Essential Oil Safety

Essential oils  have great healing capacity, however, you must bear in mind that they are highly concentrated and therefore may be hazardous if misused. So before you begin to experiment with essential oils, do please read the safety guidelines given here.

Simple Skin Test  

If you are using an essential oil for the first very time, it is highly advisable that you do a skin test, and this is especially mandatory if you have sensitive skin. All you need to do is mix a drop of the test essence in a teaspoonful of almond oil. Then, rub a tiny bit of this mixture behind your ears, in the crook of your arm or even inside of the wrist (supersensitive spots). And then, all you need to do is to leave that patch uncovered and also unwashed for 24 hours. If you find no redness or itching, then be sure that the oil is safe for you to use. In fact, you can test up to six oils at the same time using this method, But you will need to keep a record of the oils used and where they were applied. For example, ginger behind the right ear, ylang ylang in the crook of the left arm, and so on.

A Word About Allergies

If you suffer from hay fever, food allergies, allergic rhinitis, eczema, asthma, wool or animal intolerance (or have a family history of any of these complaints), you are much more likely to develop contact dermatitis (redness or itching as mentioned above) as a result of using certain aromatic oils. This means the skin will react sometimes within seconds, certainly within 24 hours, of contact with the offending substance.

People in this group are also more likely to develop a sensitivity to a particular essence, or to a specific chemical component present in a number of oils. The last problem is known as cross sensitivity in which there may be no adverse reaction on first contact with the allergen, for it takes at least five to seven days for sensitivity to develop.

However, continual exposure to the same essence for prolonged periods may provoke sensitivity in anyone, even in those who have ‘normal’ tolerance levels for plant essences. Those most at risk are aromatherapists themselves. Indeed, I have met several practitioners over the last few years who have developed dermatitis of the hands as a result of using lavender essence almost every day for upwards of three years.

Essential Oils can be a great way to relax and cure bodily disorders.

Once sensitised the body will always react to any amount of that substance, no matter how tiny the quantity. Symptoms can vary from an itchy rash (as in contact dermatitis] through to more widespread symptoms such as streaming and stinging eyes, swollen tissues and wheezing.

However, it is vital to get the allergy scare in to perspective. In reality, a full-blown allergic reaction to essential oils is rare. Moreover, the majority of tests for sensitivity have been conducted by the perfume and fragrance industries. This means that much of the available safety data reflects the testing of synthetic aroma chemicals, isolated chemical components of essential oils, or modified essential oils – not the whole oil as used in aromatherapy. With a few exceptions, unmodified oils are generally much safer to use due to their natural synergy.

Another point, it is possible to be allergic to almost anything, even to water or the seemingly innocuous sweet almond oil. If you fall into this high risk category, it would be wise to avoid all essential oils and to try another therapy instead, perhaps homoeopathy or acupuncture. Aromatherapy can, however, be of enormous benefit in less extreme cases. Listed in the panel are the essential oils which are more likely to trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. In fact, you may find that only a few of these porentially problematic oils are incompatible with your own body. Everyone is different. Although the list may appear to be alarmingly long, in fact less than half the oils listed are used by the average aromatherapist. Nevertheless, a few of the potentially harmful oils, such as aniseed and bay, are sometimes available from retail outlets.

Oils to be Avoided

If You Suffer From Allergies or Have Highly Sensitive Skin

The following oils may have to be avoided if you ore prone to allergies or have highly sensitive skin. Even if you have ‘normal’ skin, it is advisable to use these oils in the lowest recommended dilutions (at least until you ore sure the essence suits your skin) e.g. one drop of every two teaspoonfuls of vegetable oil for massage. And no more than one or two drops in the bath.
All absolutes, resnoids and balsams for example Benzoin Resinoid, Rose Absolute, Jasmine Absolute, Peru Balsam*, Tolu Balsam*, and all of the following essences:


* In my opinion these oil should never be applied to the skin or used in steam inhalations as they can be extremely irritating to skin and mucous membranes. Use in low dilution as room scents only.
** Although the chamomiles are actually recommended for allergies. they are highly odoriferous and may provoke skin rashes unless used n very low dilution.
*** There are two types of melissa: genuine melissa oil (a costly essence distilled from lemon balm) and a ‘melissa type’ oil (an inexpensive blend of lemon-smelling essences such as lemongrass and citronella). Both versions may cause skin irritation especially if used in high concentration.

Unusual Essential Oils

Aromatherapy authors sometimes promote unusual oils, many of which are beginning to appear on essential oil suppliers’ lists. Unfortunately, the majority have not been extensively tested for possible adverse reactions on human skin. Therefore, no adequate safety data has been published. Although I am unaware of any evidence to suggest that people have been harmed by these newcomers, it would seem appropriate to include a cautionary note just in case. According to recent research the following essences should be regarded as suspect for the time being: chamomile moroc, ravensara, inula (also known as elecampane), true melissa, spikenard (also known as ‘nard’), valerian, yarrow, amyris (also known as West Indian sandalwood} and elderflower absolute.

Patch Test for Allergy Sufferers

Unlike the simple skin test described earlier, the patch test requires a great deal of patience. Nevertheless, it is a highly reliable test for allergy sufferers. You may discover that you can benefit from a number of essential oils, though three essences would suffice e.g. lavender, chamomile Roman, eucalyptus. However, it is important to avoid prolonged use of the same essence because you may develop a sensitivity to the oil even though a patch test has assured you of its safely. It is also important to ascertain that you are not allergic to the chosen base oil, for example almond or olive. So unless you know that the oil is safe for you to use, skin test it (the simple test should suffice) before mixing with your chosen essential oil.

Test only one essence at a time. Mix one drop of the test essence into one teaspoonful of base oil. Rub a little of the oil into the upper chest or forearm. Apply a piece of gauze followed by a waterproof dressing. Leave in place for 24-48 hours, then remove and examine the area for any redness or itching. If there is no reaction, apply a little more oil and replace the patch. Repeat the test daily for seven days. following a period of 10-14 days’ rest, challenge the skin once more with the same base oil and essence, covering with another waterproof patch. At this stage of the test, any sensitivity will become apparent within 24 hours. ff so, the oil should be avoided at all costs.

Subtle Testing of Oils

There  two other methods for determining which oils are safe and beneficial for different people – muscle testing and pendulum dowsing. In the right hands, these subtle methods of diagnosis can be remarkably accurate – and certainly much speedier than the skin tests given above. However, their mode of action cannot be explained in scientific terms. They rely entirely on the user’s ability to access their intuitive powers. But it can take a very long time to perfect such skills. For this reason, the novice is advised never to use subtle methods of diagnosis on atopic (allergy-prone) people, pregnant women, babies and children.

Photo-sensitizing Oils

Certain aromatic oils can cause skin pigmentation when applied shortly before exposure to sunlight or other types or ultraviolet light, such as a sunbed. The most powerful oil in this respect is bergamot. In fact, bergamot can cause skin reactions without the presence of sunlight; for example, when applied immediately before working in a hot and steamy kitchen. However, it is possible to obtain a furocoumarin free oil called bergamot FCF (furocoumarin are responsible for the oil’s photosensitive effect). Although shunned by some aromatherapists (on the grounds that it is not a whole oil), bergamot FCF is non-photosensitive. The following essential oils are also photo-sensitizing: angelica root, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange and tagetes.

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