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|Article: Essential Oil Safety: Allergies and Allergic Reactions - by Richard C. Honour, PhD|
Safety - Safety in the use of plant essential oils or essential oil products is always the first consideration, and a topical or systemic allergic response to a product should always be treated with concern. An allergy is a hypersensitivity (allergic response) caused by exposure to an antigen (allergen) that results in an increased reactivity to that antigen upon subsequent exposure.
An allergic response is your bodyís immune reaction to certain antigens, for example, to plants (pollens, moulds, carbohydrates, oils, etc.), animals (dander, insect venoms, bee stings, etc.), foods (wheat, soy, dairy products, etc.), dust or other common allergens. When your immune system reacts to one of these allergens, you are allergic and you have an allergy.
Allergies and Contact Dermatitis - People who are subject to hay fever, asthma, food allergies or other substance intolerances may also develop an allergic reaction, such as contact dermatitis, from the use of certain plant essential oils. Although allergy to essential oils is uncommon, prolonged exposure to the same oil may cause sensitivity in certain individuals.
Therefore, it is advised that you do not use the same essential oil for an extended period of time, most especially if you are prone to allergy or if you have highly sensitive skin. Some essential oils are more likely to cause sensitivity or an allergic reaction than others, so it is important to evaluate the ingredients of an essential oil product prior to use, especially if you are at risk for allergy to essential oils.
For example, if you are planning to use an essential oil product for the first time, and are concerned about a possible allergic reaction, a skin patch test should be performed, and all other safety precautions should be reviewed and followed. Allergies and Allergic Reactions - Allergies vary in different individuals and may affect people with varying degrees of severity. Allergies may develop mildly at first, with increasing severity over time, or they may appear suddenly.
Most allergies are formed in response to environmental exposure. You may acquire an allergy at any time in your life, and you may lose an allergy or become tolerant just as unexpectedly. Common and Atopic Allergies - Childhood allergies to foods and chemicals are common. For example, children may develop allergies to diary products, wheat, citrus, peanuts or carrots, but most people outgrow these allergies by the time they reach puberty. Other allergies may result from inherited sensitivities to a particular allergen.
These allergies are known as atopic allergies, and can include allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages, such as hay fever or seasonal allergies), allergic asthma or eczema. Eczema is atopic dermatitis, commonly called dry skin. Eczema is an inflammation of the skin characterized by redness, itching and oozing lesions that eventually scab over. Atopic diseases are distinguished by their tendency to incite allergic reactions to normally harmless substances, such as pollen, mould, animal dander, dust mites, nuts or some common foods.
Essential Oils and Sensitive Skin - Some plant essential oils are known to be unsuitable for use in skin care products and are likely to cause skin irritation, especially if you are predisposed to allergic reactions or have highly sensitive skin. It is always advisable to perform a skin patch test before use. Common essential oils that may incite a skin reaction on sensitive skin include basil, bay, birch, black pepper, cassia, citronella, clove, costus, cumin, fennel, fir, ginger, lemon, lemongrass, lemon verbena, melissa, oak moss, orange, oregano, parsley seed, peppermint, pimento berry, pine, tagetes, wintergreen and others.
The Patch Test - If you suffer from allergies or have highly sensitive skin, it is advisable that you do a patch test before applying a new essential oil or essential oil product. Most people benefit from using essential oils, but occasionally someone may have an allergic reaction. It is advisable that you always do a patch test if you have any doubt about your sensitivity to an essential oil to assure there are no adverse reactions. Apply a sample of the diluted essential oil to the pulse point on the wrist or to the crook of the elbow and observe for a reaction over the next 12 to 24 hours.
A typical allergic reaction may be observed as redness, itching, warmth, discoloration or sensitivity at the site of application of the test substance. Management of an Allergic Reaction - If an allergic reaction appears in response to an essential oil, clean the affected area to remove any remaining oil. Take care not to scratch the skin while it is inflamed to avoid infection. Report any continuing reaction or apparent ongoing allergic response to a physician or other responsible medical professional.
Safety Precautions - Essential oils are too active to be applied to the skin in their pure form (neat), and should always be diluted in carrier oils, such as olive or almond oil. For your safety, know the following safety precautions for the use of essential oils and essential oil products:
1. Keep essential oils out of the reach of children and pets.
2. Do not use plant essential oils on babies or children.
3. Always do a patch test to check for sensitivity or an allergic reaction before using an essential oil product on sensitive skin.
4. Do not apply pure undiluted (neat) essential oils directly to the skin.
5. Do not take essential oils internally, or place drops of essential oils in the ears, eyes, nose or mouth, or in any other body openings.
6. Discontinue using any essential oil if skin irritation or sensitivity develops.
7. The essential oils of cedarwood, clary-sage, basil, marjoram, clove, fennel, jasmine, juniper, lemon, myrrh, lemon verbena or rosemary should not be used during pregnancy.
8. Essential oils such as myrrh, basil, fennel, lemon verbena and others can cause irritation on sensitive skin.
9. Avoid using the photosensitizing citrus essential oils, such as bergamot, lemon, mandarin, orange, lemon verbena and others when exposed to sunlight.
If you have sensitive skin, or if you suffer from epilepsy, heart or kidney
problems, or any other serious medical condition, do not use essential oils
unless you have been advised that it is safe to do so by a physician or
other responsible medical professional.
Richard C. Honour, PhD, is a scientist and biopharmaceutical executive with more than 35 years of experience. He is a microbiologist with a Doctorate from the University of California. His work emphasizes the development of new technologies and products for the treatment of infectious diseases, with special emphasis on natural products. Dr. Honour is currently Chairman and Chief Science Officer for Eulara (Seattle, WA; www.eulara.com )
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