Possible Contraindications of Aromatherapy

Although essential oils are natural products, it is still necessary to follow certain precautions when using them. It is advisable that the public exercises caution and that they consult a qualified aromatherapy practitioner before using aromatherapy for medical use. Essential oils are very concentrated and volatile. Improper use may cause burns, allergic reactions, headache, or nausea. To avoid complications, directions should be closely followed and certain safety guidelines should be followed.

  • Essential oils are contraindicated in asthma, heart conditions, hypertension, cancer, epilepsy, and frequent allergic reactions.
  • Essential oils are contraindicated in pregnancy due to the potential toxicity to the mother and fetus and the risk of triggering spontaneous abortion.
  • Avoid using essential oils on babies and children less than 5 years of age. Use aromatherapy on children older than 5 years with caution.
  • Essential oils must always be diluted according to the instructions before applying to the skin or using for inhalation.
  • Before using an essential oil, a simple patch test must be done to ensure it will not irritate the skin. Any reaction will be immediate.
  • Toxicity and contraindications for all oils should be well understood.
  • Keep essential oils away from eyes and mucous membranes,
  • Due to the strong association between smell and memory, special care should be taken when using aromatherapy on patients undergoing chemotherapy or feeling very ill. The smell of the oil may induce nausea, vomiting or negative emotions in subsequent context.
  • High doses (10-20 ml) of some oils may cause non-lethal toxicity. These include Wintergreen, Sage, Aniseed, Thyme, Lemongrass, Fennel, Clove, Cinnamon, Camphor, and Cedarwood.
  • Certain oils are more commonly associated with allergic reactions including Basil, Fennel, Lemongrass, Rosemary, and Verbena oils.

Essential Oils During Pregnancy: Although opinions vary over the real dangers of some essential oils during pregnancy, most people agree that it is best to adopt a cautious approach and avoid those few oils that are considered possible risk factors. Any essential oil that is considered safe for use during pregnancy should always be diluted to half the usual strength, because the growing fetus is much more sensitive than an adult would be and also because women are much more likely to suffer dermal reactions during pregnancy than at other times.

Finally, some oils, such as Clary Sage and Juniper, are emmenagogues, which stimulate the uterus and carry a small associated risk of miscarriage. Essential oils that should be avoided in pregnancy include Ajowan, Angelica, Anise Star, Aniseed, Basil, Bay Laurel, Calamintha, Cedarwood, Celery Seed, Cinnamon leaf, Citronella, Clary Sage, Clove, Cumin, Eucalyptus, Sweet Fennel, Hyssop, Juniper, Labdanum, Lovage, Marjoram, Myrrh, Nutmeg, Parsley, Rosewood, Snakeroot, Spanish Sage, Tarragon and White Thyme. In addition, Lavender, Peppermint, Rose and Rosemary are also best avoided during the first trimester. Parsley should not be used during menstruation.

Newborn babies are also very sensitive and no essential oils should be used on a baby until he or she is at least 2 weeks old, allowing the baby time to acclimatize to life outside the womb. After 2 weeks of age, Chamomile, Mandarin and Lavender can be used, highly diluted in carrier oil, applied either by massage or added to bathwater. Slightly older babies can usually tolerate Rose, Neroli or Mandarin. Dilutions for babies are far greater than those used on adults, perhaps using one drop of essential oil in 10 or 15 ml of carrier oil. Extreme care must be taken with a baby's sensitive skin and patch tests are recommended before treatment, even with the mildest oils.

High Blood Pressure: Some essential oils are generally best avoided with individuals suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension), although the evidence is by no means certain, especially as soothing massage is known to actually lower blood pressure. However, it is recommended that the following essential oils are avoided during treatment of individuals suffering from hypertension: Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme. Equally, individuals with particularly low blood pressure should not be treated with Clary Sage, Lavender, Lemon, Marjoram, Melissa or Ylang Ylang.

Cancer: Clients with cancer should be treated with great caution. Generally, those with active tumors should not be treated at all, unless with the explicit agreement of their doctor. In these situations, the following oils should be avoided: Anise, Basil, Fennel, Laurel, Myrtle, Nutmeg and Star Anise.

Epilepsy: Individuals with epilepsy should not be treated with Balsamite, White Camphor, Cedarwood, Sweet Fennel, Hyssop, Peppermint, Rosemary, all types of Sage, Tea Tree or any strong-smelling oil, as there is some risk that an attack could be triggered by the strong odor.

Asthma: Asthma suffers should be treated with great care, as steam inhalation of essential oils can actually worsen symptoms. Moreover, asthmatics may be allergic to the essential oils themselves. However, certain antispasmodic oils can be used safely if inhaled directly.

Other Conditions: There are various other diseases and conditions where avoidance of a few essential oils is indicated and these are described as follows:

  • Angelica should be avoided when treating clients with diabetes.
  • Fevers should be treated cautiously if using Balsamite, White Camphor, Garlic, Hyssop, Massoia, Oakmoss, Treemoss and Verbena.
  • Clients with Glaucoma should not be treated with Lemongrass, Melissa or Styrax as intra-ocular pressure may be increased.
  • Kidney disease can be worsened if nephrotoxic oils such as Indian Dill, Juniper, Parsley Leaf/Seed or Black Pepper are used.
  • Nutmeg can be a heart stimulant and should be avoided with cardiac patients.
  • Clients with liver disease should not be treated with Indian Dill, Parsley Leaf/Seed or oils containing Menthol.
  • Clients with prostatic hyperplasia should not be treated with Eucalyptus, Lemongrass, Melissa or Styrax.
  • Those clients suffering from acute lung or respiratory problems should avoid Garlic, Onion and Sage.
  • Clients receiving homeopathic treatments should not be treated with Black Pepper, Camphor, Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Rosemary, as these oils can counteract the affects of homeopathic medicines.

Essential oils should never be taken internally. They can interact negatively with the body's mucus membranes and stomach lining.

To test for allergic reactions, apply a minute amount to the skin on the top of the hand between the thumb and the index finger. In the event of an adverse reaction, apply a vegetable oil such as canola or olive, then wash with cold water.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. These Statements are for educational purposes only and it is not meant to replace the services or recommendation of a physician or qualified health care practitioner. Those with health problems or pregnancy are specifically advised that they should consult their physician before taking any supplemental oxygen.

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