Essential oils… You’re doing it wrong!

When it comes to essential oils, there’s no shortage of health claims – from weight loss to immune system fortification and renewed mental clarity. But one thing’s certain: you’re probably using them improperly.

Health Talk spoke with Linda L. Halcón, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., about the myths surrounding aromatherapy and essential oils safety. Halcón, a faculty member in the Center for Spirituality & Healing and associate professor in the School of Nursing, gave us some do’s and don’ts for integrating them into care. Halcón is also a Masonic Cancer Center member.

Do: Seek information

Essential oils can be beneficial for just about anything: Pain, inflammation, infections, respiratory care, hospice, mental health, dermatology, oncology, women’s health and more. But the key here is can. It can be used, in some cases, but not always, which is why it is important to educate yourself about essential oils safety.

Have a discerning eye for source material. Pick out books or web content from reputable sources. The Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing Website is a great resource.

Don’t: Accept every testimony you read

“Some companies will list their product, as ‘therapeutic grade,’ but the company basically judges itself,” Halcón said. “Research these products and see if the science backs the claim. Keep conflict of interest in mind, too, because these companies are trying to sell you something, and they may not be the most forthcoming.”

Do: Talk to your health care provider

It’s unrealistic for every health care provider to know everything about aromatherapy and essential oils. But disclose that you are using or plan to use these products with your provider because they can help monitor your progress and will be able to avoid possible complications from drug or treatment interactions.

Don’t: Take an end-all-be-all approach

Essential oils are not the same or interchangeable. Each is chemically unique and consists of anywhere between 60 to 200 constituents. Each essential oil impacts the body differently, and each person can react differently, similar to pharmaceutical drugs.

Keep in mind:

  • Don’t use essential oils if pregnant, or on infants.
  • Determine whether or not an essential oil is safe to use directly on the body; some are more likely to cause skin reactions.
  • As a rule of thumb, don’t ingest them. They can be toxic.
  • Review drug interactions. For example, essential oils high in methyl salicylate, like wintergreen, may potentiate anticoagulant medications. Another example is peppermint oil, which may interfere with seizure medications.

Do: Consider sustainability

The widespread use of some essential oils, especially those from slow-growing trees, may not be sustainable long-term. “There is already great concern about the global supply of rosewood, frankincense and sandalwood. Also, huge quantities of plant material may be required to produce some oils, such as rose oil, driving the prices high. It’s important to use essential oils judiciously, or the cost may be high to you and the environment,” Halcón said.

Don’t: Be afraid to try aromatherapy

Yes, people misuse essential oils, but they can also be incredibly beneficial.

“Essential oils should be used appropriately, meaning the right oil for the condition or symptom, the right dose, the right timing and the right application method. They can be integrated with conventional or alternative approaches to minimize more invasive options, especially in the management of chronic pain,” Halcón said. “But too few providers understand the risks and benefits. We need more research and education in the health professions because patients will continue to use essential oils regardless of whether or not their providers suggest it.”

Learn more about aromatherapy courses at the Center for Spirituality & Healing

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