Essential oils have been widely marketed in the past several years as complementary and/or alternative medicine addressing a lot of conditions. As a professional aromatherapist who regularly blend for different clients, I have seen how these wonderful products of nature have changed many lives. However, these substances should be used with caution and with the knowledge that while essential oils can help relieve common ailments such as congestion or sleeplessness, they should not be used as a substitute to medication especially for those suffering from serious illnesses and diseases.
There are already many movements that engage clinical studies of the efficacy of essential oils on different levels but while there are no definitive results yet, please treat them as another complementary tool in your health arsenal and never to substitute the medicines administered by your physician.
Essential oils in pregnancy is also one controversial issue.
We are under the presumption that essential oils, like any other substance introduced to your bloodstream, can potentially cross the placental barrier and reach the fetus. The increased blood flow to your uterus which is caused by your pregnancy can also be another factor.
It is, therefore, very important to have a basic knowledge of which oils pose great risk and at the same time, really think over if using essential oils in this delicate time of your life is really necessary.
My first question to those who ask if they can use essential oils if they are pregnant is – what will you use them for? I believe that using EOs should start first with an intention and really addressing a certain concern and not only because, “it’s already there, why not use it?”
In general, this is my stand when using essential oils during pregnancy:
- Consult your physician regarding the use of essential oils during pregnancy.
- Use essential oils only when needed.
- Use very low dilution when applying topically. For pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is best to use essential oils at a low dilution of 1% (total number of drops is 2 drops per 10mL blend).
- Avoid oils that are produced via solvent extraction (you would see absolutes in their labels; some examples are jasmine absolute, rose absolute, and so on).
- Avoid the following oils with the following chemical constituents as they have been shown to show abnormalities in animal testing(1). While the tests were in high internal doses, it is best to proceed with caution when it comes to using these oils:
- Dill and Parsley: the chemical component, Apiole which can be abortifacient or something that promotes abortion.
- Myrrh and Atractylis: contain Beta-elemene which is known to be antiangiogenic or inhibits blood vessels from forming
- Blue Cypress: contain Beta-eudesmol and with the same effect as B-elemene
- Rosemary ct (chemotype) Camphor, Spike Lavender, Feverfew, Ho Leaf ct Camphor, Spanish Lavender, Dalmatian Sage, Spanish Sage, Camphor and Yarrow: they contain camphor which can be toxic to the fetus.
- Lemongrass, Melissa, Lemon Balm, Honey Myrtle, Lemon Leaf, Lemon Myrtle, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Verbena, May Chang, Lemon Tea Tree and Lemon Basil: they contain citral which may be teratogenic or can cause abnormalities
- Birch and Wintergreen: contain Methyl Salicylate (same components you see in Omega Painkiller) that are anticoagulants and teratogenic
- Frankincense (Boswellia papyriferia): please take note of the Latin name. This is not the same as Boswellia carterii which is the most common type of Frankincense – can be teratogenic because of Octyl Acetate component
- Hyssop: has Pinocamphone and can be neurotoxic and inhibits brain development
- Buchu, Calamint and Pennyroyal: contain Pulegone and can be hepatoxic (liver toxicity risk to the mother)
- Spanish Sage, Green Yarrow: contain Sabinyl Acetate and can be abortifacient and teratogenic.
- Camphor, Cinnamon Bark and Leaf, Ho Leaf, Nutmeg, Star Anise, Mace: contain Safrole which may cause liver tumors in the offspring
- Anise, Star Anise, Fennel and Myrtle (aniseed): contain Trans-Anethole and can be abortifacient and toxic to fetal cells
- Mugwort, Dalmatian Sage, Tansy, Thuja, Western Red Cedar, Wormwood: contains Thujone and can be neurotoxic (inhibits brain development)
- Black seed: contains Thymoquinone which can be fetotoxic and antiangiogenic
Women with repro-immune disorders should also bear in mind that there are specific oils that can be counterproductive to their condition. Some oils are anticoagulant and could activate even further the blood thinners they may be taking and this can cause more intense bleeding. Some of the oils that are powerful anticoagulants are:
- Oils containing Eugenol; cinnamon leaf, clove bud, holy basil, garlic oil, and onion oil: The eugenol constituent in cloves may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding in some people who are concomitantly using herbs such as garlic, ginger, ginkgo, and white willow bark.198 Likewise, patients taking antiplatelet agents such as aspirin, clopidogrel, dipyridamole, ticlopidine, heparin, and warfarin may also experience an increased risk of bleeding (2).
- Oils containing Methyl Salicylate: Sweet Birch and Wintergreen: One study showed that out of the 11 patients who were given topical methyl salicylate ointment, 3 had bleeding manifestation; 2 with bruises and 1 with gastrointestinal bleeding. It is concluded that topical methyl salicylate ointment should be prescribed with care to patients on warfarin and excessive usage is to be avoided since potentially dangerous drug interaction could occur (3).
This is not an exhaustive list so please also do your own research and also use gentle oils at minimal dilutions.
In conclusion, limit your use of essential oils in pregnancy and use only when necessary because this is the time of your life when there is so much cascade of events taking place inside your body.
If you want to know more about essential oils and safe use (regardless of the brand you use), join me at my Facebook Support Group, Lana Lane.
Happy oiling! <3
Your oily APAS mama,
Certified Professional Aromatherapist
(1) Tisserand, R., Young, R. Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Edition, London, Churchill Livingston 2014