Essential Oils: The Good, The Bad, and the Uncertain
Over the last several years, essential oils have received a lot of attention. Now, they’re being touted as a cure-all for everything from anxiety to acne. But do they really work, or is it all a lot of hoopla? And is it possible that essential oils might be hazardous? Here’s what you need to know.
You Can Probably Reduce Stress and Anxiety With Essential Oils
There’s no doubt that scent can be very powerful. While there’s some debate as to how powerful it can be in terms of what these oils can do, it’s likely that you can relieve your stress or anxiety with some calming smells. Around 78% of people agree that having art in the workplace can reduce stress, but even a quick sniff of lavender or frankincense could be just as effective. Reportedly, lavender essential oils can alleviate exhaustion, relieve nervous tension, lift depressive moods, and even reduce migraines. That said, it’s not a good idea for pregnant women, nursing moms, or diabetics to use lavender oil — and there are some undesirable side effects for some to consider, such as skin irritations, allergic reactions, or hormonal disruptions.
Essential Oils Might Relieve Seasonal Allergies or Help You Sleep Better
Supposedly, some essential oils may be of use to those who suffer from seasonal allergies. Tea tree, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, and basil oils may offer some relief for respiratory allergies. Of course, essential oils can actually cause allergic reactions in some people. But these particular oils are known for their antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It’s also possible that certain essential oils could help you sleep better at night. Around 75% of people say they get a more comfortable night’s sleep on sheets that have a fresh scent, but essential oil users can take this a step further by diffusing chamomile or lavender oil to lull them into dreamland. Hospital patient studies do seem to back this up, as these scents have been shown to encourage relaxation and improve sleep quality.
Essential Oils May Not Have a Place in Your Skincare Routine
Some people swear by the positive effect lavender or geranium oil has had on their skin and hair. These oils are often touted as being an all-natural cure for acne (along with tee tree oil), an idea that might be rather encouraging to the 85% of people who develop acne at some point during their lives. However, that’s not the case with everyone; in fact, many people have found that skin care products containing essential oils have made their skin problems even worse.
As San Francisco-based skin care specialist Kristina Holey explained to the New York Times, “Some constituents of certain essential oils, like those in bergamot, are transformed into chemicals and enzymes when exposed to sunlight, which can induce a photo-allergic response.”
This ultimately can translate to red, inflamed skin and a weakening of the skin’s protective barrier, particularly in those who already have sensitive skin. While essential oils are not inherently bad, adds Holey, many are not formulated by people who actually possess the knowledge to create safe, effective products. Some reports say that 95% of essential oils are actually adulterated with less expensive, oxidized oils or even mixed with turpentine or alcohol to increase profit. The takeaway: don’t assume that “essential oil” means it’s totally pure and healthy for your skin. Do your research first and consult with a dermatologist before you lather these oils on your soon to be healthy skin.
Essential Oils CAN Be Dangerous To Pets
Even if you haven’t used essential oils in the past, you might have seen headlines that they can be harmful to our four-legged friends. The fact is that some essential oils can actually be beneficial to pets in certain ways. But if you use the wrong oils or utilize them improperly, they can definitely be a real health hazard to your furry babies.
First of all, essential oils should never be ingested by your animal — in their water, in their food, or via licking human hands. Oral ingestion can lead to serious symptoms like central nervous system depression and seizures, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. There are certain oils that you should steer clear of completely, as they can be toxic to pets. These include tea tree, basil, clove leaf, bitter almond, oregano, pine oil, wintergreen, ylang ylang, hyssop, and others. Keep in mind that because essential oils are not regulated and the relative safety of all essential oils is still somewhat unknown for pets. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably best to keep your essential oil diffusers in rooms your pet can’t go or to not use them at all.
You Should Exercise Caution With Essential Oils Around Kids
Essential oils may be a cause for concern when interacting with human babies, too. Diffusers can be great for giving a lower dose of essential oil, but they shouldn’t be used if your child has asthma or allergies. You should never apply oils directly to your child’s hands, as they can easily be ingested and cause burns or other health issues. And no matter who the recipient of the essential oil is, it’s important to use a carrier oil. Applying essential oils alone to the skin can be harmful. In general, do not apply essential oils to children younger than six months of age and use with caution even if they’re older. They could develop an adverse reaction or sun sensitivities, meaning that even if you apply sunscreen to their skin every two hours as directed, they might still develop a burn. It’s important to test out the oil in a small, contained area on the body first to see how they will react. You should also remember that essential oils are not a substitute for medical treatment — and if you suspect your child may be having a bad reaction to an essential oil, seek out care immediately. To be on the safe side though, you may want to avoid using essential oils altogether until your child can actually verbalize their feelings about them.
Essential oils are sometimes considered to be a cure-all. While they certainly do have some benefits, their “all natural” designation doesn’t mean they’re completely safe. It’s important to follow directions and use your common sense to ensure these products don’t put anyone’s well-being at risk.