Aromatherapy has many benefits to the mind and the body, but what is aromatherapy, what are essential oils and how do you know if they are safe for you?
I am often asked whether essential oils are safe to use during pregnancy or for someone suffering from a medical condition. This blog looks at which essential oils you should be avoiding (and why) if you do suffer from any medical conditions or fall into one of the vulnerable categories.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the modern term used to describe the practice of using natural essential oils. Essential oils are pure and concentrated extracts distilled from the flowers, bark, stems, leaves, resin, fruits and roots of plants. They ared are used to heal and to enhance a person’s wellbeing.
The word essential demonstrates the plants natural essence, its being; whilst the oil indicates that the liquid is insoluble in water.
‘Aroma’ ‘therapy’ is a two-part process, utilising both the aroma and the chemical makeup of the essential oil to provide it with its ‘therapy’. The aroma can give comfort to the emotions whilst the chemistry makeup of the essential oil can affect the body.
An essential oil contains many different chemical structures, and it is this that gives the essential oil its unique properties in both its aroma and its psychological and physiological effect on the body.
When essential oils are applied to the skin we receive their wonderful aroma. Essential oils are also unique in their ability to penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream, which is why they are used in skin care products to treat skin conditions.
Essential oils can also be used to help with our wellbeing. Methods include vaporisation, aromatic bathing, massage, cosmetic creams and steam inhalation.
Is aromatherapy safe for everyone?
The reason that aromatherapy can be so powerful lies within the chemistry of the essential oil, for this reason we have to be aware of the contraindications that certain essential oils have.
However, by using aromatherapy safely we can harness all the wonderful benefits that essential oils possess. We can let their therapeutic properties benefit both our mind and body enabling us to support ourselves and our health.
The following lists of essential oils are not exhaustive, but cover all the oils that I will refer to in any of my posts or use in my products.
Remember, never apply essential oils direct to the skin, always dilute them with a carrier oil.
Are essential oils safe to use for someone vulnerable to epileptic seizures?
Due to certain constituents found in some essential oils there are a few essential oils that should be avoided for anyone with a vulnerability to epileptic seizures. The reason being is that the constituents Camphor, Methyl salicylate, Pinocamphone , b -Pulegone have been found to cause convulsions.
Essential oils to avoid with epilepsy
Hyssop, Sage, Tansy, Ho Leaf (ct camphor), Birch, Rosemary, Yarrow, Lavandin, and Spike Lavender
Are essential oils safe to use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or trying for pregnancy?
Using essential oils during pregnancy should be done with a degree of caution and should only be carried out under the guidance of an Aromatherapist or medical professional with knowledge of essential oils. When using essential oils during pregnancy or breastfeeding the dilution rate should be no greater than 1%.
Essential oils to avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Anise, Carrot seed, Cypress (blue), Dill seed, Fennel (bitter and sweet), Ho leaf, Hyssop, Lanyana, Lavender (Spanish, Myrhh, Myrtle, Oregano, Parsley leaf, Parsleyseed, Sage, Tansy and Yarrow
Essential oils that should be restricted;
Basil (lemon), Boswellia papyrifera (A specific variation of Frankincense), Champaca (orange) absolute, Lemon balm (Australian), Lemon leaf, Lemongrass, May change, Melissa, Myrtle, Nasturtium absolute, Tea tree (lemon-scented) Thyme (lemon), Verbena (lemon)
Are essential oils safe to use with children?
When using essential oils on or around children we need to take extra care. If ingested seek medical attention immediately.
There are differing opinions on the age of the child and whether or not to use essential oils. My approach is to use a lower dosage (1% of essential oil in 30ml carrier oil) only on children who are over 6 years of age. Essential oils should not be used at all on children under 6 years of age.
Some essential oils can increase the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light, these oils are called photosensitisers. Furanocoumarins within the chemical makeup of certain essential oils can cause inflamed and painful skin upon exposure to UVA light. Furanocoumarins are generally found in citrus essential oils with furanocoumarin free (FCF) oils becoming available – Bergamot FCF is a perfect example.
Phototoxic essential oils;
Bergamot, Fig leaf absolute, Grapefruit, Lemon oil (expressed) Lime oil (expressed) Mandarin leaf oil, Orange oil (bitter, expressed), Rue oil, Angelica root oil, Cumin oil
Non-phototoxic citrus essential oil;
Bergamot (FCF), Lemon oil (distilled), Mandarin oil, Orange oil (Sweet), Tangerine oil
Can I use essential oils if I suffer with asthma?
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough research to determine whether certain essential oils should be avoided when suffering from asthma or allergies. In this instance the most sensible approach is to use a 1% dilution (the same as elderly and children), avoid direct inhalation and proceed with an element of caution.
Can I use essential oils during cancer treatment?
Guidelines suggest that due to the unpredictable effects that essential oils will have on the immune system, all essential oils should be avoided one week prior and one month following a course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Can I use essential oils whilst taking prescribed medication?
Where drugs are administered transdermally it is recommended that you do not apply essential oils to this area as it may interact with the delivery of the drug.
Sedatives – Oils with ‘sedating’ qualities may interact with sedative drugs such as barbuturates, benzodiazepines and anaesthetics.
Liver or kidney – An individual suffering with hepatic or renal impairment will be more exposed to the toxic effects from overuse of essential oils.
Anticoagulant drugs – A person requiring blood thinning drugs should avoid essential oils with the component methyl salicylate as this is known to inhibit blood coagulation. These oils should also be avoided by people with clotting disorders, major surgery, childbirth, peptic ulcer or haemophilia. Essential oils to avoid: Birch, Wintergreen
Aspirin sensitivity – a person with a sensitivity to aspirin should avoid essential oils with the component methyl salicylate. Essential oils to avoid: Birch, Wintergreen
Medication – Essential oils containing chamazulene, farnesene and alpha-bisabolol can inhibit CYP2D6 so could interact with antidepressants and other drugs metabolized by this enzyme. Essential oils to avoid: Yarrow, Blue Tansy and German Chamomile, Lemongrass, May Chang, Honey Myrtle and Lemon Myrtle.