Lemongrass Oil is Not a "Safe, Non-toxic" Nail Polish Remover

Sep 14, 01:41 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I was relieved when last year's weird meme about putting lavender EO in mascara wands finally died down. However, it's been replaced by a new one: the idea that lemongrass EO is a safe, effective and non-toxic alternative to nail polish remover. Google this and you'll find at least a dozen videos of women demonstrating the technique while extolling the virtues of lemongrass oil, many of them stating that it's perfectly safe for kids (one video even features a mom removing polish from the fingernails of her squirming 5-year-old).

I can see why lemongrass EO appeals to a lot of people. It smells fresh, zingy and a bit exotic. And it's cheap, due to the high yield of the source plant. However, I seldom use it in my practice, and don't introduce it to my students until they've mastered basic aromachemistry and blending skills. Why? Because I feel it's one of the most aggressive essential oils commonly available, and I've seen firsthand the damage lemongrass can do in the hands of an inexperienced user.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon martinii or Cymbopogon flexuosus) is composed almost entirely of aldehydes, which are known potential dermal irritants. This oil needs to be skillfully blended in order to quench its irritant effect, even when used in an amount that would be considered an appropriate dilution for the average essential oil. Used solo in a carrier oil, it can easily cause reddening and/or burning of the skin. In fact, this adverse effect helped me build my business as both an aromatherapist and a fledgling massage therapist! My office was located a few floors beneath a massage school, and I received a large number of clients who were upset by the negative experiences they'd had at the school's student intern clinic. Their stories were always the same: the intern had used 4 or 5 drops of relaxing lemongrass EO in their massage oil, and the client had an unpleasant skin reaction. It got me a lot of business, and it gave me a strong respect for the aggressive nature of this essential oil.

Aldehyde content aside, lemongrass oil has a peculiar quality: approximately 30% of the population is allergic to it. Essential oils seldom cause allergic responses, and I am not aware of any other popular essential oil that is this common of an allergen.

Many essential oils are excellent solvents, which is why they can remove nail polish, but using them undiluted exposes one to the possibilty of sensitization (a reaction that looks identical to an allergic response, but is caused by overexposure to the offending agent). I won't belabor the point, because I've repeatedly written about sensitization, except to remind readers that once it occurs, this condition is permanent. If a person becomes sensitized to lemongrass, they may also become sensitized to chemically similar EOs such as may chang (Litsea cubeba).

Given these facts, you can see that while lemongrass oil may be effective at removing nail polish, it is neither safe nor non-toxic. For less than $2, you can buy a bottle of non-acetone nail polish remover at any drugstore. If you are that concerned about exposure to toxic elements, then forego nail polish altogether or reserve it for special occasions... polish contains just as many evil chemicals as remover (ask any good nail tech). There's nothing wrong with the alternative: displaying a set of healthy, freshly buffed nails.

I suspect there will be a lot of injury reports before this new meme dies down. Don't be the subject of one of them.

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