Do allergies to essential oils exist?
by David Stewart, PhD, DNM
There are a couple of ways one can be sensitive to essential oils, but an allergic reaction is not one of them. Allergies are erroneous immune responses to proteins, peptides, and amino acids – all nitrogen compounds, none of which are found in essential oils.
You can have an allergic reaction to a vegetable oil such as olive, corn, peanut, walnut, almond, etc., since these are cold pressed and can contain small amounts of proteins. For example, occasionally a person can develop an allergy to an oil blend such as Valor, which is sold by Young Living. The allergy is not due to the essential oils of spruce, frankincense, rosewood, and blue tansy in the blend. It is due to the almond oil in the blend. So read your labels. What may appear to be an allergic reaction to a blend of essential oils may be due to a carrier oil contained in the blend.
You can also have an allergic reaction to citrus oils which are cold pressed from the rind. However, while we refer to citrus oils such as orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit as “essential oils,” strictly speaking they are not. By definition, a true essential oil must be steam distilled, not expressed.
There are also oils extracted by solvents such as onycha, jasmine, and neroli. Strictly speaking, they too are not true essential oils. Technically, they should be called absolutes, not essential oils. One can have a true allergic reaction to these because, like the citrus oils, they have not passed through a distillation process and can contain traces of proteins, peptides, or amino acids.
Because of the nature of distillation by heat, steam, and water, that true essential oils must undergo, they do not contain the necessary compounds to trigger allergies because these compounds do not pass through the distillation process.
Hence, sensitivities to essential oils, in the sense of allergic reactions, are not possible. Allergic sensitivities are due to the body developing antibodies in response to certain nitrogenous molecules. No one has ever found antibodies in humans from essential oils. So if one has a reaction to an essential oil, it is something else. Not an allergy.
There are oils that are naturally hot, such as oregano, thyme, mountain savory, cinnamon, cassia, and a few others. This is because of their phenolic compound content which cleanses our cells and paves the way to healing. Such oils can be taken internally via capsules or applied to the skin directly with caution or diluted with a fatty oil.
If burning or irritation occurs to the skin from such oils, prompt application of a vegetable oil layered over the essential oil will take care of the problem in short order.
The same thing applies if you get an essential oil in your eyes or if you swallow a hot oil, like oregano, and it burns your mouth and throat. Don’t use water, use a vegetable oil for immediate relief. Pour it directly in the eyes or take it orally if your mouth or throat are affected.
As for sensitivities to essential oils that produces a skin ash or other allergic-like symptoms such as headaches or nausea, this is always a detox reaction. While allergic reactions get worse and worse with each exposure to the offending substance (allergen), detox reactions eventually get less and less severe with each exposure to an essential oil until it disappears completely once the toxins are cleared from the system.
When one has a detox reaction from an essential oil (which is a good thing), they need to back off from using oils for a while and increase their water intake and, perhaps, get into a cleansing routine for a month or so, going light on the use of essential oils for a while. What is happening in this kind of sensitivity is that the oils are detoxing too rapidly for the colon and kidneys to handle so the toxins come out through the skin as the third avenue for excretion. It is better to keep the rate of detox down to levels that are flushed out through the kidneys and colon, if possible.
In rare cases, a person can react to a perfectly pure therapeutic grade essential oil as if it were an allergen or a toxin, but in reality the response is neither an allergy nor a detox. It is something else.
Another kind of sensitivity to essential oils has to do with emotions. In cases of extreme unresolved grief, which can be due to the loss of a loved one or other circumstances, one can become sensitive to anything, even the most harmless of things. In extreme cases, people can become universal responders, reacting to almost everything in what appears to be an allergic reaction. This malady is sometimes referred to as “Extreme Chemical Sensitivity” (ECS) or “Environmental Illness” (EI).
In such cases, some people have been known to react in an allergy-like fashion to even the purest of essential oils, such as those sold by Young Living. But healing from such an illness does not come by treating it as an allergy, because it is not an allergy in the classical sense. It is a spiritual- emotional disease and must be dealt with at that level.
The spiritual and symbolic message in this sort of reaction is that the individual is so depressed, unhappy, and unwilling to accept life as it has been given to them that they are rejecting all of creation and, thus, react negatively to everything. There is a scriptural reference to this in Proverbs 17:22, “A broken spirit dries the bones.”
The basis of our immune system is in the marrow of the bones where the T-cells and other white corpuscles are formed. Allergies and other environmental or chemical sensitivities are due to malfunctions of the immune system at the level of the white corpuscles (leucocytes). Hence, this Bible verse is actually referring to a negative autoimmune response originating in the bones caused by an individual’s rejection of the world around them stemming from extreme grief or a broken spirit.
The solution to this spiritually rooted illness is to recognize the source of the grief, accept it, and deal with it. When that is done, the sensitivities disappear, usually within a few days and sometimes overnight. Applying selected essential oils for emotional purposes can assist in revealing and releasing the buried feelings that underlie such a malady.
There is one other source of sensitivity that may be blamed on essential oils and that has to do with perfume and food grade oils. True therapeutic grade essential oils are grown organically, harvested in proper ways and times, distilled gently at minimum temperatures and pressures, and bottled without any ingredients removed or added. All of the essential oils sold by Young Living are therapeutic grade oils. However, the vast majority of aromatic oils sold in retail stores and other places are perfume or food grade oils.
A true therapeutic grade essential oil contains hundreds of compounds, all of which are necessary in a proper balance for them to possess healing power. Since only a few of these compounds contribute significantly to aroma and/or taste, when essential oils are used for fragrances or flavors, the only compounds that matter to commercial users are the ones that have smell or taste. In some cases, this involves only 2 or 3 compounds in an oil, and the manufacturers and users don’t care if these compounds are natural or synthetic so long as the smell and taste are there and the cost is cheap.
Hence, fragrance and food grade oils are always incomplete in their composition, containing only part of the chemical profile of a complete therapeutic grade oil. Furthermore, they are usually adulterated with synthetic compounds or diluted with petrochemicals to increase their volume and profitability.
One can have reactions to such oils, but these are not reactions to true essential oils. Such reactions are due to the adulterants in the oil. They are not caused by the natural essential oil components of the oil.
For More Information
So there you have it. As to what you should do in a given situation where sensitivities are encountered, you will have to decide. If you want a more detailed discussion on essential oils, reactions to them, and allergies, my book, THE CHEMISTRY OF ESSENTIAL OILS MADE SIMPLE, has a lengthy discussion of the subject.