Essential Oils – Are They Safe?
I love using essential oils – drops of frankincense oil mixed with whipped organic shea butter as a topical ointment has provided me with relief from swelling caused by lymphedema; lavender oil mixed in a carrier oil and rubbed on my pressure points eases my anxiety as do drops of lavender oil in my diffuser to induce relaxation and calm; diluted tea tree oil for my blemishes and minor cuts; peppermint oil and tea tree oil in my shampoo for my itchy, sensitive scalp; eucalyptus oil in my diffuser when my sinuses are congested … my list goes on.
I discovered essential oils in the early days of my breast cancer journey. I embraced the natural, healing benefits that essential oils provide, as well as the belief that they are not only safe but also effective. Therefore, I have introduced many essential oils into my daily regime over these past 7 years. At no point did I ever pause to consider that these oils could possibly be hazardous to my health. Why would I? They have been used for centuries, with proven benefits, and are natural products extracted from plant species…
However, in my recent reading about menopause, author Dr. Jen Gunter of The Menopause Manifesto points out how endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment can interfere with hormones. She further expresses how some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are naturally occurring, such as lavender. This revelation about a common essential oil startled me, and motivated me to learn more.
An early study released in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that repeated topical exposure to lavender and tea tree oils probably caused prepubertal gynecomastia in boys; and further studies indicated an effect in both boys and girls. Why? They discovered that lavender oil and tea tree oil have estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities. These two essential oils contain compounds that mimic or oppose the actions of sex hormones and may be considered endocrine disruptors. Many of the compounds tested are also found in more than 65 other essential oils!
What are endocrine disruptors? They are chemical compounds that interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system by either decreasing or increasing normal hormone levels or altering the natural production of hormones. Studies have revealed that prolonged exposure to [man-made] endocrine disruptors can lead to a host of health problems, such as cancer, diabetes, and reproductive disorders. However, there are few studies published that focus on naturally occurring endocrine disruptors and the [negative] effect on the human body.
Endocrine disruptors are difficult to avoid in today’s world. They are found everywhere, in everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, non-stick cookware, food, toys, cosmetics, hair products, pesticides … the list goes on. Over the past 15 years I have adjusted my lifestyle – to the best of my ability – to avoid using products that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Yet, in the past 7 years I have been unknowingly introducing naturally occurring endocrine-disrupting chemicals into my lifestyle through the use of lavender and tea tree essential oils.
So what is one to do? Educate yourself. Do what you can to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors, and live your life the best you can. Will I stop using essential oils? No. There is existing evidence of health benefits from essential oils, when used correctly and when choosing a brand that is organic or high purity. However, I will be more mindful in my frequency of use as well as how I use them. My breast cancer was estrogen positive. For that reason and for my own peace of mind I will no longer use tea tree oil as a topical treatment on my skin everyday; and I have since changed my natural deodorant to one that does not contain essential lavender oil. By reducing my exposure, even if only a little bit, I feel that I am doing what is within my control. I am finding a balance that I am comfortable living in.
We cannot possibly control all that we are exposed to, but we can make educated choices to do what is within our control to minimize exposure to unnecessary risks. I choose not to reside in fear. I choose to be mindful and honour the skin I am in.
For additional reading about endocrine disruptors, please visit the article Endocrine Disruptors
For additional reading about essential oils as endocrine disruptors, please visit the article Essential Oils
Essential Oils – Are They Safe. Published by Crystal Joy Hall
Featured Image by Mareefe