Essential Oil Allergies

Hapten

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The popularity of Aromatherapy is on the rise. However, with essential oils being added to more and more products there is also a rise in reports of allergic reactions to them. The more encounters you have with a particular essential, the more likely your body’s immune system will react to the substance as an allergen. A Japanese study analyzed the possibility of repetitive exposure to lavender essential oil as a cause for allergic reaction. Over the study’s nine years, the rate of allergy among participants increased to an average of 3.7 percent.

This is a concern with the greater inclusion of essential oils in everyday products. “Lavender is present in 90 percent of cosmetics products sold in the U.S. … Some people become sensitive to linalool molecules (found in lavender) and others don’t … (but studies report that some) people break out in an eczematous rash from contact with lavender.”

One explanation as to why some people can have an allergic reaction to an essential oil is that certain essential oil constituents are considered haptens. “This means that they are ‘protein-reactive’; they bind with proteins in the skin. … Antibodies are then created, and the next time the same hapten contacts the skin, an allergic reaction is almost inevitable. … If you have had an allergic reaction you cannot take away the antibodies you now have. You have acquired an allergy to an essential oil constituent, for life.”

Robert Tisserand, author of Essential Oil Safety 2nd Edition, discovered an additional factor for skin allergies after analyzing unwanted skin reactions that others reported after using essential oils that were undiluted. He found that the use of an “undiluted essential oil on the skin did increase the risk of adverse reaction. Another risk factor, as well as dilution, is frequency – the more often you apply the same substance, the greater the risk. … (He has) come across many reports of adverse skin reactions from aromatherapy enthusiasts applying undiluted essential oils topically. These reactions may not happen for a while – weeks or months in some cases, and maybe never – but if and when they do, they are not pleasant. Using undiluted essential oils on your skin may be reasonable for some essential oils, for some problems, and for some people. But generally it’s not a good idea because of safety issues.”

Be safe. In order to lessen the chance of becoming allergic to an essential oil, it’s best to dilute the oil before use. Also, refrain from using the same essential oil on a daily basis. Mix it up and have fun using a variety of essential oils.