Essential oils are a highly concentrated and complex group of constituents derived from herbs, fruit or plants. Their properties and applications are diverse.
Essential oils are detoxifying: pure therapeutic-grade essential oils are highly oxygenating. In fact pure essential oils are scientifically documented to carry the highest level of oxygenating molecules of any substance known to man! The oxygen molecules they contain push chemicals out of our cells. Given the ubiquitous toxicity of our modern day environment, I think it is now more important than ever to use detoxifying tools at our disposal like pure therapeutic-grade essential oils to assist the body in its near constant detoxification task.
Essential oils have been my saviour in ditching artificial fragrances and perfumes in the home. They are simply another tool in my health toolbox to decrease the toxicity in the home as well as providing a beautiful treat to the senses.
I often wonder how consumers can make an informed choice when they falsely assume that everything on the supermarket shelf has been tested for its impact on human health. The industry is geared towards profit and human health is largely neglected. There are over 140 million chemicals registered for use on the world’s largest database – The Chemical Abstract Service and most of the man-made portion of these chemicals have never been assessed for their impact on our health. Toxicants are everywhere and in all of us including pregnant women, in cord blood, and children and many of these chemicals are KNOWN to cause cancer and developmental and reproductive issues. There is a large body of scientific knowledge correlating toxicants in air and water like pesticides to solvents, flame retardants, fragrances and glues to learning and behavioural problems in children, neurodegenerative disorders and a growing number of environmental sensitivities.
Chemical testing, as well as other environmental pollutant testing, is inadequate because it fails to consider the health risks associated with low level exposures over a lifetime. It also ignores multiple routes of exposure, mixture effects, transgenerational epigenetic effects, the timing of exposure and individual risk factors.
Now more than ever, it is important for us to educate and empower ourselves to make healthier choices for the sake of our health, and the health of future generations.
As common ingredients in many household and personal care products, Essential oils are marketed as a ‘natural’ alternative to harsher chemical-based ingredients. For those of those wondering, is there another side to the story in scientific literature and are essential oils always safe?
Citrus and pine oils – are they a safe alternative?
Since we spend more than 80% of our lifetime indoors, indoor air quality is important for our health. Indoor environments and surfaces e.g. building materials, decoration and renovation materials and consumer products can react with cleaning agents, deodorants, and air fresheners to emit indoor air pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (California EPA 2008, Huang et al. 2013, Wolkoff et al. 2000).
Limonene (from citrus fruit peels) and α-pinene are 2 of the most abundant and common airborne fragrances. Trace levels of ozone in indoor air pollution can react with limonene and pinene to produce a host of products including formaldehyde and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled (Wolkoff et al. 2000, Rösch C et al. 2017, California EPA 2008, Ham & Wells 2011).
Exposure to these compounds may result in adverse health effects such as Sick Building Syndrome symptoms, mucous membrane and lower respiratory irritation, neurologic effects, allergic effects, developmental and reproductive effects (Huang et al. 2013, Weschler 2004). However a review by Wolkoff & Nielsen 2017 indicates that ‘allergic’ or sensitised individuals are more likely to report these symptoms. Indoor air concentrations of common fragrances such as limonene and pinene are normally below their thresholds for sensory irritation in the eyes and airways and for what is considered to cause long-term health effects.
If you use citrus- or pine-oil based products in your home: (California EPA 2008)
• Limit use on smoggy days.
• Avoid ozone-generating devices in your home.
• Avoid prolonged contact with cleaning products.
• Consider exposure to other sources of VOCs e.g. building materials, furniture, glues, burning wood or gas.
• Ensure adequate ventilation (we should always ensure adequate ventilation when diffusing oils due to the moisture produced and possible issues with condensation).
• Rinse surfaces to remove residual cleaning agents.
Are lavender and tea tree essential oils hormone disruptors?
In 2007, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine published findings that lavender and tea tree oils may cause gynecomastia (breast growth) in boys. The study involved 3 boys who used various topical products containing lavender and tea tree oils. It was claimed that these two EOs were endocrine disruptors and the reason for the changes that the three particular boys were experiencing.
The validity of the findings of the study were not sound for various reasons:
• Study was an isolated case of an uncommon condition.
• The quantities of oils applied were too small to have an effect.
• The quality of the EOs in the products was not considered.
• Other potentially endocrine-disrupting ingredients in the products were not assayed.
• Inconclusive results as there are many factors that can play a role in gynecomastia e.g. genetic predisposition (subjects were all from the same family) or exposure to other environmental toxins.
Overall there are far more studies highlighting the beneficial effects of essential oils than potential negative effects. When choosing Essential Oils and products containing Essential Oils ensure they are packaged in glass and look for the highest quality. This will minimise the presence of endocrine disrupting contaminants e.g. pesticides and phthalates which may arise from water and soil pollution or exposure to plastics during processing and/or packaging.
I use and recommend Young Living Essential Oils https://www.youngliving.com/en_AU/products/c/essential-oils due to their superior quality, purity and care for our farming land. If you would like to know more about essential oils, contact Building Biology NSW today! http://buildingbiologynsw.com.au/
California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board 2008. Fact Sheet, www.arb.ca.gov
Ham JE & Wells JR. 2011, ‘Surface chemistry of a pine-oil cleaner and other terpene mixtures with ozone on vinyl flooring tiles’, Chemosphere, vol. 83, no. 3, pp. 327-33.
Henley DV et al. 2007, ‘Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils’, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 356, no. 5, pp. 479-85.
Huang L et al. 2013, ‘Health risk assessment of inhalation exposure to formaldehyde and benzene in newly remodeled buildings, Beijing’, PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 11.
Rösch C et al. 2017, ‘Degradation of indoor limonene by outdoor ozone: A cascade of secondary organic aerosols’, Environmental Pollution, vol. 226, pp. 463-472.
WebMD (n.d), Limonene, (Online), Available: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1105-LIMONENE.aspx, (26 March 2018).
Weschler CJ. 2004, ‘Chemical reactions among indoor pollutants: what we’ve learned in the new millennium’, Indoor Air, vol. 14, suppl. 7, pp. 184-94.
Wolkoff P & Nielsen GD. 2017, ‘Effects by inhalation of abundant fragrances in indoor air – An overview’, Environment International, vol. 101, pp.96-107.
Wolkoff P et al. 2000, ‘Formation of strong airway irritants in terpene/ozone mixtures’, International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 82-91.