by Katharine Koeppen, RA
I've just returned from the biannual Alliance of International Aromatherapists professional conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. This year, much of the emphasis was on safe use of essential oils. Guided by well-meaning but inexperienced friends, relatives or coworkers, many people are starting to experiment with essential oils and sometimes suffer disastrous consequences. They refuse to believe (sometimes vehemently so) that essential oils can cause any harm, no matter what the circumstances of use.
Just this afternoon, I received a phone call from a woman who wanted to know if I could help repair her skin after one such incident. "A friend who knows a whole lot about aromatherapy" informed her that she could use oregano essential oil to successfully fade age spots. Her friend bragged that he had used undiluted oregano on his face with great results... an age spot on his forehead was now completely gone! Under his instruction, she purchased a bottle of oregano oil and applied it neat to a dark spot on her temple.
It was uncomfortable, but she kept doing it. After all, she trusted her "experienced" friend. Within several days, she had a chemical burn the size of a half dollar on her face. 5 months later, the burn has slowly healed, but a raised scar remains. Unbelievably, she wants to try additional essential oils to reduce the scar since another "friend" has told her this will work... especially when undiluted helichrysum oil is used!
I would have thought this had sunk in the first time around, but I had to explain to her that essential oils should never be used neat on the skin, especially on the face, and especially if one has had no prior training in aromatherapy.
I hate to make this kind of blanket statement, but if you don't wish to invest in any type of aromatherapy education, whether via a reputable book or via classroom experience, you probably shouldn't be using essential oils. Stay safe and buy aromatherapy products that are already diluted for appropriate topical application. There are plenty of such products available in the marketplace, from Aromaceuticals and from other companies.
If a friend makes recommendations or gives advice on using essential oils, be smart and ask about their background and qualifications first. One or two positive experiences with aromatherapy do not count as expertise. Nor does a weekend or two spent in a sales meeting at any given aromatherapy company. Membership in a professional aromatherapy organization does... graduation from a 200+ hour reputable program or its equivalent is required of all applicants. Ask who your "expert" friend has studied with, and how long they've been involved in aromatherapy, and whether they are well versed in safe aromatherapy practice, essential oil cautions and contraindications. Someone with professional credentials will not hesitate to give you this information. If you don't feel comfortable with the answers you get, don't follow their advice.
Sometimes the best intentions are just bad business.