due to the unique chemical compounds within them. This is still only treating the symptom(s), and does NOT actually address the cause. 

Essential oils can, and do, dissolve plastics, rubber, and styrofoam. There is very, very little actual SAFETY RESEARCH on taking essential oils internally. Do you realize the implications of the above two facts together? For these two reasons alone, I simply cannot advise using any essential oils internally. 

When *aromatherapist organizations* are cautioning people away from taking them internally, one might want to listen! See image below from the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists.

Avoid This Essential Oil: Citral

Citral is a component of many essential oils.  Citral inhibits/slows one of the most important detox enzymes in your body, that being aldehyde dehydrogenase (aka retinaldehyde dehydrogenase).  This means it slows/blocks the conversion of retinaldehyde to retinoic acid (aka “inhibits retinoic acid synthesis” below).

Citral is composed of the monoterpenes geranial (citral A) and neral (citral B). So, avoid geranial, neral, and essential oils that contain them!

PRO TIP:  If an essential oil smells significantly of “lemon” or “citrus”, then it likely contains problematic amounts of citral.

What essential oils is citral concentrated in, and therefore which plants/herbs might you also want to avoid?

  • Citral essential oil, this is the isolated compound
  • Orange (Citrus sinensis)
  • Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
  • Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium ssp. amara), aka petitgrain essential oil
  • Lime oil (lime essential oil comes from the peel, eating the flesh/juice is OK)
  • Lemon oil (lemon essential oil comes from the peel, eating the flesh/juice is OK)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Lemon grass aka lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
  • Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
  • Lemon ironbark (Eucalyptus staigeriana)
  • Lemon tea-tree (Leptospermum liversidgei)
  • Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
  • Verbena (Verbena officinalis)
  • May Chang (Litsea cubeba)
  • Wild basil (Ocimum gratissimum)
  • Litsea citrata
  • Lindera citriodora
  • Calypranthes parriculata
  • Cymbopogon Citratus

Do you see the obvious pattern of citrus words (orange, lemon, and lime) in the common names above?

Essential Oil Anecdote: Citral

Here is real-world evidence of the “vitamin” A-detox-blocking effect of citral:

Q&A: spilled essential oils discolor skin

Joanne L. writes:

Hi Robert, I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the following – a short course student of mine works in an essential oil / fragrance supplier. 

Recently she poured an unspecified amount of Lemon Scented Myrtle oil over her leg into her shoe which she continued to wear for a number of hours until the end of the day. Her foot and leg turned an orangey red for over a week until she went on holiday and swam in the pool. The same student also spilled lemongrass oil onto her arm at another time. This also turned orangey red but cleared up within a few days. 

I assume the aldehydes play a part in the discolouration but wonder why the LSM would stain the skin for such a long time?. (I have recommended that she takes milk thistle on a regular basis!)



Wow, tough question Joanne! I have never come across this before. 

Certainly there is a link between lemon-scented myrtle and lemongrass, as they are both very high in citral (about 90% and 80% respectively). The orange-red skin sounds very much like an excess of beta-carotene, and can be caused by eating a LOT of carrots. 

In the body, beta-carotene is metabolized into retinol, then retinaldehyde (a form of vitamin A) and then retinoic acid. Citral inhibits the enzyme (ALDH1A2) that carries out this last stage (retinaldehyde > retinoic acid). That’s what normally happens. 

However, if in this person the citral instead inhibited the initial stage of metabolism (beta-carotene > retinol), then an excess of beta-carotene could build up in the skin, so long as some citral was still there. Rather than an individual difference, it’s also feasible that a massive amount of citral might overwhelm metabolic pathways, leading to a “traffic jam” that has the same end result. It’s not a perfect explanation, but it highlights the only link between those essential oils and beta-carotene-like skin. 

It does not sound like a phototoxic reaction, since these only happen on exposure to sunlight, they don’t spontaneously clear up very quickly, and the discoloration is patchy and tanned rather than orange. But I think that would be the only other possibility.


More on citral below.

Essential Oil Profiles

Organ-specific effects

Reproductive toxicity: Citral is dose-dependently teratogenic because it inhibits retinoic acid synthesis, and this can affect fetal development (see Citral profile, Chapter 14).


Other Essential Oils to Avoid

Very high carotenoid essential oils (AVOID):

  • Sea buckthorn
  • Rose hip seed oil (it is probably best to avoid using ground-up rose hips as a source of Vitamin C as well)
  • If an essential oil is orange, yellow, red, and green, it is potentially extremely concentrated in toxic carotenoids and should be used minimally or not at all.
    • Essential oils that are CLEAR don’t have a toxic “vitamin” A content issue, but may have other problems already mentioned.

SUMMARY: You’re safer staying away from essential oils than you are using them.

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