Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Rosemary Oil Bad For You?



Short answer

Rosemary oil, when used correctly and with caution, offers potential health benefits such as improved hair growth and anti-inflammatory effects. However, it can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and should not be consumed internally without professional guidance. High concentrations and certain conditions like pregnancy increase the risk of adverse effects. Always perform a patch test and dilute with a carrier oil before topical use.



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Long answer

Rosemary Oil Composition and Active Compounds

Understanding the composition and active compounds of rosemary oil is essential for assessing its safety and potential health benefits. Rosemary oil, derived from the leaves of the rosemary plant (Rosmarinus officinalis), is rich in bioactive constituents with various therapeutic properties.

The most notable compounds in rosemary oil include:

  • 1,8-Cineole: Also known as eucalyptol, this compound accounts for approximately 40% of rosemary oil's composition. It's recognized for its respiratory benefits and ability to enhance memory and alertness.
  • Camphor: Typically ranging between 5-20%, camphor imparts the characteristic warming sensation upon application and is frequently used in topical pain relievers.
  • Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene: These monoterpene hydrocarbons contribute to the oil's anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
  • Camphene: Similar to alpha-pinene, camphene supports the oil's therapeutic respiratory effects.
  • Bornyl acetate: This ester has a balsamic scent and contributes to the analgesic and anti-spasmodic effects of the oil.
  • Verbenone: Present in smaller amounts, verbenone is known to aid in clearing mucus and stimulating cell regeneration.
  • Limonene: This compound adds to the oil's distinct citrus aroma and also has shown promising antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

These primary components interact synergistically to provide rosemary oil's notable properties. However, the beneficial effects attributed to rosemary oil are not solely because of these individual compounds; they also depend on their concentrations and interactions within the oil.

Scientific studies have provided insights into the therapeutic potentials of rosemary oil. For instance, research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine highlighted the cognitive enhancement potential of 1,8-cineole from rosemary. Another study in the European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences suggested that the anti-inflammatory effects of rosemary oil are primarily attributed to its high concentration of alpha-pinene and 1,8-cineole.

However, it's critical to note that while these compounds can be beneficial, their effects can vary widely based on dosage, the method of application, and individual sensitivity. In high concentrations or under certain conditions, some of these components may cause adverse reactions. For example, camphor in excessive amounts can be toxic when ingested and can cause skin irritation in some individuals when applied topically.

The composition of rosemary oil can also vary depending on the plant's growing conditions, the time of harvest, and the extraction method used. These factors contribute to the chemical profile of each batch of oil and thereby its potential health impacts. As a result, thorough analysis and standardization of rosemary oil are crucial for ensuring safety and consistency in its use.

In conclusion, the active compounds within rosemary oil are largely responsible for its reputed benefits. While many of these compounds have been studied for their therapeutic properties, it's important to approach rosemary oil with an understanding of the potential risks associated with its components, particularly when used in high concentrations or on sensitive populations.

Topical Application: Benefits and Skin Irritation Risks

When it comes to the topical application of rosemary oil, we're handling a double-edged sword. On one side, there's a bouquet of potential benefits supported by both traditional use and emerging scientific research. On the other, there are the risks—most notably skin irritation—which can't be brushed under the rug.

Potential Benefits of Topical Rosemary Oil:

  • Improved Hair Growth: A fascinating study published in the Archives of Dermatology suggests that rosemary oil, when massaged into the scalp, can improve hair growth. It's posited that this might be due to the oil's ability to improve cellular generation.
  • Antimicrobial Properties: Research published in Phytotherapy Research shows rosemary oil exhibiting antimicrobial activities, which may make it beneficial in skin formulations meant to reduce bacterial or fungal skin conditions.
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: According to the Journal of Medicinal Food, the anti-inflammatory properties of rosemary oil can help alleviate skin inflammation, which makes it a good candidate for soothing formulations in skin care treatments.
  • Enhanced Circulation: Some studies, including one in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, indicate rosemary oil might help enhance blood circulation when applied topically, potentially benefiting skin health overall.

However, with the aromatic allure of rosemary oil, it's easy to forget that essential oils are potent and can pose risks if not used correctly.

Risks of Topical Rosemary Oil:

  • Skin Irritation: Essential oils are known for being concentrated and potent. A safety guideline recommended by dermatologists is to always dilute rosemary oil with a carrier oil before applying it to the skin to mitigate the risk of irritation or an adverse reaction. Undiluted application has been documented to cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
  • Allergic Reactions: Allergens in rosemary oil might provoke allergic reactions in some people. A patch test before widespread use is always recommended to prevent full-blown allergic responses.
  • Photosensitivity: Some individuals may experience increased sensitivity to sunlight after applying rosemary oil, which could potentially lead to quick sunburns or skin damage when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

When using rosemary oil topically, it's crucial to observe safety protocols. Diluting the essential oil in a proper ratio with a suitable carrier oil is the first step to reducing the risk of skin irritation. Looking out for cues from your body, beginning with a small patch test to check for reactions, and consulting with a healthcare professional or dermatologist if you have a history of sensitive skin are prudent measures before incorporating rosemary oil into your skin care regimen.

It's always a balancing act when it comes to reaping the benefits while steering clear of the risks. Rosemary oil is no exception, and its topical application should be approached with caution and respect for its potent nature. Users should be adequately informed about both the potential skin benefits and the risks of irritation, ensuring that they can make the most of this aromatic herb's oil with minimized downside.

Inhalation and Internal Use: Precautions and Toxicity Concerns

When considering the use of rosemary oil, it’s essential to distinguish between different methods of application, specifically inhalation and internal consumption. Each route of exposure carries its own set of potential risks and benefits.


Inhaling rosemary essential oil through aromatherapy is considered generally safe for most people. However, there are precautions to heed. The high concentration of active compounds in essential oils means that inhalation should be done in a well-ventilated area, preventing a buildup of concentrated vapors which could lead to dizziness, headaches, or respiratory irritation in sensitive individuals. For example, a study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that while inhaling rosemary oil can have positive cognitive effects, over-inhalation could have potential adverse reactions.

Internal Use:

The internal use of rosemary oil is where caution must be significantly heightened. Oral consumption of essential oils is controversial and should only occur under the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider. The potential toxic effects of consuming rosemary oil include severe gastrointestinal upset, kidney irritation, and even uterine bleeding in extreme cases.

One of the primary components of rosemary essential oil is camphor, which is known for its toxicity in higher doses. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, ingestion of camphor can lead to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and in severe instances, seizures.

Moreover, people with specific health conditions should exercise additional caution. Those with epilepsy, pregnant women, or individuals with high blood pressure are advised against the internal use of rosemary oil due to the risk of exacerbating their conditions. The same applies to children and infants, whose developing bodies are more sensitive to the potent effects of essential oils.

Here's a quick reference table for the concerns associated with both inhalation and internal use:

Inhalation Concerns Internal Use Concerns
Respiratory Irritation Gastrointestinal Upset
Headaches Kidney Irritation
Dizziness Uterine Bleeding
Allergic Reactions Seizures (camphor toxicity)

In conclusion, while the inhalation of rosemary essential oil can be a pleasant and potentially beneficial experience, the internal use holds significant risks and should only be considered under expert guidance. Stay informed about the proper dosages, duration, and methods of use to maintain safety when using rosemary oil.

Allergic Reactions and Sensitivity to Rosemary Oil

When examining the potential downsides of rosemary oil, the possibility of allergic reactions or sensitivities should not be overlooked. While rosemary oil is lauded for various health benefits, such as its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, it is vital to recognize that natural doesn't always mean harmless.

Contact dermatitis is one of the primary concerns linked to topical use of rosemary oil. This condition refers to skin irritation that arises after the skin comes into contact with certain substances, potentially causing symptoms such as:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Blistering

Additionally, for those who are prone to sensitivities or have pre-existing allergies, rosemary oil might trigger an allergic reaction which can manifest beyond the skin, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Asthmatic symptoms

Regarding inhalation, the use of rosemary oil in aromatherapy can sometimes lead to respiratory irritation in sensitive individuals, particularly those with asthma or allergies to other plants in the Lamiaceae family, to which rosemary belongs. The potential for such reactions necessitates careful consideration and possibly even a patch test or consultation with a healthcare professional before use.

Here's a detailed table summarizing potential allergic response indicators:

Symptom Category Possible Indicators
Skin Reactions
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Blisters
Respiratory Reactions
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal congestion
Other Potential Allergic Reactions
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Anaphylaxis (in extreme cases)

The importance of patch testing cannot be stressed enough. This involves placing a small amount of diluted rosemary oil on the skin and waiting for at least 24 hours to observe any adverse reaction. The dilution of rosemary oil is also crucial. Essential oils, including rosemary oil, should never be applied undiluted on the skin. They are often mixed with a carrier oil, such as almond or coconut oil, to mitigate the risk of skin sensitivity.

Despite the beneficial properties of rosemary oil, the reality remains that every individual's body chemistry is unique, and what may be a miracle remedy for one might be an allergen for another. Awareness of your body's response and cautious use of rosemary oil, particularly among those with a history of allergies or sensitive skin, is imperative.

A notable study which highlights this issue is the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine research, identifying the allergenic compounds within rosemary oil, further underscoring the need for wary application among those at risk.

Anecdotal evidence and forums may provide personal stories of reactions, but scientific research is key when understanding the real risks. Consulting qualified allergists or dermatologists and referencing scientific literature provides the most reliable pathway to safe use and understanding the full risks of sensitivities and allergic reactions to rosemary oil.

Interactions with Medications and Contraindications

Before incorporating rosemary oil into your routine, it's vital to understand how it interacts with certain medications and existing health conditions. While rosemary oil boasts potential benefits, responsible usage necessitates looking at the big picture regarding its safety profile. This means investigating its contraindications and potential drug interactions to avoid adverse effects.

Interactions with Blood-Thinning Medications:

One of the chief concerns with rosemary oil is its potential effect on blood clotting. Compounds in rosemary, such as rosmarinic acid, have been observed to have anticoagulant effects. While this might be beneficial to some, it can pose risks for individuals taking blood-thinning medications like warfarin, heparin, or clopidogrel. Combining these drugs with rosemary oil might heighten the risk of bleeding or enhance the drug's effectiveness, leading to complications. If you're on any blood thinners, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before using rosemary oil.

Seizure Disorders and Rosemary Oil:

Another significant contraindication for rosemary oil use involves those with seizure disorders, such as epilepsy. Rosemary has been reported to have convulsant effects, which can exacerbate seizure disorders. Consequently, individuals with epilepsy or other seizure disorders should be cautious and likely avoid rosemary oil or consult with their neurologist beforehand.

Impact on Other Medications:

Rosemary oil can affect the metabolism of various drugs by influencing enzymes in the liver that metabolize pharmaceuticals. This interference could potentially alter the concentration of drugs in the body, either increasing their intensity or rendering them less effective. It's a potential concern for anyone on long-term medications for chronic conditions, and medical advice should be sought to mitigate risks.

Contraindications During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:

Expectant and nursing mothers are often advised to avoid rosemary oil due to insufficient data on its safety during these periods. Although commonly used in culinary applications at low doses, high concentrations in therapeutic contexts might carry risks. The concern pivots on the oil's ability to potentially stimulate menstruation or affect the uterus, which could pose a risk during pregnancy. Nursing mothers should also practice caution due to the lack of research on rosemary oil's transfer through breast milk and its effects on the infant.

Allergies and Sensitivities:

  • Individuals allergic to other members of the Lamiaceae family, which includes mint, lavender, and sage, may also have reactions to rosemary oil.
  • Skin sensitivity is another consideration. Though essential oils are trendy for topical and aromatherapeutic use, some people may experience dermatitis or other allergic reactions. A patch test is recommended before full application.
  • Inhalation may cause respiratory issues in sensitive individuals or those with asthma.

In summary, while rosemary oil has numerous potential health benefits, it's essential to heed these contraindications and interactions. If you're taking prescription medications, have a history of severe health conditions, or fall into a sensitive group such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, consulting with a healthcare provider is more than a mere precaution—it's a necessity to ensure your health and safety.

Recommended Dosages and Safe Practices

Rosemary oil, a common essential oil derived from the Rosmarinus officinalis plant, is touted for its potential health benefits. However, with essential oils, the line between therapeutic and toxic can be thin. That's why following recommended dosages and adhering to safe practices is crucial. Let's dive into the specifics to ensure you can use rosemary oil without risking your well-being.

Topical Use:

  • Dilution: Essential oils should be diluted before applying to the skin to prevent irritation or allergic reactions. For rosemary oil, a safe dilution is 1-2% of the total mixture, which equates to about 6-12 drops of rosemary oil per ounce of carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba, or almond oil.
  • Patch Test: Always perform a patch test on a small area of skin before widespread use to ensure you do not have an adverse reaction.


  • Using rosemary oil in a diffuser for aromatherapy can be safe, but it’s recommended to limit the diffusion to 30-60 minute intervals to avoid overexposure.
  • People with respiratory issues should use it cautiously, as strong fragrances may trigger asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Oral Consumption:

  • Oral intake of rosemary oil is not generally recommended due to potential toxicity. Rosmarinic acid, present in rosemary extract, can be consumed, but the essential oil itself should be avoided unless under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  • In culinary uses, only food-grade rosemary essential oil should be used, and even then, in minute quantities (a drop or two), as it is highly concentrated.

General Precautions:

  • Children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with epilepsy, high blood pressure, or hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid using rosemary oil.
  • Interaction with Medications: Rosemary oil can interfere with certain medications, including anticoagulants and ACE inhibitors. Consult a healthcare provider before using rosemary oil if you are on any medications.
  • Maintaining proper storage, in a cool, dark place away from children and pets, will prevent accidental ingestion or misuse.

Research specific to dosing of rosemary oil is limited, but existing studies and expert consensus typically guide safe practices. For example, a study published in the journal 'Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine' which evaluated the safety of rosemary extract supports the notion of caution regarding concentrated forms of the plant like essential oil.

Frequently asked questions

Certain groups, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and individuals with epilepsy, high blood pressure, or hormone-sensitive conditions, should avoid using rosemary oil due to potential health risks and a lack of safety data for these populations. Always consult with a healthcare provider before using rosemary oil if you belong to these groups or if you have specific medical conditions.

Rosemary oil contains compounds like 1,8-cineole and camphene, which have therapeutic respiratory effects, such as helping to clear mucus and easing breathing. However, it should not be used as a substitute for prescribed medications and should be used under guidance if you have preexisting respiratory conditions.

To preserve the quality and potency of rosemary oil, it should be stored in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight, and tightly sealed to prevent oxidation. Proper storage reduces the risk of degradation of the active compounds and ensures safety when the oil is used.

Studies suggest that 1,8-cineole, a main compound in rosemary oil, can enhance memory and alertness, which might benefit cognitive health. It is recommended to use rosemary oil in aromatherapy with proper ventilation to avoid overexposure, and not as a primary treatment for cognitive issues without consulting a healthcare provider.

Ask a question about Rosemary Oil and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • skin irritation
  • allergic reactions
  • photosensitivity
  • respiratory irritation
  • headaches
  • dizziness

Possible long-term side effects

  • gastrointestinal upset
  • kidney irritation
  • uterine bleeding
  • seizures due to camphor toxicity

Ingredients to be aware of

  • 1,8-cineole
  • camphor
  • alpha-pinene
  • beta-pinene
  • camphene
  • bornyl acetate
  • verbenone
  • limonene


  • improved hair growth
  • antimicrobial properties
  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • enhanced circulation
  • cognitive enhancement

Healthier alternatives

  • dilution with carrier oils
  • shorter aromatherapy sessions

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Radha Rosemary Essential Oil

  • Therapeutic grade
  • Enhances relaxation
  • Promotes healthy hair
  • Supports anti-aging
  • Moisturizes dry skin
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-18-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 02-18-2024

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