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Herbal Safety: Patch Testing and Why it Matters

  • Posted on
  • By Lauren Merritt
  • Posted in Herbs

If you’ve watched a makeup tutorial or taken an herbal class in the last decade, you’ve probably heard of patch testing. It’s a simple technique, but its importance cannot be overstated. When it comes to herbs, the biggest risk factor is acute allergic reactions. These can be deadly in some cases. Luckily, it’s a risk that can be greatly minimized with patch testing! 

Patch testing, put simply, tests your body’s reaction to an herb in a localized area. It’s used when trying a new herbal product. Whether it’s tea, tincture, topical, or just the raw herb itself, it can save you from a lot of trouble down the road. You can and should use this technique with any store-bought cosmetics with ingredients you have not used before.


To patch test with a tincture or topical, simply spread a thin layer of your product on your upper forearm in a small area and wait for forty-eight hours. If the area becomes red or itchy do not use that product! Also be on the lookout for headaches or stuffy noses, as these can be signs of a reaction as well. To test a tea or a raw herb simply place a tablespoon of your product into a cup of boiling water and let it steep for a few minutes, then apply to your skin with a cotton ball. This technique should be avoided with herbs that are not safe for topical use. It’s also worth mentioning that you should never put undiluted essential oils on your skin or in your body. Always dilute first!


Patch tests are not a sure-fire way to see if you will have a reaction. Sometimes a reaction is present only when an herb is ingested, and some reactions will only occur after a long period of taking a certain herb. That being said, it is a great way to minimize an already minimal risk! If you are trying out a new herb or cosmetic you should always patch test, it can be tedious, but it will keep you safe.