Essential oils are exploding in popularity. And while many people use them in diffusers to wind down or just to take in the benefits of aromatherapy, experts warn there are some dangers associated with certain oils people need to be aware of before purchasing.
Poison Control expert Dr. Michael Buhler says the types of oils you use and how you use them are critical.
“Like medications, they need to be treated with respect, if not they can cause harm,” Buhler said.
Boston 25 News found hundreds of confirmed essential oil exposure cases were reported to the Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention over the last two years.
Buhler says most oils are minimally toxic but poison control has seen reports of consumers experiencing problems with clove oil and penny royal oil. Similarly, some oils like wintergreen can be extremely dangerous.
“The ingestion of a single teaspoon of this in a child is the equivalent of taking about a hundred aspirin. So that could easily kill a child and it does it quickly too," Buhler said.
While explaining the worst case scenario, he says most essential oils used in small quantities just for aromatherapy are actually benign and may be somewhat beneficial to some people.
“They could be safe but in the wrong hands, they can be unsafe,” he said.
Buehler strongly recommends against ingesting or applying any oils to the skin without thorough research. He says while independent research is limited, he recommends reading the information available through the FDA and NIH.
“There isn’t any government oversight over the certifying process. Just because it is certified from a plant, it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Buehler said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils. Companies may advertise oils as safe to consume or apply. In a statement, the FDA warns shoppers should be careful of any claims to prevent, treat or cure diseases, or health conditions.
Amy Williams says she has been using and selling oils for a large essential oil company for a decade. She credits essential oils for the improvement in her overall mood and health.
“I would say they’re probably the number one thing that’s changed my life,” Williams said.
Williams explains many people turn to oils hoping to address certain conditions or symptoms with a more holistic approach. Other oils are used to calm or soothe but not all oils are the same. She says many oils might be adulterated, bought off the market, or have other chemicals mixed in making them unsafe.
“You want to have a high quality oil because you’re inhaling it through your nose and that affects your whole body,” she said. “You really should go for the best oil you can.”
Experts emphasize it’s important to research risks and benefits of each oil you plan on using before ingesting or applying to the skin because all oils are not manufactured the same.
More data and safety tips from poison control:
• Be careful about the way you use and store essential oils, especially with children in the home: store them up and away or locked if possible. Young children are attracted to fruity or pleasant smelling products. Many of these products are not in child-resistant containers.
• The majority of these exposures are minimally toxic, but keep in mind—toxicity is determined by the amount of the substance that’s ingested, inhaled, absorbed, etc.
• Wintergreen oil and clove oil can be toxic to small children in small amounts.
• Oral and throat irritation can occur if drops are tasted or swallowed directly from the bottle.
• Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
• In case of toxic exposure, call the MA/RI Regional Center for Poison Control and Prevention at the 24 hour Hotline: 1-800-222-1222.
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