Safety Considerations and Factors to Consider Regarding Allergies and Essential Oils: Part I
Recently, Lindsey Elmore, an “essential oils farmicist,” released a 28- minute video discussing if allergic reactions can occur with essential oils. This video sparked my interest and I decided to dive more deeply into this topic. I’m sharing what I learned from my research with my readers because I believe this information is important for any consumer of essential oils to be aware of.
Here are the two reasons why:
- Safety considerations of any wellness tool, including essential oils, is always paramount. This is to achieve the desired responses and avoid any unwanted side effects.
- Being mindful of correct dosing and applications can avert potential overdose responses, sensitizations, or interactions.
For example, overusing essential oils could contribute to someone who is more prone to skin reactions to develop them. This is especially true for anyone who is known to be of the “sensitive and reactive” type.
Please see my essential oils database, under the category “Children & Safety” and “Essential Oils and Carrier Oils,” to learn more on safe use of essential oils.
What to Consider Regarding Essential Oils and Allergies
The Type of Allergy
First off, it’s important to understand what we are discussing! An allergy is an abnormal reaction to a normally harmless substance. (Keep that italic section in mind as you read more on this topic.)
According to Medscape’s emedicine, and Lindsey, there are four categories of allergic, or hypersensitivity, reactions.
For the scientifically inclined, Medscape explains:
The immune system is an integral part of human protection against disease, but the normally protective immune mechanisms can sometimes cause detrimental reactions in the host. Such reactions are known as hypersensitivity reactions, and the study of these is termed immunopathology. The traditional classification for hypersensitivity reactions is that of Gell and Coombs and is currently the most commonly known classification system.  It divides the hypersensitivity reactions into the following 4 types:
- Type I reactions (ie, immediate hypersensitivity reactions) involve immunoglobulin E (IgE)–mediated release of histamine and other mediators from mast cells and basophils.  Examples include anaphylaxis and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.
- Type II reactions (ie, cytotoxic hypersensitivity reactions) involve immunoglobulin G or immunoglobulin M antibodies bound to cell surface antigens, with subsequent complement fixation. An example is drug-induced hemolytic anemia.
- Type III reactions (ie, immune-complex reactions) involve circulating antigen-antibody immune complexes that deposit in postcapillary venules, with subsequent complement fixation. An example is serum sickness.
- Type IV reactions (ie, delayed hypersensitivity reactions, cell-mediated immunity) are mediated by T cells rather than by antibodies. An example is contact dermatitis from poison ivy or nickel allergy.*
Of these four types of allergic reactions, the first three, according to Lindsey, have NOT been found to be induced by essential oils.
Essential oils can, however, potentially induce type IV, delayed hypersensitvity reactions.
This is related to their constituents being classified as haptens. This means essential oils are not antigenic themselves, but can attach to proteins or other allergic molecules, contributing to an allergic response. Furthermore, many terpenes can be pro-haptens. Pro-haptens are a step further removed, as they break down to haptens and then elicit an immune “overreaction.” (However, there may be a caveat to this, which I will discuss in the next post here.)
Regarding essential oils, this “hapten induced” reaction usually manifests as a skin response which tends to occur over a period of time. In other words, it becomes “sensitized” with continued overuse.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) discusses that this skin sensitization is hard to predict. Therefore, they recommend alternating essential oils to avoid constant exposure to the same trigger.
I think this is very wise advice for those prone to be sensitive.
I can say for myself and many of my clients, I have only seen this with a handful of people who were prone to dermatitis and who tended to be a “little heavy-handed” in the oils application. (See above.)
I’ll discuss this topic more in Part II, along with some additional caveats, factors, and considerations that would make one more prone to a reaction to essential oils.
Recently, some experts have found these to be too general and have listed 7 categories: Inactivation/activation antibody reactions in order to account for the multiple components involved in the immune system:
- Cytotoxic or cytolytic antibody reactions
- Immune-complex reactions
- Allergic reactions
- T-cell cytotoxic reactions
- Delayed hypersensitivity reactions
- Granulomatous reactions
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.