Special Report: Experts weigh in on the benefits and dangers of essential oils

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — More people are trying to use more “natural” products. Some are turning to essential oils as an alternative to certain medications. Tenesha Vereen’s five-year-old twins, Ivey and Jordyn, have troublesome skin allergies,”Every couple of weeks she would have a flare up, I just couldn’t keep her off of antibiotics or steroids.”

For Stephanie Norris and her daughters, the issues were more internal. 11-year-old Layla suffers from allergies, while Echo, 16, struggles with anxiety. Norris says she felt she was constantly shoving prescription drugs at her daughters, “Either we were always on antibiotics, or some type of prescriptions – whether it was nose spray or pills, whatever the case may be.”

Both Norris and Vereen separately began studying and using essential oils, and over time, they saw improvements.”On average, where she would end up on steroids at least once a month, we now go – I want to say, last year we only had one instance where we needed a steroid,” Vereen says.

After seeing the difference essential oils made in their lives, Norris and Vereen started a business, “Essential Infusions,” with the goal of helping and educating others.

Norris and Vereen say when working with essential oils, it’s not “one-size-fits-all.” What works for one person, might not work for another. They say it can be a tedious and, sometimes lengthy process, to figure out exactly what works.

9-year-old Maggie Martin is an example of just that. Her mom, Cheryl, says they had used one type of essential oil to help calm Maggie’s nerves before taking math tests, until a friend recommended a different type of oil that had worked for her child.

“We put a little on her wrist and her whole body reacted to the two little drops. And her whole body got red and blotchy and itchy. Her eyes burned,” explains Martin. “We had to give her Benadryl to take the pain away. She looked like she was in a lot of pain.”

Internist and Dermatologist with Grand Strand Health, Dr. Vinod Nambudiri, says Maggie’s experience isn’t unusual. “The essential oils are a common source of what we call contact dermatitis,where there’s a substance where you may put it on your skin, and nothing may happen and for some people nothing may ever happen, but in a subset of the population, they develop an allergy to that substance. A common example you may hear of is latex,” he says.

Dr. Nambudiri says though he’s had some patients say they’ve had success with essential oils, users should proceed with caution. “That’s something I tell my patients about any topical agent or any kind of medication. There are hundreds of people every day that for whatever reason, disagrees with them,” he says. “That could be something as a pill, as an ointment but you always want to be cautious when trying something new and see how you respond to it.”

Because of the increased popularity of essential oils, and lack of information about them, heath food store, Bay Naturals, instituted a “no ingestion” policy, a practice which with experts agree. “They’re not regulated in such a way to be safe for ingestion,” says Dr. Nambudiri. “They’re not technically a prescription product, they’re not usually under the oversight of the FDA or other regulatory agency, so I would be very wary of ingesting them.”

Another “no-no?” Using an essential oil, “neat,” which means putting the oil directly on the skin, straight out of the bottle. “It can have consequences,” Norris says. “It can cause sensitization, so that could be skin irritation, because it gets absorbed into your body, it can trigger things like shortness of breath or dizziness or things like that, so we always say you should use it with something like a carrier oil.”

A carrier oil, Norris says, can be things like hohoba oil, coconut oil or even a lotion. She adds certain oils can be phototoxic, which means if you use the oil then go out in the sun, it can cause a severe reaction, such as blistering.

Experts agree, when deciding to implement essential oils, it’s most important to take it slow, do your homework and remember that just because something is natural does not mean it’s safe. Dr. Nambudiri adds that if you have sensitive skin, you can ask your doctor about patch testing, where a physician applies very tiny concentrations of the substances, in controlled amounts, on your skin and then monitors you for several days.

 

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