Original Story, 4/25/17: Essential oils are known for their soothing effects, but one woman is taking to Facebook to warn others after her recent experience left her anything but calm.
In a now deleted post, Elise Nguyen claims she applied doTERRA essential oils, which are made for the skin, on her wrist and neck prior to a hot yoga class. After the class, she went to a tanning bed to prep for an upcoming vacation. When she noticed irritation the next day, she assumed it was a bad reaction to new laundry detergent, but then things took a turn for the worst.
“Over the next couple of days, I developed nasty blisters due to a chemical burn,” she wrote, according to Scary Mommy. “Turns out, there is a teeny tiny caution on the oil that states ‘stay out of sunlight or UV rays for up to 12 hours after application’ or something like that. I developed second and third degree burns from the oils.”
Accompanying the post are horrifying photos of her skin within two weeks of the burns. She is now on day 22, but says she is still struggling with painful open areas.
While Nguyen recognizes that she missed doTERRA’s warning to steer clear of UV rays, it’s always important to recognize that essential oils can cause irritation on skin under any circumstance. “Products marketed as essential oils can contain high levels of a single or a mixture of plant oils that can be harsh on sensitive skin without a hot yoga class and a tanning bed appointment that can be irritating on their own,” explained Birnur Aral, Ph.D, Director of the Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “We consumers tend to think that anything plant-derived is ‘natural’ and therefore innocuous, which may not always be the case.”
Aral advises being wary of the combinations of products and practices used on the body, avoiding tanning beds at all costs and always using ample sun protection. Along with this, doTERRA has a warning on their website that their essential oils can result in photosensitivity AKA sun allergies:
“Photosensitization is the process in which ultraviolet (UV) radiation combines with a particular substance and causes chemical or biological changes. Some essential oils contain furocoumarins, a special class of constituent that can cause photosensitization of the skin. The most commonly found furocoumarins in essential oils are bergapten and oxypeucedanin. The chemical structure of these molecules (and their metabolites) allows them to form cross-links with skin cell DNA, in turn making the skin especially susceptible to UV radiation. During the process, free radicals and singlet oxygen are also formed and can inflict damage on cellular membranes, organelles, and proteins. If exposed to sunlight (which gives off UV radiation) after topical application of a photosensitive oil, the skin may become temporarily darkly pigmented, red, or irritated. Exposing photosensitive skin to sunlight can also increase risk for cancer. Photosensitivity and phototoxicity apply to topical use of essential oils only and do not pose the same risks when used internally. When using a photosensitive essential oil topically, avoidance of sunlight is recommended for up to 12 hours after use.”
Nguyen has unfortunately learned a hard lesson, but is hoping that her message will help others avoid a terrible situation like hers. “I’m not blaming the company, it was my own damn fault. I just want everyone to be aware of this … I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she wrote.
GoodHousekeeping.com has reached out to doTERRA, but has not heard back. We will update this post as more information becomes available.
Update, 4/28/17 at 5:14 p.m.: GoodHousekeeping.com reached to doTERRA for comment and the company gave the following statement:
“We at doTERRA were saddened to see the ordeal Elise Nguyen has endured due to a combination of hot yoga, essential oils, a tanning bed, and perhaps other factors. Since learning of this incident, we have been attempting to reach out to Ms. Nguyen to find out more about her experience. Safety is a top priority for doTERRA and we collect a record of all adverse reactions. We are grateful that our adverse reaction rate is an almost negligible .0072%, but we take each incident very seriously. We label our products to help our customers avoid any potential issues, no matter how rare, and provide a great deal of education on our website, through extensive trainings at dōTERRA events, and through our Wellness Advocates. In addition, we encourage any customer who has product questions to please call our product support number at 1.800.411.8151 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some comments have discussed the chemistry of doTERRA’s Wild Orange essential oil. Using GCMS and specifically SIM (selective ion monitoring), our scientists can confirm that no furanocoumarins are present in our Wild Orange. This analysis is in line with published findings (Essential Oil Safety) for Citrus Sinsensis. As a reminder, we recommend that everyone use properly diluted application techniques and, as Ms. Nguyen noted, doTERRA cautions users to avoid contact with the sun (or tanning beds) after applying cold pressed oils, including citrus oils. We have posted an #askdoterra episode featuring Dr. Hill that more thoroughly addresses safe oil usage and other sensitivity related issues. We also have posted condensed versions of the episode that address adverse events and safe essential oil usage.”