Are essential oils dangerous?


by Lisa Kirby, RN, OCN

Mar 29, 2018

Essential oils have become increasingly popular over the last decade, with uses ranging from aromatherapy to cleaning products. But a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that compounds in essential oils, such as lavender and tea tree oil, may contain hormone-disrupting properties for young boys.

According to the study, conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), boys who regularly used tea tree and lavender oils had enlarged breasts. But once they stopped using the oils, the problem disappeared.

So, does this mean essential oils are dangerous?

Not necessarily.

Lisa Kirby, BSN, RN-BC, a gynecology oncology nurse navigator at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth, is trained and certified in aromatherapy. Despite this recent study, she said not to be alarmed.

“As a Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner, I feel comfortable and safe using essential oils,” Kirby said. “It is the chemistry of an essential oil that determines its therapeutic properties, so it’s important to know what is in the essential oil you are using. Essential oils are very concentrated and in most cases, we use them in a dilution less than or equal to 5 percent in adults, whereas dilutions in children and elderly are much lower.”

Kirby also emphasized the importance of purchasing essential oils from a source that is knowledgeable and experienced to ensure therapeutic grade oils — and to consult with your doctor beforehand.

“I encourage anyone using essential oils to inform their healthcare providers,” Kirby said. “Use caution with essential oils with estrogen-like properties (fennel, aniseed and clary sage), especially in women with estrogen-dependent cancers such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.”

As with many things in life, Kirby recommends using essential oils in moderation.

Read more about this new research study, here.

About the Author

Lisa Kirby, RN, OCN, is a gynecological oncology nurse navigator at the Joan Katz Cancer Resource Center located at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center - Fort Worth.

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