October 31, 2011

Beware of Certain Essential Oils

Having an aromatherapy based treatment at a spa may seem like a relaxing, wonderful idea but you might just come away with more than you bargained for...

Aromatherapy is becoming an increasingly popular complementary therapy which is used by many people around the world as it is considered to offer numerous health benefits, such as enhancing skin condition, boosting the immune system and aiding with sleep issues. This rise in the aromatherapy trend is evident as British people alone spend approximately £126 million on this type of product and on herbal medication every year.

The essential oils, which are derived from plants and include lavender and peppermint oil, are also very popular in spa's as they are burned for inhalation, used for massages and in the baths to relieve tension, instill a feeling of relaxation and soothe aching muscles and limbs.

Scientists in Taiwan have however found that the so-called fragrant essential oils used by relaxation spas have a higher concentration of potentially harmful tiny irritant particles called secondary organic aerosols (SOAs) which are formed when the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the oil reacts with ozone in the air and these by-products may cause irritation in the eyes, nose or throat as well as nausea, headaches or even liver or kidney damage.

During the study conducted by the researchers, they tested fragrant and Chinese herbal essential oils for SOA formation in a controlled-environment under various test conditions. They then performed air sampling and analysis tests in two spa centers in Taiwan which offer massage treatments and used this information to compare the size and volume of particles released when massages were being undertaken.

It was found that the oils which produced the most number of SOA's were lavender, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus and lemon and the scientists have warned that the negative 'impact on indoor air quality and health effects cannot be neglected'.

However, they also concluded that ventilation and layout of spas can affect and help to control levels of indoor pollutants.

Previous research has shown that these particles are also produced when scented essential oils are burned for personal use at home but not to the same extent as in a spa, where it is said that they can increase tenfold. Furthermore, in 2007, other research in Taiwan illustrated that when lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus oils were burned in an office, a large volume of these unsafe particles were released.

Those who are more skeptical about the healing properties of essential oils argue that many of the apparent benefits are caused by people having so much faith in it that they psychologically convince themselves that they feel more relaxed, are calmer and can sleep better – a case of placebo effect.

Additionally there is little scientific evidence that essential oils can actually cure wounds, boost immunity or relieve pain in fact they have, in some cases, increased asthma symptoms and breathing problems in those who have lung diseases.

Furthermore, medical nurses have stated that the oils can cause rashes and irritated skin but this is usually because too much has been put into bathwater or onto skin.

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