At first glance, essential oil aromatherapy looks like a fantastic, natural, way to spread pleasant aromas throughout your home. Lavender oil, tea-tree, eucalyptus, all seem so inviting. What could possibly be the harm in releasing natural essential oils throughout our homes?
In Hong Kong, these products are often regarded as ‘therapeutic’ and ‘calming’. This perception is mainly attributed to their natural origins. However, many substances with natural origins are most certainly not safe. Take cyanide for example, found in small quantities in the seeds or pits of many fruits such as apples. Cyanide is often represented through movies as the poison in the fake teeth that spies will carry to ingest in the event of capture, to ensure they are ‘unable’ to give up any information. Luckily the amounts in apple seeds are so small that it would take an unreasonable amount of seeds to harm you, but the point stands, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is harmless…
ESSENTIAL OILS AND HORMONES
So how does this apply to essential oils then? Well, let’s focus on two of the most commonly diffused essential oils for now, lavender and tea tree oil. In recent years, medical societies such as the NEIHS have conducted studies on these oils and found that they have harmful hormone inhibiting qualities that can especially affect the development of young children and pre-teens.
Additionally, the NEIHS team even found a link to male gynecomastia (abnormal breast growth). This evidence led to the team’s conclusion: “Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further,”.
ESSENTIAL OILS AND PETS
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t improve with our furry friends, as many essential oils have been shown to have harmful effects on pets. Sticking with tea tree and lavender oil, both have been shown to be toxic to cats and dogs. Exposure symptoms range from allergies, to digestion issues all the way to liver failure with high exposure.
To make matters worse, many pets have the habit of licking their fur, which can collect diffused essential oils from the air. This results in our pets not only inhaling them but also ingesting them!
Not to mention the smells from many essential oils, while pleasant and mild to us, pets with their sensitive noses may be overwhelmed by the smells as their sniffers are much more sensitive.
ESSENTIAL OILS AND AIR-CONDITIONING
In Hong Kong air-conditioning is a must! With sweltering summers and soaring humidity, we rely heavily on our ACs to keep us comfortable. With essential oils being diffused in homes, often while the air-conditioning is running, these oils can actually collect in your ACs. This forms a thin oily layer throughout the AC, which works like a dust magnet. Any dust that now comes into contact with the unit can stick to its surface, clogging up the AC and allowing molds and other contaminants to feed off the dust. This means that you are not only now always breathing in small amounts of essential oils from your AC, but you are also breathing in the molds growing off of the dust.
In our personal experience of many thousands of air-conditioning units cleaned here at Breathe-Easy, Air-conditioners that are exposed to large amounts of essential oils tend to be some of the dirtiest ones we service. With the essential oils coating the unit and losing their potency, they too become foods for mold which can grow quickly in your cool, damp air-conditioning.
So what’s the verdict? While here at Breathe-Easy we are not doctors and cannot say for certain that essential oils cause more harm than good when diffused in your home, we can certainly say that we believe that they should be used with caution. We always recommend to our clients that if they want the best quality indoor air, they carefully consider what they diffuse, essential oils or otherwise.
We believe clean air is vitally important to our health in such a small and busy city like Hong Kong. With so much time spent indoors and such poor air quality outside, making sure your home air is safe should be a priority. So if you are not sure about the safety of ‘natural’ essential oils and other aromatherapy products, we encourage you to do your own research and speak to your doctor or veterinarians. That way you can make an informed decision and breathe easy!