Health & Medicine

Essential oils can be both beneficial and harmful

When using essential oils, it is important to remember that they can have negative effects. Following some basic rules can help avoid any problems.
When using essential oils, it is important to remember that they can have negative effects. Following some basic rules can help avoid any problems. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Aromatherapy, a practice thousands of years old, is the common term for the therapeutic use of essential oils. In everyday settings the terms aromatherapy and essential oils are often used interchangeably.

In recent years, increased interest in the use of essential oils has led to scientific studies on their effects.

Essential oils are natural extracts. Taken from single plant species, oils are extracted from plant roots, stems, leaves, flowers or even fruits, by steam distillation or cold pressing.

Aromatherapy is commonly used to reduce stress, improve mental focus, decrease anxiety, decrease nausea or increase the overall sense of well-being. More experienced users may use oils for a number of physical concerns. Essential oils are most commonly inhaled, diffused or applied to the skin.

When using essential oils, it is important to remember that they can have negative effects. Following some basic rules can help avoid any problems.

▪  Learn everything you can about any oil before using it.

▪  Stop using any oil you are allergic to or sensitive to.

▪  Keep all oils out of the reach of children and pets.

▪  Use oils in well-ventilated areas.

▪  Some citrus oils like orange, lemon, or bergamot can cause sunburn when used on skin. Avoid using them at least 24 hours before sun exposure.

▪  Keep oils away from your eyes.

▪  Keep oils away from any source of fire — smoking materials, lighters, candles or cooking surfaces.

▪  Consult a certified aromatherapist before using aromatherapy with pregnant women, anyone with respiratory illnesses, children younger than 4, or the elderly.

▪  Remember, less is more. Using more oil does not enhance the effect and may actually cause a negative reaction.

Use of aromatherapy has become more common in hospitals. If you bring your own aromatherapy to the hospital, ask your nurse about facility guidelines for use of oils in the setting. Any treatment you are receiving may interact with the oil and create a negative reaction, so tell your doctor if you are using essential oils (name of oil, method of use, how often you use it).

Do not use a diffuser or any device that circulates oil in the air within a hospital or clinic setting. These are common areas where other patients, or even healthcare providers, may be negatively affected by diffused oil.

Safe use of essential oils will ensure you gain the desired benefits and avoid potentially harmful effects.

Cathrine Weaver is a board-certified holistic practice registered nurse at Baptist Health Lexington.

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