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Because essential oils are highly potent and concentrated care must be taken to use them safely at the correct dilutions and volumes. General safety points are given below. It is further recommended that you take time to learn about the uses, effects and potential side-effects of specific essential oils before purchasing and using them.

* Essential oils must never be given or taken internally except under the advice of a qualified health practitioner trained in the internal use of essential oils. Most will severely damage the lining of the digestive tract. All essential oils are potentially toxic if taken internally without qualified advice.

* Many essential oils must be avoided during pregnancy and throughout the breastfeeding period.

* Certain essential oils should not be used on the very young (under 2 years of age) and the very elderly, nor on pets. Some essential oils are not suitable for anyone with asthma, high blood pressure, epilepsy or diabetes. If in doubt, seek qualified advice before purchasing or using.

* Most essential oils cause mild to severe skin irritation if used neat (undiluted in base oil). They should not come into contact neat with the mucous membranes or the eyes. If you have sensitive skin or have allergies, or if you are unsure if an oil you want to use is suitable for you, carry out a patch test. Put a few drops of the oil in a base oil/cream/milk and apply a bit on the back of your wrist, cover with a plaster and leave for a number of hours. If irritation or redness occurs, bathe the area with cold water, and in future dilute the oil by half or avoid altogether.

* Some essential oils are phototoxic, i.e. cause skin pigmentation if applied to skin that is then exposed to sunlight. This particularly applies to the citrus oils, including Bergamot.

* When incorporating essential oils in recipes for making your own natural skin care products take care that the essential oils in question do not have an adverse synergetic effect when combined, and also do not exceed the amount stated in the recipe (normally less than 0.5% of the total recipe).

* Essential oils must be stored safely, in dark, glass bottles, out of reach of children and animals. The bottles should be kept tightly closed at all times. When using, allow the bottle to remain open only for the time it takes to take the volume you need.

*Never transfer neat essential oils from glass containers to plastic, polished or painted containers.

* Use only pure essential oils and purchase them from a trustworthy source. Beware of anyone selling cheap essential oils. Under current EU law essential oil labelling should include the INCI name of the oil, country of origin, batch number, applicable hazard warnings and also indicate any constituent sensitisers.

* Do not dispose of unused essential oils down the drain, as even in small quantities some oils can harm aquatic organisms and damage sensitive micro-ecosystems.

* Some essential oils are flammable, so keep them away from naked flames and out of direct sunlight or other heat sources. If a bottle of oil has become very warm for whatever reason, allow it to cool naturally before opening it.

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