Can You Be Allergic to Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated oils made from plant extracts. They are used in aromatherapy or diluted and applied to the skin.

While essential oils are often used to improve health, they can cause allergic reactions. You may be more likely to have an allergic reaction to an essential oil if you have atopic dermatitis (eczema) or a history of skin reactions to topical products.

Eczema

Eczema is a rash that is scaly and itchy. Genetic and environmental factors likely cause this chronic disease. Exposure to certain things tends to trigger flare-ups.

These reactions can occur whether you're using essential oils in a diffuser or on your skin. Reactions can range from mild itchiness and sneezing to more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing.

If you use essential oils, you should tell your healthcare providers. That's because sometimes oils can produce symptoms in some people, so your doctor must know what things could be triggering your reactions. Remember, just because something is natural doesn't mean it can't have possible side effects.

This article explains some common reactions to essential oils and steps you can take to prevent them.

Woman holding essential oils dropper
 Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Common Essential Oil Allergies

You can experience an allergic reaction to any essential oil. However, some of the most common oils that trigger allergies include:

  • Bergamot oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Cinnamon bark oil
  • Jasmine oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Ylang-ylang oil

Essential oils can be poisonous if swallowed or if misused. Contact Poison Control at 800-222-1222 to get information about whether you should seek emergency care.

Types of Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to essential oils can happen whether you’re rubbing them into your skin or breathing them in from the air. If you’re allergic to essential oils, you might experience rashes, nasal symptoms, or even breathing difficulties.

Contact Dermatitis

The most commonly reported allergic reaction to essential oils is contact dermatitis. This skin rash usually happens when you apply pure oils or highly concentrated products to the skin.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction or sensitivity to something that comes in contact with your skin. This reaction results in a rash that is usually red and itchy.

Contact dermatitis from essential oils can cause the following symptoms:

  • Skin itching
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Scaling
  • Dry, thickened skin

If you get any of the above symptoms after using an essential oil, contact your healthcare provider. They can help narrow down what’s causing the reaction.

Allergic Rhinitis

People with allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) should use caution when diffusing essential oils. If you have pollen allergies, you should be especially careful. That's because essential oils are made from various plant products that may contain significant allergens, or allergy-triggering substances, especially when the flowers of the plants are used.

Diffusing

Essential oil diffusers are a form of aromatherapy, which disperse essential oils into the air in the form of a breathable mist.

If you have an allergy to diffused essential oils, you may experience these symptoms:

  • Itchy nose or eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Mucus in the throat from post-nasal drip

Sometimes essential oils may cause the above symptoms even if you don't have an allergy. That's because strong odors from the oils can sometimes irritate the nasal passages. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether your symptoms are due to an allergy or irritation.

Some essential oils can cause dangerous respiratory symptoms, including bronchospasms (constriction of the airways) in patients with and without asthma. So, if you have asthma or weed-pollen allergies, use caution before using any essential oils in a diffuser.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate emergency care. While anaphylaxis is rare with essential oil allergies, it has been reported.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that comes on suddenly. It affects breathing and heart rate and can be fatal.

Doctors treat it with epinephrine (a synthetic form of adrenaline). If you ever have an anaphylactic reaction, your doctor will prescribe an auto-injector, called an "Epi-Pen," that you can carry in case of future responses.

Symptoms can start mild and progress to more severe problems quickly. These symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Hives
  • Tightness of the throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling of doom

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening emergency and can lead to cardiac arrest. Seek emergency help if you or someone you’re with has symptoms of anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction.

Recap

Allergies to essential oils may result in skin reactions, nasal allergy symptoms, or, in very severe cases, even death. If you have asthma or pollen allergies, you may be more prone to react to essential oils.

Prevention

Some people should use extra caution with essential oils, including:

  • Those who have developed rashes from fragrances
  • Those who have allergies to weed pollens

If you have risk factors and still want to use essential oils, check with your healthcare provider first. They can evaluate your medical history to help determine your likelihood to react to certain oils. In addition, they might recommend you conduct a patch test to determine if you have an allergy.

To do a patch test, you place a small amount of the diluted oil on the skin at the elbow fold twice a day for three to five days. If there is no reaction at the site of the application after the fifth day or so, it is not likely that you are allergic to the oil.

In addition, use the following precautions when using essential oils:

  • Dilute it: When you apply an essential oil on the skin, make sure to dilute it with a carrier oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed oil. That's because pure essential oils are too potent and are more likely to cause your skin to have a bad reaction.
  • Watch for reactions: If you notice any symptoms of allergies after using an essential oil, stop using it immediately, and contact your healthcare provider.
  • Read labels: Remember, too, that many health and beauty products on store shelves these days include essential oils. So, be sure to check ingredient labels if you know you have an allergy or sensitivity.

Summary

Essential oils can cause allergic reactions, especially in people prone to skin rashes and those who have pollen allergies. Reactions to essential oils may include skin rashes, itchy and runny nose, and difficulty breathing.

If you have a history of allergies or skin sensitivities, you may want to do a patch test before using essential oils, which can help predict whether you may react to a specific oil.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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