Essential oils boast a ton of great benefits, such as helping you sleep, purifying the air, and enhancing cleaning products. But when you use them incorrectly, they also carry risks. Case in point: The infamous essential oil burn.
Many essential oils — especially clove, thyme, and oregano — have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties that can kill invading bacteria by rupturing their cell membranes (which makes them so good for cleaning), but germs are not their only victims. “They do a similar thing to your skin cells and the mucous membranes that line and protect the inside of your body,” explained aromatherapy expert Robert Tisserand to the The New York Times. “If you put undiluted oregano oil on your skin or in your mouth, you’ll have an irritant reaction — a very nasty one. The skin will go red and burn like crazy.”
You may already know that to prevent burns you should always use a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil when applying an essential oil directly to your skin. But this isn’t the only cause, certain oils (even when diluted) can react with ultraviolet rays from the sun and other heat sources to cause burns and irritation. (This specific risk is especially high for citrus oils, such as grapefruit or lemon.) Even scarier? Essential oil burns can even happen after diffusing essential oils, according to Health magazine.
As a woman named Emily Smith detailed in a viral Facebook post, she suffered a terrible chemical burn after she used an essential diffuser and accidentally got vapor in her face before she put a new log in her fireplace. “Immediately, I felt a stinging sensation on my face but due to the fact that my body never came into direct contact with the flames, combined with my ignorance about the nature and danger of the oils my skin had come into contact with, I didn’t put two and two together,” she wrote.
Sounds like an awful experience to us! But this doesn’t mean we need to start avoiding aromatherapy altogether. Instead, think of this as an important reminder to brush up on the best essential oil safety tips and follow them to a T.
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), the most important safety guidelines include: avoid undiluted application of essential oils, avoid application on open or damaged skin, and avoid application of any known dermal irritant essential oil on any skin condition (especially an inflammatory or allergic one).
But it’s also important to refrain from applying essential oils just before going into the sun or even a sun-tanning booth. On that same note, be sure to keep your oils far away from direct contact with any flames, including but not limited to: candles, fire, matches, cigarettes, and gas cookers.
Finally, when trying an essential oil for the first time, always do a skin patch test to make sure you’re not at risk for any negative reaction. This is especially true if you have any dermal sensitivities or allergies. Remember: Protecting your precious skin is so important!