Many massage therapists use essential oils in their sessions, to provide the physical and emotional benefits of aromatherapy. This usage can help clients and therapsits—but it can also lead to essential oil sensitization.
Using the same oils over and over and lead to problems for a massage therapist.
Essential oil sensitization is basically an allergic reaction to the use of essential oils. It can be a reaction known as respiratory sensitization, or it could be the more common type, which is dermal sensitization.
In this article, we’ll look at dermal sensitization.
Dermal sensitization occurs when the essential oil comes in contact with the skin, causing an immediate allergic reaction that may trigger itchiness, redness and swelling of the affected area.
Some people have delayed reaction to the application of the essential oil, making the symptoms appear only after successive exposures to it. This type of essential oil sensitization can cause a more severe skin reaction that could resemble a heat or chemical burn.
Unfortunately, sensitization doesn’t only affect the area that came in contact with the skin. It can also trigger symptoms to appear on other parts of the body.
But there’s no need to fret, because essential oil sensitization can be prevented.
Don’t let your allergic reactions get in the way of including essential oils in your massage sessions. There are ways to prevent triggering your sensitization without having to discard the use of essential oils altogether.
You wouldn’t know that you have essential oil sensitization in the first place if you hadn’t come in contact with the offending oil.
Not all essential oils pose a threat to the immune system, but there are a handful which have been found to be more likely to cause sensitization, including cinnamon, verbena, cassia, tea tree, aniseed, cedarwood, Peruvian balsam and basil.
Figure out which oil caused your episode and avoid it in the future. And better yet, practice the steps noted here to prevent dermal sensitization in the first place.
Ensure Proper Dilution
Essential oils are not meant to be applied on the skin in full concentrations. Even the gentlest, least threatening kind, like lavender, needs to be diluted first before being used on the body.
By dilution, I don’t mean that you can just mix the oil with any liquid, such as water or other seemingly harmless oils. The essential oil has to be diluted properly with a diluent like a fixed carrier oil.
A fixed carrier oil can be an oil-based product, like a lotion or cream, which can be applied to the client’s entire body. Or in the absence of an oil-based lotion, a diluent with high fat content can be used instead. A high fat milk, for example, can be used as a replacement for the oil-based lotion or cream, as long as it is intended for topical use.
Knowing that an essential oil has been diluted with an oil-based product or with a diluent with a high fat content isn’t enough to help you prevent eliciting an essential oil sensitization. The dilution of the essential oil with the diluent must be precisely measured.
Dilution isn’t just about mixing liquids to gain a far less concentrated version of a substance; it needs accurate measurement of the products to be mixed, and the right dilution percentage to ensure that the desired results will be achieved.
Each type of essential oil has its own recommended maximum dilution rate, which ensures safe topical application. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is responsible for setting the dilution rates, along with the creation of guidelines for its usage.
So, if you’re about to do the dilution yourself, make sure that it adheres to the set standards of the IFRA.
Some essential oils need to be in a 5 percent solution, while others require only 1 percent concentration. And in rare cases, dilution rates allow for only 0.01 percent concentration, making the dilution fit only for professionals.
Check Expiration Dates
Essential oils are made from volatile extracts or oils from plants that are sensitive to prolonged exposure to oxygen. Contrary to what some manufacturers say on the shelf life of essential oils being practically forever, these oils have expiration dates and could have adverse side effects if used beyond the time it’s supposed to be consumed.
Shelf life of essential oils vary from one year to six years, depending on composition. The more oxides an essential oil has, the shorter its life span is. Those that contain lots of sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpenols are the ones that could last up to six years.
Essential oils with lemon, mandarin and orange last only about a year, while those containing ginger, myrrh, cedarwood and copaiba could last up to six years.
When an essential oil gets past its intended consumable time, it tends to get oxidized, resulting in the evaporation of the therapeutic constituents and leaving only harmful, toxic substances.
These toxic substances significantly increase the danger for sensitization, and also worsen the effects the oil could have on the skin. So instead of just feeling some itch or irritation, you would end up having swollen, burn-like rashes on the affected area.
Test Oils First
It never hurts to be cautious. If you are doubtful about the effects of an application of essential oil could be on your body, you can try testing it first on a small area of your skin.
Just put a tiny amount of the diluted essential oil on your inner elbow or inner wrist. Cover it up and wait for an hour to see if your skin has adverse reactions to it.
Remember, you really need to wait for an hour or two to make sure that you’ll be able to catch the allergic reaction, in case it is a form of delayed sensitization.
Any chemical substance that comes in contact with an open wound or broken skin can cause irritation, discomfort or pain—even more so if it is an essential oil that comes in concentrated quantities.
Before applying any lubricant to your hands, make sure that you don’t have any open wounds or broken skin as this could not just hinder the healing process but also worsen it or cause infection.
Essential oils have both therapeutic and aromatic effects that could give the body a relaxing and rejuvenating feeling. Unfortunately, not all essential oils are for everyone. Some are immediately sensitized by an oil while others have delayed sensitization.
That doesn’t mean that you cannot be around all oils anymore; all you have to do is to figure out which ones you are highly sensitive to and avoid them. At the same time, you need to make sure that the essential oil solution you are about to use has been properly diluted and is not past its expiration date.
About the Author:
Stacy Welch is the editor and outreach manager of Got Oil Supplies, a one-stop shop for essential oil container and accessory needs based in Orem, Utah.