The use of essential oils has become a popular trend in homeopathic medicine. Many people find this natural approach to health and healing effective as an alternative to synthetic medication, especially for minor everyday ailments.
While essential oils can be beneficial if used properly, it is important to educate yourself about potential health risks and necessary precautions. Remember, "all natural" is not the same as "not dangerous."
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are volatile oils derived from plant sources through distillation or pressing. They have been used throughout history to treat a variety of health conditions, including pain, infection, insomnia, nausea, anxiety, depression, etc. Many people claim to have benefited from the use of essential oils, while for others they do not seem to be effective.
These very potent plant extracts can be purchased from a variety of suppliers and through many online and local retailers. Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and there has been very little clinical research on their benefits or risks.
There is an abundance of information available about essential oils and their possible uses. Unfortunately, most of this information is published by manufacturers and retailers as a sales tool. These sources contain reliable information about their products and instructions for their use, but do not always include an in depth look at possible risk factors and precautions.
What are the risks of using essential oils?
While use of essential oils is generally considered to be safe, there are some health risks to keep in mind.
Essential oils are highly concentrated chemicals. Many of them contain phenols and aldehydes, which can cause minor to severe skin irritation. This reaction is potentially greater if the skin is already irritated, diseased or otherwise damaged. Making sure that essential oils are sufficiently diluted in a carrier oil will reduce this risk significantly.
Another possible danger of using essential oils is sensitivity to the sun. This is most common with oils derived from citrus plants such as orange, lemon or bergamot. It would be wise to limit or avoid exposure to the sun after applying these types of oils. Photosensitivity is also a common side effect of other medications (i.e. lithium, tetracycline, etc.), and extra precaution should be taken if you have been prescribed a medication with this side effect.
As with any food or drug, there is a possibility of allergic reaction. Never use an essential oil derived from a plant you are allergic to. Be aware that plants with similar compounds can cause similar reactions. Many essential oils have unfamiliar names, but may be related to common allergens. If you have a history of allergies, you should check with your doctor and thoroughly research any essential oil that you are interested in using.
There is always the chance that rare or unexpected side effects may occur. Some essential oils might strengthen or weaken the effects of medication you are already taking, and certain health problems may not respond well to the use of essential oils. However, if certain precautions are taken, essential oils can be used safely and effectively.
Precautions to take while using essential oils
- Always use pure essential oils.
- Keep out of reach of pets and children.
- Make sure essential oils are diluted sufficiently.
- Avoid sun exposure if using a photosensitive essential oil.
- Do not use near eyes or mucus membranes.
- Research as thoroughly as possible.
- If you are pregnant, nursing, have a history of asthma or allergies or are under treatment for any medical condition, you should always check with your doctor before using essential oils. Also, check with a doctor before using essential oils on small children.
Essential oils can be very beneficial to many people if they are used responsibly. Lack of clinical research is a serious downfall for these products. It is important that you do your own research. Try to find sources that are not sponsored by retailers and if you have any questions, concerns or doubts, ask your doctor for advice. Most importantly, know yourself, your body, your health conditions and your medications.