Why It's Impossible To Be Allergic To Essential Oils

Why It’s Not Possible to be Allergic to Pure Steam Distilled Essential Oils

Is it true that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to have a true allergy to an essential oil? Can they be allergy free? The short answer is “Yes!”

There is a continuing controversy over whether someone can have an actual allergy to an essential oil. Essential oils lack the proteins needed for an allergy to exist. If a reaction occurs, some believe the oil must have been diluted or chemically stretched and it was this foreign element that was the real cause. Others believe that the body is detoxing and what you are experiencing is a “detoxification response.”

Allergy or Detox ~ Let’s explore these two schools of thought.

Dr. David Stewart states, “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.”

Blends and Allergies

He continues, “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. There is a popular blend on the market that could cause an allergy. 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.

Why Citrus Oils can Cause an Allergic Reaction

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 onychia, 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.

Steam Distilled, Pure Essential Oils are Allergy Free!

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 steam distilled 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.”

Could Contact Dermatitis be caused by Detoxing?

Another school of thought is that if someone has an adverse reaction to an essential oil, their body is said to be detoxing. Meaning your body is not where it should be health wise so putting on something as powerful as an essential oil will adversely affect it.

Kristina Bauer, in her article “Essential Oils and the Detox Theory, stated, “To some extent, the detox theory in aromatherapy challenges the definition of detoxification altogether as it aligns an additive process (topical application of an essential oil or blend) with an eliminative process (detoxification) (Pappas, n.d.). In true detoxification, something is removed, diminished, or eradicated. To really drive a detoxification response, an essential oil would have to directly engage with the body’s elimination systems.

Skin Contact Causing Major Contact Dermatitis? Not Likely!

In the case of the skin specifically, elimination of unwanted substances occurs via sweat glands (perspiration) and sebaceous glands (acne, boils, etc.) (Marieb, 2014). Invariably, elimination through the skin occurs via fluids exiting the body. While the skin does support elimination through perspiration, scientists suspect that “less than 1% of toxins are excreted this way” (Johnson, 2014). Though the detox theory suggests that skin reactions following topical application indicate a detoxifying effect through the skin from the applied essential oil, “It’s highly unlikely that everyone who experiences a skin reaction from topical essential oil application is sweating these toxins out immediately after, or several hours following application” (Johnson, 2014).

Detox proponents claim that essential oils cannot possibly cause allergic reactions because they don’t contain proteins, or that pure, unadulterated essential oils could not. Therefore, in spite of uncomfortable symptoms, the person should keep applying the oil and the reaction will stop after the toxin is eliminated from the system. This theory should be used with much caution, however. The goal of using essential oils is to heal and not harm. If you believe a reaction is due to a detoxification response, use caution and consider consulting with a licensed healthcare provider.

What to do With a Reaction

The most common reaction to an essential oil is called contact dermatitis. It is redness or, sometimes, bumps that form on the skin. If you have a response like this and wish to continue using the oil, it is recommended to dilute the offending oil by placing 3 drops into one tablespoon of coconut oil (if there is no allergy to coconut oil) and reapplying.

Allergy or Reaction, Does it Matter?

The potential for allergic reaction to essential oils is sometimes dismissed as impossible by detox theorists because they assert that “allergies are erroneous immune responses to proteins, peptides, and amino acids… none of which are found in essential oils” (Stewart, n.d.). However, while it’s true that pure essential oils don’t contain proteins, peptides, or amino acids, “we also know that penicillin and nickel don’t have these substances either, and they can still cause allergies” (Johnson, 2014). Furthermore, “proteins in the skin may react with the oil, causing an allergic reaction” (Purchon & Cantele, 2014, p. 14). Indeed, according to Robert Tisserand, “most cases of contact dermatitis to essential oils are allergic as distinct from irritant” (Tisserand & Young, 2014, p. 27).

4 Reaction Recommendations

If you or someone you know has an adverse response to an essential oil there are a few things to consider:

1. Be sure the directions on the bottle are followed to the letter! If the bottle reads “one to two drops” use only the recommended amount.

2. If a skin reaction occurs, gently wipe the area and apply vegetable oil, such as coconut oil, to help soothe the area.

3. If you want to try using the essential oil start with fewer drops and consider diluting the essential oil in a carrier oil before applying it.

4. Consider using the oil in another form. For example, if peppermint essential oil feels too warm for your skin, diffuse it instead.

In the movie Ancient Secrets of Essential Oils, JK Delapp, a licensed Acupuncturist, breaks down how essential oils can affect someone. 

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