When I wrote my first book in 2007, the idea that there could be toxic chemicals in personal care products like toothpaste, soap and shampoo was groundbreaking. All these years later while the topic has become the center for the natural cosmetic and personal care revolution, there is still widespread confusion and misunderstanding of what is good or bad for you, and what to avoid.
One example of this debate is the idea that fragrances (perfumes) are toxic and essential oils are safe. People douse their skin, homes, baths and children with essential oils under the false impression that they are safe. Most people are familiar with the latest press on the harmful effects of Phthalates in perfumes, but they don’t realize that essential oils are far from non-toxic, and at their highly concentrated levels, they can cause severe adverse effects.
Harmful Effects of Essential Oils
The evidence against unrestricted use of essential oils is building. Consider just some of the issues and arguments gaining attention:
- When taken internally, some essential oil drops in water can burn the esophagus.
- Peppermint is commonly applied to the chest, nasal area or feet of infants and small children. However, this article from the University of Minnesota cautions against the use of peppermint and similar oils in children under six, because, “Menthol, one of the major chemicals in peppermint oil has caused breathing to stop in young children, and has caused severe jaundice in babies with G6PD deficiency (a common genetic enzyme deficiency) (Price & Price, 1999).”
- Essential oils can affect hormones and gut bacteria.
- Caution should be taken when using essential oils while pregnant. There is evidence that the oils can cross the placenta and the effects can be compounded in utero.
- Some essential oils make you more photosensitive and burn easier.
- Essential oils can be a skin irritant.
The Pros of Essential Oils
Still, I do believe essential oils can be a very powerful part of a formula and they do have many significant healing properties. It is simply my belief that they should be used like medicine, not taken all the time but used when needed.
Scents in Moderation
Here are some ways to enjoy the scents you love in moderation:
- Dilute your oils with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or safflower. Use a 1-to-8 or 1-to-4 ratio of essential oil to carrier oil.
- Look for fragrance-free products. Choose them when you can, and save your scents for special treats.
- Do away with room fresheners, perfume and over-scented products. Instead, try using fresh lavender petals, orange peels or lemon peels to freshen up your rooms and closets. Place in a muslin bag and keep in closets, drawers, bathrooms or wherever you want a touch of scent.
- Try a dab of fresh pierced citrus peel on your wrist for a subtle fragrance.
- Choose products made with pure essential oils that are lightly scented.
- Simmer cloves, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, citrus peels or lavender on your stovetop. You can even use your scent simmer for a lovely cup of fresh Chai.
- Put lavender petals in a muslin bag in your dryer.
The perfume vs. essential oils debate is just one prominent issue in the natural cosmetics and personal care revolution that requires consumers become more educated about what we are putting in and on our bodies. Learn what you can so you can make informed choices for yourself and your family. It’s the Sumbody way.