2014 was a doozy of a year for rumors, myths, and really dangerous essential oil use ideas. Did you fall for any of these?
1. Essential Oils for Ebola?
During the height of the ebola scare sales reps were feverishly tossing out really bad essential oil ideas like this advertisement. You’d be given a laundry list of essential oils that are strong skin irritants, known skin sensitizers, have dose-dependent carcinogenic and toxicological effects, and lack documented effectiveness in human cases of hemorrhagic fever. If you notice the small print in the above image you’ll see that the quote indicates the lack of survival in the essential oil itself. So, if ebola were isolated in a petri dish we could all celebrate because these essential oils might kill the virus on a plastic plate, yaay!
But to have the same kind of action in the human body is a study in pharmacology and no one seems to want to mention you might go into organ failure or give yourself cancer trying to find the right dose to cure ebola in the body. Yowzers! Things got so out of hand in the mania to sell essential oils as ebola cures that the FDA got involved threatening federal imprisonment and massive fines hoping to stem the nonsense.
Image: Ebola outbreak prevention oils via Pinterest
2. Essential Oil to Cure Cancer?
If you went overboard with the carcinogenic essential oil doses for ebola prevention, not to worry! There’s a cure for your EO-induced cancer, too! Except, maybe there really isn’t…let’s take a closer look at this rumor: Research into Frankincense’s anti-cancer activity has been going on for a few years now and occasionally makes headlines. Much of the research is focusing on some promising active ingredients found in the resin, one of those is boswellic acid, a non-volatile, triterpene that doesn’t come across in hydrostillation. Huh? Distillation extracts the volatile compounds from plants, which means Frankincense essential oil does not contain the anti-cancer compound boswellic acid that is getting all of this research attention. Ohhh!
Image: Frankincense oil cancer treatment via Pinterest
3. Did Jesus Use Essential Oils?
Aromatic oils have a lengthy history, and yes, that would include Biblical times too. But don’t let that fool you to think the form of aromatic substances available in Jesus’ time (7-2 BC – 30-33 AD) is the same substance we call essential oils today. Per the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Vocabulary of Natural Materials (ISO/D1S9235.2), essential oils are defined as:
“a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.”
The aromatic oils that were available in Jesus’ time were herbs infused in hot oil and plants macerated in animal fats. Herbal medicine was alive and well in Biblical times, folks, but not essential oils. The wise men didn’t bring Jesus steam-distilled Frankincense oil, they brought the resin which has different therapeutic properties to it in this classification of herbs.
Robert Tisserand informs us that, “…essential oils are produced by distillation, and distillation was invented in the 10th century by Persians, it could be said that aromatherapy began 1,000 years ago.”
Image: Jesus Essential Oil Meme via Pinterest
4. Is this Pinkeye Remedy Safe?
When I last checked, the only documented essential oil usage for the eyes and areas around them is the in vitro (petri dish) and in vivo (human body) research conducted on the use of Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) on eyelash mites known as demodex. I can’t find any documentation that would suggest a 1% dilution of Lavandula angustifolia would be effective against the different kind of conjunctivitis or that this would be safe. After reading Robert Tisserand’s blog on Essential Oils and Eye Safety I’ll be sticking with more time-proven remedies than shot-in-the-dark, might-turn-me-blind ones like this.
Image: Petrified by Pink Eye? via Pinterest
5. Essential Oil Laxatives?
I’ve already debunked the notion that Essential Oils are not Water Flavoring Substances and cautioned against drinking essential oils in a glass of water in my viral Friends don’t let friends drink essential oils blog post. Lemon essential oil is a powerful dish degreaser for all of the post-Christmas cleanup I’ve been doing. When you put it in a glass of water and chug it the same active constituent irritates the mucous membranes in the mouth, throat, and stomach. If you do this often enough you’re likely to face the myriad of negative health effects being reported ranging from organ damage to gum damage and pockets in the esophagus. This rumor is one I’d stay far, far away from my friends! Drain cleaner in a glass isn’t the least bit appealing to me!
Image: Essential oil laxatives via Pinterest
6. Essential Oils and the Feet?
The more unfortunate part of this meme is that this particular blend of essential oils is contraindicated in children under 10 years of age and is a strong skin irritant and known sensitizer. So why is anyone suggesting this would be safe for children? Oy vey!
Image: How to use EO? via Pinterest
7. Should I Drip Undiluted Essential Oils Down the Spine?
There’s a plethora of problems with using undiluted essential oils on the skin, namely toxicity, skin irritation, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, teratogenicity, and hepatotoxicity (Tisserand 2014, Battaglia 2003, Buckle 2003). Massaging essential oils onto the body at 50-400 times the concentration used in a normal aromatherapy massage is cause for alarm! This increases the risks to both the user and the “practitioner” (usually someone that doesn’t meet education guidelines to practice aromatherapy and/or massage), and has gotten a lot of internet traffic as new injury reports came out last year of miscarriages and poisonings.
To give you a broader sense of why you should run far away from these two “drop therapies”:
- My colleague in Dallas poses the question, “If the two largest professional aromatherapy organizations in the country believe that Raindrop Therapy is an unsafe practice, shouldn’t you?”
- The country of Norway banned Raindrop Therapy.
- A White Paper was published in 2001.
- Aromatherapy Undiluted: Safety and Ethics was published in 2005.
- Dr Andrew Weil urges patients to avoid this therapy.
- the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) does not recommend or support the use of undiluted essential oil applications.
- the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) does not support the use of “drop therapies” and undiluted essential oil applications.
- “encouraging untrained people to apply concentrated essential oils to themselves or others is unwise and unsafe.” per Tisserand Young 2014.
- The Aromatherapy Registration Council strictly bans the use either of these undiluted applications and considers this a public health risk.
8. Essential Oils in Your What-What?
Peppermint essential oil is a mucous membrane irritant which can cause ulceration, burning sensation, and inflammation (Tisserand Young, 2014) in some people. Rosewood is a vulnerable tree that has seen a great deal of over-harvesting since colonial times. Aromatherapists do not purchase Rosewood essential oil because it is hard to find an ethical source for a tree that has nearly been wiped off the planet.
A good herbalist will gladly tell you that vegetable glycerin makes a lovely, warming, personal lubricant that can be infused with dried herbs to enhance its therapeutic effects. Unless you’ve got the training to make cosmetic formulations in your laboratory so they’d be safe for vulnerable areas like genitalia and the vagina, I’d avoid this DIY project.
Worse-case scenario inserting essential oils into the vagina? Read about this woman’s horrific experience with vaginal scarring in the Injury Reports from the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy.
Images: Essential Oil lubricant via Pinterest
9. More Essential Oils Near Your Eye?
Someone started circulating this myth that Lavender essential oil could strengthen and volumize your eyelashes. Too good to be true? Yep. Robert Tisserand tackles this topic in: Lavender Mascara.
In short, Lavender essential oil does not:
- Increase volume,
- Increase length,
- or Strengthen your eyelashes
If you do manage to get an essential oil into the eye you should immediately, and continuously, flush the eye with water for 15 minutes. If irritation still exists you should consult with a medical professional.
Image: Lavender in mascara via Pinterest
10. Essential Oil ‘Morphine Bomb’?
These ads promise pain relief that will “amaze” or “blow” you away. What if it triggers a heart attack for you like it did this unsuspecting user?
The use of essential oils by mouth should be advised only by a practitioner that is trained in aromatic medicine and has a license to prescribe you medication. If your sales rep doesn’t hold a degree in aromatic medicine from France or Switzerland and doesn’t have an M.D. following her name you should be asking yourself if you’re comfortable taking medical advice from someone inadequately prepared to give you such advice. Your neighbor is also not equipped to handle an adverse reaction without proper training in first aid and a robust malpractice insurance policy that will cover your medical care should you find yourself in the unpleasant position of being quite harmed by this dangerous recommendation.
In the event of a poisoning you should contact poison control or seek medical attention at the nearest hospital. Children are especially vulnerable to poisonings and any accidental ingestion by a child should lead to an immediate call to poison control. Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children and pets. Do not ingest any essential oils (never mind how pure the sales person may tell you it is), unless under the direct supervision of a physician that has formal training in aromatic medicine (folks, they don’t teach this in medical school or at the sales rep holiday party).
It is fun to get a chuckle out of ‘Pinterest fail’ slideshows and blogs lamenting DIY projects gone terribly wrong but the subject of gross misuse of essential oils is no laughing matter. When used according to national and international safety guidelines, aromatherapy is a very safe and pleasant therapy, one in which I enjoy practicing and benefiting from on a daily basis. Our friends over at the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy have collated the Top 10 Worst Injuries from Essential Oils in 2014 which I think you’ll agree is a must-read following this article.