• 9 Investigates: The benefits and dangers of popular essential oils

    By: Stephanie Tinoco

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Essential oils are exploding in popularity. While many people may report experiencing benefits, experts warn there are some dangers associated with certain oils people need to be aware of before purchasing.

    North Carolina Poison Control is getting more calls reporting toxic exposure of essential oils more than ever before.

    [ALSO READ: Essential oils could pose dangers to pets, experts say]

    Last year, poison control received 816 calls compared to 654 calls in 2016.

    Dr. Michael Beuhler, with North Carolina Poison Control, says the types of oils you use and how you use them are critical.

    “Like medications they need to be treated with respect, if not they can cause harm,” Beuhler said.


    DATA AND SAFETY TIPS FROM POISON CONTROL: 

    • Be careful about the way you use and store essential oils, especially with children in the home:  store them up and away or locked if possible.  Young children are attracted to fruity or pleasant smelling products.  Many of these products are not in child-resistant containers.
    • Calls to North Carolina Poison Control about essential oils have been increasing. 
      • 654 calls in 2016
      • 753 calls in 2017
      • 816 calls in 2018
    • The majority of these exposures are minimally toxic, but keep in mind—toxicity is determined by the amount of the substance that’s ingested, inhaled, absorbed, etc.
    • Wintergreen oil and clove oil can be toxic to small children in small amounts.
    • Oral and throat irritation can occur if drops are tasted or swallowed directly from the bottle.
    • Just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
    • Program the number to North Carolina Poison Control in your phone just in case:  1-800-222-1222.  We also take chats—visit NC Poison Control to start a chat.

    Beuhler says most oils are minimally toxic but poison control has seen reports of consumer experiencing problems with clove oil and penny royal oil. Some oils like wintergreen are extremely dangerous.

    “The ingestion of a single teaspoon of this in a child is the equivalent of taking about a hundred aspirin. So that could easily kill a child and it does it quickly too," Beuhler said.

    While explaining the worst case scenario, he says most essential oils used in small quantities just for aroma therapy are actually benign and may be somewhat beneficial to some people.

    “They could be safe but in the wrong hands, they can be unsafe,” he said.

    Buehler strongly recommends against ingesting or applying any oils to the skin without thorough research. He says while independent research is limited, he recommends reading the information available through the FDA and NIH.

    “There isn’t any government oversight over the certifying process. Just because it is certified from a plant, it doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Buehler said.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils. Companies may advertise oils as safe to consume or apply. In a statement released to Channel 9, the FDA warns shoppers should be careful of any claims to prevent, treat or cure diseases, or health conditions.

    Dr. Buehler told reporter Stephanie Tinoco, every person could have a different reaction to exposure of certain oils.

    “You don't always know what you're getting or know exactly what is in there and then there's the problem that every human is different,” he said. “Just because it is certified, yes this is 100% or 98% oil wintergreen, that doesn’t make it safe. It just means you’re getting what you think you’re getting.”

    Alexandra Meyer is a prime example. She described an unexplainable rash consumed her skin last year. She said doctors eventually diagnosed her skin outbreak as eczema. When she got a second opinion, she found she was actually allergic to an essential oil she had been faithfully applying on her skin for months.

    “Eczema just wasn’t a good enough answer. How did I just 28 years later start getting eczema? I didn’t put two and two together until I got a massage once and they used lavender behind my ears and my ears were on fire,” Meyers recalls.

    Meyers says her reactions subsided as soon as she stopped using the lavender oil and continues to use other oils daily.

    “I put one drop in my water and it’s a really good way to wake up and start the day,” she said.

    Amy Williams says she has been using and selling oils for a large essential oil company for a decade. She credits essential oils for the improvement in her overall mood and health.

    “I would say they’re probably the number one thing that’s changed my life,” Williams said.

    Williams explains many people turn to oils hoping to address certain conditions or symptoms with a more holistic approach. Other oils are used to calm or soothe but not all oils are the same. She says many oils might be adulterated, bought off the market, or have other chemicals mixed in making them unsafe.

    “You want to have a high quality oil because you’re inhaling it through your nose and that affects your whole body,” she said. “You really should go for the best oil you can.”

    Williams warns many bottles sold at discount stores advertised at a low price could cost you your health.

    “Oil you get in a bottle for a dollar, it’s not good. You shouldn’t do anything with that oil. I wouldn’t even put it on an animal,” she said.

    Experts emphasize it’s important to research risks and benefits of each oil you plan on using before ingesting or applying to the skin because all oils are not manufactured the same.

    "Oils will either work or it won't work. So if it's not the one you need, you just change it up and find another one,” Williams said.

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