Sensitization, Storage and Overuse

Essential oils are derived from nature, but that doesn’t mean they are always safe. There are a number of safety issues that we need to be mindful of before using them. Essential oils are not to be feared, but to be used with purpose and intent, following established guidelines from expert industry experts.

What is sensitization? 

Sensitization occurs when people use oils straight onto their skin or not diluting them properly. It can occur from using old oils, particularly citrus and pine oils which are rich in monoterpenes, which, in turn, degrade quicker than other oil constituents. Sensitization can also happen when using oils that are phototoxic.

Sensitization can cause itching, redness and bumps on the skin, and it can sometimes cause blistering or eczema. Sensitization is similar to an allergic reaction. Some suggest that you can not have an allergic reaction to essential oils, and whilst I think that  may be partially true, it isn’t 100% accurate. People who are allergic to certain plants like the ragweed family of plants that contain chamomile cannot use the plant’s essential oil, as they will have an allergic response. 

Sensitization can also  happen when you use the same oil blend for a long time. This is why aromatherapists recommend rotating oils in your blends 

Sensitization can occur when you overuse oils too.

Can I overuse my oils?

There is a mentality that if one drop of oil works, then a larger dose would be better. This is incorrect. In fact the opposite is true. Less is more, when it comes to using essential oils. When overusing oils, you open yourself up to potential harm. 

There was a case several years ago of a woman who misused and overused her oils for several years. Eventually, her body had a really bad reaction, she ended up in hospital with a rash over her entire body. Other symptoms she experienced were a rapid but weak pulse, extremely low blood pressure, dizziness, constricted airways and swollen lips, tongue and throat. All of this pointed to she was having an anaphylactic shock to the essential oils. Whilst this is an extreme example, it highlights that overuse and misuse can lead to unforeseen consequences.

How long will I be sensitized for?

If you become sensitized to an oil, you may find that you can’t use oils with similar chemistry constituents. 

There are numerous examples of people who have become sensitized to oils. Many long time aromatherapists have become sensitized to lavender because it was previously known as a safe oil to use straight from the bottle. With time and further research, we know now that using oils neat is not the best or safest approach.   

Sensitization can come in the form of headaches and nausea too. For 10 years Liz worked in her mom’s production company which made over 140 products, many with lavender in them, even just in small amounts. As a result, whenever she smells too much Lavender now, she’ll get a headache

Once you become sensitized to an oil, you are sensitized for life. This means that you won’t be able to use your precious essential oils in any way, therefore it is prudent to use them with intent and purpose as to avoid sensitizing yourself or your family.

Continuing to flout essential oil safety guidelines will eventually catch up with you, and it could leave you unable to use oils again.

How do I store my oils correctly?

There are some simple storage guidelines you should follow to ensure you get the best from your oils, and that they last.

  • Keep your oils out of reach of children and animals. 
  • Make sure the lids of the bottles are tightly closed.
  • Replace the lids of your oils quickly on the bottle after use. This will help reduce oxygen getting into the bottle, but it will also make it safer around children and pets.
  • Store your oils away from direct sunlight, and in a consistently cool temperature place.  
  • Light and oxygen are not good for your oils. In fact, light and oxygen can degrade your oils more quickly. Another word for the degradation of your oils is called oxidization. Once oxidized, your oils become less effective and they can be irritating if used on the skin. For some sensitive people, diffusing oxidized oils can cause irritation to the eyes, and nose, and affect breathing.
  • Essential oils do have a shelf life. Citrus and Pine oils are more susceptible to oxidation. You will be able to tell if your oil has oxidized if it does not smell as fresh as when you originally purchased it. If you oil bottle has a sedimentary residue at the bottom this could indicate oxidation. Sticky residue around the lid can also indicate oxidation has occurred.
  • Keep a list of when you purchase your oils so you can remove old or degraded oils from your collection as soon as possible. 
  • Tisserand suggests the shelf life of oils as follows:
    • Citrus fruit, neroli, lemongrass, frankincense, tea tree, pine and spruce oils will last for approximately 1 to 2 years
    • Virtually every other essential oil lasts for 2 to 3 years
    • Sandalwood, vetiver, and patchouli will last for 4 to 8 years, possibly longer. 

By following these simple guidelines, you will be able to use your oils knowing that they are safe and effective to use for you and your family.

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