Different Methods of Using Essential oils aka “Schools of Thought” | Using Essential Oils Safely

The topic of differing “schools of thought” comes up from time to time on our safety group. I thought now would be a good time to get a post up about this catch phrase and explain what it means, why it’s misleading, and what the aromatherapy experts really believe.

“Schools of Thought”

The theory goes that there are different “schools of thought” when it comes to using essential oils: the French ingest essential oils, Germans inhale essential oils, and the British use essential oils topically. So if you like to ingest essential oils by adding them to your water, you are from the French school. This allows for certain companies to toss aside safe usage recommendations by saying they believe in the French way of using essential oils.

This “schools of thought” misconception was presented in a popular book backed by a certain essential oil company, and it has been perpetuated ever since to justify unsupervised ingestion by the untrained consumer. You will not find “schools of thought” taught in aromatherapy schools or backed by aromatherapy organizations.

The French “School” – how they really do it in France

In order to use essential oils internally in France, you must have medical supervision, as only doctors can prescribe essential oils for therapeutic (including internal) use. The most common way they will prescribe internal use is in a suppository form, or in capsules, not in water. It just doesn’t make sense to suggest adding essential oils to your drinking water for treating health issues when there are better methods available. Water and essential oils do not mix, and this is quite ineffective when trying to treat a serious issue, such as a respiratory infection or IBS. The essential oil is going to be rendered virtually useless once it hits the stomach, only after possibly irritating, burning or eventually scarring, the esophagus. Also read: Ingesting Essential Oils and Grasse Phyt’Arom 2017 – what we learned in France about French aromatherapy by Hana Bělíková this is featured on Tisserand Institute


Different schools methods

In reality, there are different methods of using essential oils, not different schools. When I went through my aromatherapy training at Aromahead Institute, I learned that all methods of using essential oils have their place. All the certified aromatherapists I know acknowledge and respect that inhalation, topical use, and ingestion all have their place in aromatherapy. I don’t know any of us who wouldn’t agree that internal use does have its place when done properly and for the right reasons.

When Internal Use is an Appropriate Method

I think most of us understand when to use the inhalation/diffusing method (when we want to affect mood or emotions), and when to use the topical method (skin issues). But it’s not always clear when internal use is an appropriate response.

Here are some of the more common ways essential oils are used internally according to Rhiannon Lewis, essential oil expert from France:

  • rectal suppositories for hemorrhoids, anal fissure or itching
  • rectal suppositories for respiratory issues such as bronchitis
  • vaginal suppositories (pessaries) for disturbed flora, such as candida

Rectal suppositories are effective due to the large blood supply in the colon. Two thirds of the dose goes systemic, with only one third of the dose going to the liver, decreasing the burden on the liver.

Incidentally, when asked about using essential oils in water as a method of internal ingestion Lewis responded, “I don’t understand why it’s done” and that “essential oils are not nutritional supplements” but are “potent” and she is “quite concerned” about “long-tern gut flora.”

According to Salvatore Battaglia’s book The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, some of the advantages of suppositories are:

  • more rapid absorption of essential oils into the body
  • absence of interaction between the GI tract or liver, which possibly breaks down the essential oils
  • adverse effects on liver are reduced as the liver is not being over-worked

Battaglia does caution that occasional irritation to the rectum is a risk, and similar safety issues to those of oral administration need to be considered.


Nine times out of ten, inhalation and topical use are going to be the most effective methods for administering essential oils. Ingestion does have its place, but it is important that you have professional guidance if you choose this method.

Please use essential oils safely and responsibly! 🙂

Want to further your knowledge with expert training from Certified Clinical Aromatherapist Lea Harris? Enroll in the UEOS Basics course October class here.