By Katrina Scampini, Certified Aromatherapist
Let’s talk about something a bit controversial today: vaping essential oils. It’s marketed as an appealing, convenient, and portable way to enjoy your favorite EOs. There are plenty of positive online reviews and individual success stories raving about this new craze. But is it safe? What are the short and long term consequences? Do we even know?
To inhale, or not to inhale, that is the question.
Well, I’ve treaded through the murky underbelly of the Internet to gather as much information as I can about the subject. And trust me, there is no shortage of personal opinions, anecdotal stories, and extensive claims supporting both the positive and negative sides of the issue.
And here’s what I’ve discovered: there is simply no hard scientific research to back anything up. None. And while there are companies that do put a positive marketing spin on vaping EOs, time and time again, there was no research they could point to.
In fact, some places cited studies to support their company’s claims of safety, but when looking into this further, it turns out the studies are actually talking about inhaling oils through the nose. There is just no explanation for the passive consumer who doesn’t want to take the time and click the link and read the article. But don’t worry—that’s what I’m here for!
So what do we know?
We know how a vaporizing pen works. It has a heating element inside that activates with suction. Oils or waxes are heated to approximately 400℉, where it becomes a vapor. A person inhales through a mouthpiece and exhales out the nose or mouth. A quick disclaimer: Some pens heat up to higher or lower degrees, but about 400℉ is a good general estimate. On the high end of the spectrum, vape pens will have settings that allow you to heat all the way up to over 800℉.
Why is this important? Because another thing that we know is that vegetable glycerin, a common ingredient used in vaping cartridges, changes into a substance known as acrolein when exposed to heat over 536℉ . Acrolein is a highly reactive substance that is very irritating to the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, stomach, and skin .
We also know that the chemical makeup of essential oils change when they’re heated.
Like vegetable glycerin, the change may not be an ideal compound for your overall health. But this is really the caveat because we simply do not know exactly what happens to every essential oil when it is heated to such a high degree.
It’s also important to consider that vape pens haven’t even been around that long. Definitely not long enough to have substantial long-term evidence from controlled trials or systematic reviews. Because of this, we do not know the full safety profile of vaping essential oils.
And I don’t know about you, but I am not comfortable with intentionally inhaling something into my lungs if I don’t know what it is.
Some companies tip-toe around this concern by saying it’s okay to use the vaporized essential oils as long as you’re not aggressively inhaling through your mouth by taking shallow draws from the pen, then exhaling through the nose. This helps ensure the essential oils do not go to your lungs and are instead passing through the body’s olfactory receptors. Other places even say not to inhale at all (which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I’m sure encompasses legal issues that may come up). But if you wanted to enjoy your essential oils with your olfactory receptors, doesn’t it seem safer to carry around your aromatherapy inhaler or diffuse at home?
Ready for the bottom line?
If you haven’t already guessed it, we do not recommend that anyone vape their essential oils. However, this is a fluid topic; hopefully, in the near future, we will have studies that can confirm or deny the safety of this practice. But until then, we suggest that everyone steer clear of loading their vape cartridge with Lavender. There are so many safer ways to enjoy it!
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, please do so with a critical eye and a desire to find independent scientific information that is unaffiliated with a company trying to sell the idea that vaping essential oils is safe.
I realize this article may bring up concerns about vaping with CBD, which is also quickly becoming a popular topic of discussion. As of right now, Plant Therapy does not have an aromatherapist on staff with expertise in CBD usage; however, this may be an area we offer at a later time and will be better able to revisit this topic.
Want an inside look at what essential oil lovers have to say about vaping and essential oils? Become a member of our Facebook group Safe Essential Oil Recipes to chat with thousands of enthusiasts about the aromatherapy topics in a fun, friendly environment.
 Dworniczak, M. (2016). Glycerine in e-liquid. Retrieved from https://nicotinepolicy.net/blogs/guest-blogs/23-miroslaw-dworniczak/144-glycerine
2] Public Health Statement Acrolein. (2007). Retrieved from the Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=554&tid=102