Can You Be Allergic to Essential Oils?

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 a history of skin reactions to topical products or if you have atopic dermatitis.

These reactions can occur whether you’re using essential oils in a diffuser or topically and can range from itchiness to sneezing to, in rare cases, something more serious.

Some people who use essential oils neglect to share that with their doctors, perhaps because they don't make the connection between the oils and such symptoms. But remember—just because something is natural doesn't mean it can't have possible side effects.

Woman holding essential oils dropper
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Common Essential Oil Allergies

While you can experience an allergic reaction from any essential oil, some of the most common oils to cause allergies include:

Essential oils can be poisonous if swallowed or if used incorrectly. Contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 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 an essential oil, you might experience the following reactions.

Contact Dermatitis

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

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 doctor. They can help narrow down what’s causing the reaction.

Allergic Rhinitis

People with allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies), particularly those caused by weed pollens, should use caution when diffusing essential oils. Essential oils are made from various plant products, which may contain significant allergens—especially when the flowers of the plants are bused.

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

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

Sometimes essential oils may cause the above symptoms even if you don’t have an allergy. Strong odors from the oils can sometimes cause an irritant effect in the nasal passages. Your doctor can help you determine whether your symptoms are due to an allergy or irritation.

Some essential oils can cause respiratory symptoms, including bronchospasms, in patients with and without asthma. 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 and requires immediate emergency care. While anaphylaxis is rare with essential oil allergies, it has been reported.

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

  • Trouble breathing
  • Hives
  • Tightness of the throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness and/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.

Prevention

Be cautious about using essential oils if you’ve had rashes due to fragrances or if you have allergy symptoms related to weed pollens.

If you want to move ahead with using them, check with your doctor first. They can help give you a sense of the likelihood of a reaction to certain oils, given your medical history, and 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 fold of the elbow (antecubital fossa) twice a day for three to five days. If there is no reaction at the site of the oil application after the fifth day or so, it is not likely that you are allergic to the oil.

When you apply an essential oil on the skin, make sure to dilute it with a base oil, such as sunflower or grapeseed oil. Because of the potency of pure essential oils, they’re more likely to cause your skin to have a bad reaction.

If you notice any symptoms of allergies after using an essential oil, stop using it immediately, and contact your doctor.

Remember, too, that many health and beauty products on store shelves these days are infused with essential oils. Be sure to check ingredient labels if you know you have an allergy or sensitivity.

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Article Sources
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