Adverse skin reactions

This is the most common type of adverse reaction across all age groups, and is often associated with the use of undiluted essential oils. The most generally useful non-pharmaceutical way to soothe inflamed skin is with a preparation of oats/oatmeal.

Signs and symptoms

Topical exposure to some essential oils may cause local skin reactions including irritation, allergic reaction, and photosensitization. All of these involve burning and redness of the skin, and may include itching, pain and hives (small blisters). More here: Irritation and Allergy

In rare cases, skin reactions may occur even in remote areas of the body (ie not where the essential oils were applied). In very rare cases anaphylactic shock has occurred, which may include swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, and a dramatic drop in blood pressure. If this appears to be happening, medical care should be sought immediately.

What to do
  • Remove any contaminated clothing.
  • Wash the skin gently with (preferably unscented) soap and water for at least 10 minutes
  • Expose the skin to the air (but not to direct sunlight) to encourage evaporation of remaining essential oil.
  • Lukewarm oatmeal baths may help soothe reactions spread over large areas of skin (and see infographic).
  • Application of a simple barrier cream, or a mild corticosteroid cream is the normal medical approach (although allergic contact dermatitis to topical corticosteroids is possible).
  • Oral antihistamines may help reduce itching (topical antihistamines should be avoided because of the risk of allergic contact dermatitis).
  • Seek medical attention if irritation persists.