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Sensitizing Essential Oils

A Few Folks May be Affected


Sensitizing Essential Oils

Pine & evergreen oils can be sensitizing.

Bruce Heinemann / Getty Images
Essential oils are amazing compounds - nature's true chemical wonders. The "essential" oils of aromatic plants have been used for centuries for both their smell and their medicinal applications. Now, aromatherapy is growing both in its practice and in its respect. But just because something is natural doesn't mean it's good for you. And just because something is good...doesn't mean that more is better, or that it's going to work for everyone. It's important to understand basic essential oil safety if you are going to use essential oils in your products or on your skin. There are some essential oils that will cause skin irritation in people with very sensitive skin. They affect some folks, but not others - and not always right away. People can have no reaction to an essential oil for a while...and then suddenly have a reaction. What happens is people become "sensitized" to the essential oil. The essential oils actually cause an allergic reaction to occur, and sensitization to one essential oil can often cause "cross sensitization" to other similar oils. Note: since we don't (usually) rub our candles on our skin, this doesn't really apply to candles. But it does apply to candle makers. Getting these essential oils on your skin while you're making your candles can cause you to develop sensitization!

These are some of the oils that can cause sensitization:

  • basil (French)
  • bay laurel
  • benzoin (unless specified as skin-safe)
  • cedarwood
  • chamomile (both Roman and German)(pretty rare)
  • citronella
  • garlic
  • geranium
  • ginger
  • jasmine
  • lemon
  • lemongrass
  • litsea cubea
  • mints
  • orange
  • Peru balsam
  • pine needle
  • tea tree
  • thyme (white)
  • vanilla
  • turmeric
  • valerian
  • violet
  • ylang ylang
What to do? You're right...this list has many common essential oils that we soap and candle makers use often. The key, again, is to understand the oils, and to use your essential oils safely.
  1. Make sure you know your ingredients - if you're including an essential oil in your soaps or other products, make sure you know about its recommended usage and possible sensitization issues.
  2. Make sure your oils are fresh. Many oils, most notably pine/evergreen oils and citrus oils, will become more sensitizing as they become older. The oils oxidize in the bottle and develop compounds that cause the sensitization. You can prevent this by adding a bit of rosemary oleoresin extract to the essential oil - or just make sure your oils are fresh.
  3. Test them before you use them - be sure to do a small skin test with an essential oil before you use it all over your body - especially if you, or the person using it, are prone to allergic reactions.
  4. Label everything clearly - most people who are allergic to compounds know it - they've been dealing with sensitivity issues all their lives, so they know to be on the lookout for certain chemicals or compounds. But they can't stay away from something if you don't tell them it's there, which is why proper labeling of all of your soap and other products is vital.
  5. Alternate your oils. Don't use a sensitizing oil in every single essential oil blend you create. Alternate them. Don't use a product containing the same essential oil every day. (That even goes for "safe" essential oils like lavender.)
Note: This list is not comprehensive of every single essential oil that may cause sensitization. It is for general information and reference only.

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