A little over a year ago, I developed intense pain and stiffness in my right wrist. The joint turned bright red, and the tissue surrounding the joint swelled significantly. I couldn’t remember injuring it, but the pain was so severe that I went to get x-rays. Osteoporosis runs in my family, and I fit the profile of a “typical” osteoporosisite.
The doctor confirmed that I did not have a broken wrist. The redness and swelling were obvious, but he was befuddled and kept asking me, “Are you SURE you didn’t do anything to injure this wrist?” The inflammation was obvious, but the usual treatment for inflammation was a no-go for me because I have an allergy to some NSAIDS (Advil, Aleve, etc). He prescribed a wrist splint (that didn’t help) and told me he didn’t know why my joint was inflamed. I left his office feeling overwhelmed and gypped at the $200 price tag for the doctor to tell me what I could see with my own two eyes.
Desperate, I asked a friend of mine who was into natural alternatives if she knew of something I could apply to my wrist to help the pain and inflammation. We met at a Chick-filet, and she sold me a bottle of Young Living’s Wintergreen Essential Oil.
I was skeptical. How could an ingredient found in chewing gum and tea make my wrist feel better? But pain won the battle in my mind, and I dutifully dropped oil on my wrist and massaged it in the surrounding tissues, leaving the air around me smelling minty fresh, for sure!
To my surprise, the oil worked wonders. By the next day (and after several topical applications), the redness was reduced. I got pain relief and greater movement in the joint with each application of the oil. Eureka! Within a week my pain was gone.
Would it have gone away without the oil? Rewind to a few years earlier when I had a similar pain in my left hand, also requiring x-rays, also baffling the doctors, also leading to a wrist splint and a diagnosis of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. That stretch of pain lasted a month.
One week…versus one month.
I was sold. I became a Young Living distributor not because I had any desire to sell products but because I wanted to purchase my oils at a lower price. I have since experienced health benefits from YL’s oils:
- Peppermint — relieved nausea, bloating
- Valor Blend — reduced neuropathy in fingers
- Frankincense — provided anxiety relief
- Purification Blend — acne, insect repellant
- Thieves — boils
Essential oils are oils that are obtained through the distillation of plants or plant parts. They are sold in health food stores or through multi-level distributorships. There are two main brands used by people in my homeschooling circle of friends: Young Living and DoTERRA.
When I used Young Living Wintergreen to alleviate my pain, I knew nothing. All I knew about essential oils was that they worked for me when my doctor was unable to help. I did no research, and I conducted no internet searches on Young Living, Aura Cacia or any other EO company. I trusted my friends and jumped in with both feet. I joined a FaceBook group and eventually purchased a book about Young Living’s Essential Oils to assist me in determining which oil to use, when.
Despite all the good benefits to using the oils, there are certain aspects of my experiences with Young Living that are troubling. I am writing this blog post not to discourage or encourage the use of YL or any other essential oils, but to ask people to use common sense and caution.
The first concern I’ve had involves the nebulous concept of “detoxing”. Many Young Living distributors claim (on the FaceBook pages and websites) that undesirable side effects are the result of the “detoxing” effect on the body’s cells. Yesterday I saw a post from a fellow YL oily friend wondering if anyone can be allergic to essential oils. This was the reply:
Detoxing can easily happen with the oils.
From what I’ve seen thus far, negative reactions people experience due to the oils is labeled “detoxing.” Of course we want to get the toxins out of our bodies, right? Since it’s a good thing to detox, we should push through the negative reactions (decreasing the amount we use, drinking lots of water, possibly fasting as well) until our bodies are able to eliminate the toxins and we reach healing on the other side. Gradually, I was told, the negative symptoms diminish as the body heals itself.
But a voice inside my head asks, “Isn’t that a convenient way to diminish the concerns of possible allergic reactions?”
A document I accessed on a FaceBook site created for distributors in my area summarizes the points raised by Dr. David Stewart in his book, Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple and states that it is not possible for a person to be allergic to an essential oil. Dr. Stewart, according to his website, has a PhD in geophysics. He has one semester of medical school at the University of North Carolina under his belt and has received 200 hours of training from Gary Young, founder of Young Living. He is a Natural Medicine Doctor, but his website does not specify where he obtained this medical degree.
According to this document summarizing Dr. Stewart’s book,
There has never been a documented instance of an anti-body response (i.e. sensitization) to an essential oil. Essential oil antibodies have never been found or detected in anyone. Unless sensitization occurs and antibodies are produced and stored in the body, there can be no allergic reaction. Therefore, we can state unequivocally that essential oils are not and cannot be allergens. Sometimes people do have allergy-like reactions but these are no allergenic in nature. They are detox reactions.
A google search brought up this newsletter article written by Dr. Stewart in which he writes the same information:
Because of the nature of distillation by heat, steam, and water, that true essential oils must undergo, they do not contain the necessary compounds to trigger allergies because these compounds do not pass through the distillation process. Hence, sensitivities to essential oils, in the sense of allergic reactions, are not possible. Allergic sensitivities are due to the body developing antibodies in response to certain nitrogenous molecules. No one has ever found antibodies in humans from essential oils. So if one has a reaction to an essential oil, it is something else. Not an allergy.
Oh, really? A reaction to an essential oil is “something else?”
Recently I had my daughter try one of the Young Living blends called Purification to treat her acne. It works well on my skin, and I thought we could try it with hers before venturing to the dermatologist. After applying the Purification, my daughter’s face broke out in wicked eczema. Now she had acne AND eczema. She stopped using the Purification…and lo and behold…the eczema went away.
Did the Purification bring toxins out of her cells, triggering her allergic response? Due to the timeline of events, we know that Purification was at least linked to the eczema, if not the cause. Could it have been the cause?
The fact is, essential oils are made up of multiple components that are slowly distilled out of plant parts. Purification, the oil that led to her eczema, contains a blend of five essential oils: citronella, lemongrass, lavandin, rosemary, melaleuca, and myrtle. The Essential Oils Desk Reference is a publication specifically written for and about Young Living essential oils. This reference says that the key constituents of citronella (one of the oils that make up the Purification blend) are:
Trans-Methyl Isoeugenol (4-10%)
Geranyl Acetate (5-10%)
Well, I found research that shows that the chemical geraniol, does, in fact, cause allergies — some severe — in some (but certainly not all) people:
The specific symptoms that can result can vary considerably amongst patients from a severe anaphylactic reaction to asthma, abdominal symptoms, eczema or headaches.
The key components of Lavandin (another oil in the Purification blend) are:
Linalyl acetate (28-35%)
Limonene + 1,8-Cineole (Eucalyptol) (2-8%)
Lavandulyl Acetate (1-5%)
Linalool, in particular, is a frequent culprit of eczema, behind nickel and cobalt.
In fact, every essential oil in the Purification blend has key components that contribute to allergic reactions in sensitive people who are prone to eczema:
Citronella has geraniol. Lemongrass has geraniol. Lavandin has linalool. Rosemary has camphor (contact dermatitis…i.e., eczema, has been reported.) . Melaleuca alternifolia itself has been linked to severe rashes, and Myrtle also has linalool.
But the worst thing I ever applied to my child is Young Living’s Wintergreen. My daughter has a severe allergy to salicylic acid, a product that is readily found in many skincare and shampoo products and is essentially liquid aspirin. When she used a shampoo that contained salicylic acid, she broke out in hives from head to toe, and her fingers swelled up so much that she looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. After a double dose of benadryl, the swelling went down, but the skin on her fingers peeled off as if she had been chemically burned. We have an epi-Pen in the medicine cabinet because this reaction was so severe. The doctor gave me a long list of medicines she must now avoid because of cross-reactions.
I make a point to read all labels of all products that will touch her skin. But somehow I didn’t worry about the essential oils. Because they are “therapudic-grade” and “all-natural.” So, I foolishly applied Wintergreen to my daughter’s neck…again, before I knew to check the ingredients. Wintergreen’s key component is methyl salicylate (90+%). One teaspoon of Wintergreen oil is the equivalent to 7000 mg of salicylate or 21.7 adult aspirin tablets!
Thank goodness the *only* allergic reaction she got to the wintergreen oil I rubbed on her neck was a burn. But I certainly would never allow her to ingest the oil.
The Desk Reference suggests several ways that people can use wintergreen oil, including diffusing it, applying it topically, and also diluting one part wintergreen oil with 2 parts vegetable oil to take as a dietary supplement. I can only imagine what might have happened if my severely allergic child had taken Wintergreen internally.
Yet the Desk Reference does not provide any cautions for people allergic to aspirin. It does say “Anticoagulant properties can be enhanced when used with Warfarin or aspirin.” But it does not say, as I found on this allergy site:
Methyl salicylate in topical analgesic preparations may cause irritant or allergic contact dermatitis and anaphylactic reactions.
To say that I feel like an idiot is an understatement. I also feel deceived and misled. My daughter could have had an anaphylactic reaction to Wintergreen.
I trusted my friends by virtue of their personal experiences with the Young Living products without investigating the oils and their key components themselves. Ultimately, the fault lies with me because I did not properly investigate the components of the oils themselves. It does not matter that they are Young Living oils. They could have been any brand of essential oils — they all distill down into the same key components.
The bottom line is this: essential oils are amazingly helpful and powerful, but they should be used with caution, regardless of the company name on the label. Sure, they are all-natural. All the components in Wintergreen and Purification oils are all-natural and have no additives…yet these natural substances DID induce an allergic reaction in my daughter. Those who will continue to insist that her reactions were not allergies give the impression that they might be more concerned with how Young Living oils are perceived by potential customers rather than by the truth. If necessary, I’d be willing to have my daughter’s blood tested for IgE reactions to methyl salicylate, just to have the company instruct its distributors (and its publications and printed and web materials) to disclose the danger of wintergreen to people who have a severe allergy to aspirin (although I’d doubt SHE would assent!)
Oh, and that “other” Essential Oil company I talked about earlier, DoTERRA? Their desk reference, Modern Essentials, DOES contain a caution about Wintergreen and allergies:
Some people are very allergic to methyl salicylate. Test a small area of skin first for allergies.
They also do not have it listed as a safe oil to take internally. (My Young Living friends will jump on this as a proof that DoTERRA oils aren’t as safe as Young Living’s. My response to that is that research I’ve read points to the danger of poisoning from ingesting methyl salicylate…which is 90+% of pure Wingergreen oil, regardless of the brand. I’m fairly sure many of them successfully take Wintergreen internally in small amounts with no ill effects. Doubtless they are not allergic to methyl salicylate.)
Be proactive and do your research. The information about essential oils is out there, if you are willing to dig and investigate. But please, please, please don’t blindly trust one brand over another. Yes, Wintergreen comes to my aid often when my autoimmune issues flare up in my joints. It’s the first oil I use when I have a bad tension headache. Now that I’ve done my research, I understand WHY it works…it’s like aspirin! That is a good thing…unless, of course, you are allergic.
Instead, put your trust in the Lord, and in his Holy Spirit to guide you in all wisdom and truth.
14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all. 15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. 16 Always rejoice, 17 constantly pray, 18 in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not extinguish the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. (1 Thess 5, NET)