Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Irritation from an essential oil?

We've all done it. Ended up spilling or applying undiluted essential oils onto our skin.

Perhaps, with all the good caution in the world, you spilled an oil while measuring. (One of our staff once spilled an 8 ounce "pour bottle" of Pink Grapefruit onto her blue jeaned lap...this possibility is why not only do we have an emergency eyebath fountain on the production floor, but a walk in shower in our restroom.)

Perhaps you were told that oils could be applied undiluted, or you were given a roller bottle with not enough fixed oil for a safe dilution.

Perhaps a child got at a not tightly sealed bottle and spilled some on himself.   (If a child has ingested essential oils do not delay, please call the National Poison Control Center at this number: 1-800-222-1222!)

What to do?

We see a lot of recommendations that you apply a carrier oil.  PLEASE do not do that! It is not the solution. Applying a fixed/carrier oil will hold the essential oil against the skin and slow evaporation, thus increasing the risk of irritation and long term sensitization. 

1. WASH with soap and water. Wash WELL with soap and (warm, not hot) water. (Ideally for from 10 to 15 minutes.) That may be all you need to do. If there is no redness or irritation, you are home free.

2. If skin is red, irritated, or painful, after removing the essential oil with soap and warm water, the best way to sooth the irritation is with an oatmeal wash.

Take a couple of handsful of whole oats.  (the big cardboard Quaker Oats canister in the cereal shelf of your local grocery.)  Pour them into a muslin bag or a thin sock.  Knot the top shut and dip in water.  Squeeze and massage the bag, and you will see a milky white liquid coming from the oats.  Gently dab the irritated skin with this "Oatmilk" and let it dry.   Repeat as needed.

If most of the body has been affected (yes, sometimes people spill a whole bottle of essential oil into their laps, see above.)  then a bath, with a LOT of oats in the water will help.  But after the bath, if needed, apply some more of the homemade "oatmilk."

Why oats, specifically? Because oats contain specific constituents called avenanthramides. which are extremely powerful anti-inflammatories, found  only in oats, (in very very low amounts, but still effective.) Research has shown the anti-inflammatory and anti-itch compontent of aventhramides. (And yes, they are bioavailable, so eat your oatmeal, children...preferably with brown sugar and raisins.)

(Personal note...Ground oats in a bag are a wonderful addition to a soothing bath. I keep a container of powdered oats in the bath room. Those would be best for the above remedy. But I'd not take the time to run them through the food processor or blender in an emergency.)

Note that at no time have we suggested applying any essential oils to the skin. Not anti-inflammatory oils, not skin soothers. None.

If the skin is still irritated, you might apply an unscented cream or lotion.

If the reaction is stronger than these simple home remedies can deal with, a trip to the Emergency Room would be appropriate.  It's vary rare, but an essential oil spill can lead to an allergic reaction, hives, breathing difficulties, even anaphylactic shock can result. 

Graphic courtesy of the Tisserand Institute. Used with permission.  For more information about dealing with essential oil mishaps please read here.

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