Essential Oils… Safe? or Dangerous?

Posted on May 16, 2016

By Dr. Wilson

I have started to become a little worried with the rampant marketing of “essential oils” to families with children. The short and sweet of my concern is this:

We have absolutely no idea what the long-term side effects of essential oils are in kids… For instance, they could absolutely cause cancer (smoking cigarettes, which is the inhalation of tobacco and tar oils, was once thought to be healthy). We just don’t know, because the studies have not been done!

What we do know, is that kids are being poisoned, and the rates of essential oil poisoning is rising rapidly. See this article:

More Children Accidently Poisoned by ‘Essential Oils’

Children have also been poisoned by excessive or inappropriate application of essential oils to the skin, he added.

The oils, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, can be used in a variety of ways. These include diffusing them into the air by using a vaporizer or rubbing them on the skin, Loden explained.

But kids can be harmed by excessive application of these oils, because their skin is thinner and can absorb dangerous amounts. Children may also try to swallow the oils, which often have a pleasant smell, but then they choke due to the bitter taste and send the oil down into their airways and their lungs, Loden said.

Highly toxic essential oils include camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils, the researchers noted. Many essential oils can cause symptoms such as agitation, hallucinations and seizures. Symptoms may also include chemical burns, breathing problems, liver failure and brain swelling, among others.

If any substance has helpful medical effects, then that same substance has the potential of having negative side effects. Essential oils are just simply natural chemical structures that, like any medication, are attaching to certain receptors to possibly produce certain “benefits”. Also just like any medication, they may attach to other receptors in our body that produces dangerous or harmful side-effects… Until good quality studies are done we just don’t know!

This is another very valuable post to keep in mind when it comes to essential oils:

Why Essential Oils Aren’t Natural

Essential oils have an incredibly strong concentration. For example, the Young Living website (one of the main essential oil distributors) boasts that it takes 75 lemons to make one 15 mL bottle of lemon oil, 27 square feet of lavender plants to make one  15 mL bottle of lavender, and an entire pound of raw peppermint to make one 15 mL bottle of peppermint oil.

At what point does this extreme concentration make a product technically produced from nature, “un-natural”?

natural is not synonymous with safe. For that reason, we shouldn’t give essential oils a free pass simply in the name of natural medicine. Let me give you a few other examples of remedies that are arguably just as “natural” as essential oils:

  • Cocaine is derived from a plant. I think we can all agree that its use is not safe in children.
  • Marijuana is derived from a plant. Again, use in children is discouraged.
  • Quinine is the world’s best defense against malaria. It was discovered in 1841 by Dr. Thomas R. H. Thomson. My best friend is a pediatric nurse practitioner ministering and providing health care in Africa, and she has taken this medication countless times. Quinine is derived from the bark of cinchona trees and is yet another “natural” drug that saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.
  • Aspirin, which sells over 80 million tablets a year in North America alone (and should never be used in children!), was isolated from Salix alba, a bark, and produced by Bayer starting in 1899.
  • Remember also that antibiotics were originally accidentally discovered in 1928 from naturally occurring mold.

The bottom line for me as a parent is this:

Without adequate study, and reliable data, do I want to treat my kids as an experiment or guinea pig based on the marketing claims of companies that are running a multi-billion dollar per year industry selling us products for which they have not taken the time to demonstrate safety or effectiveness?

For me the answer is no.