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Adverse Reactions – Tea Tree Oil

Welcome back, my dear readers! I hope you all have had a pleasant month and a half.

I last wrote on essential oil safety and I would like to return to that topic. I will have the second part to the adulteration post coming up soon. This week, however, I want to bring your attention to a very frightening report one of the blogs I follow reported on. This is the beginning of a series of posts that will be scattered around. I will report on an Adverse Reaction centered around a single oil or a blend, and then give information regarding that oil or blend and include safety tips. Further down the road, this series will be included in the Essential Oil of the Week series, which is set to start up soon.

The Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy has begun asking people to report adverse reactions involving essential oils. They are compiling these reports, putting them into a PDF file, and making it available to the public by publishing it on their website. These reports are from April of 2014 (1), February of 2015 (2), and October of 2015 (3).

While I am inclined to believe the validity of these reports, you may not be convinced – which is completely fine. Some of the reports are difficult to read and have caused me to cringe. At the end of this blog post, I will provide a link to the page where this report can be downloaded and viewed at your leisure. I will also link to the page where you can report adverse reactions to essential oils in order to contribute to this growing knowledge base.

There is one case that I was especially horrified by. I’m going to give you the details, which report it was found in and the case number. I will also write down here everything I know about the oil used, with safety information from various books.

Note: My intention is not to scare you. I only want to inform you of the abuses of essential oils and the consequences attached to these abuses.

The Report – Adverse Database Final Report February 2015; Case # 79

A 24-year-old woman was suffering from a yeast infection. She was told by a Young Living rep to soak a tampon with Tea Tree Oil, insert it, leave it overnight, and in the morning the yeast infection would be cleared up. Rather than soak her tampon, she placed 5 drops neat on the tip of the tampon, then did as she had been directed to do.

At first, she writes, she noticed a warming sensation. She called the rep and was told this warming sensation was normal and that was how she could tell it was working. She went to bed and woke up six to seven hours later.

She writes that she felt like napalm had been poured into her vagina. She was unable to remove the tampon due to intense pain. Because of this, she had a neighbor drive her to the nearest hospital.

The tampon was removed and she was treated for chemical burns via a prescription for burn jelly and antibiotics to prevent infection. After several days, she went for a follow-up with her regular obstetrician (OB). The OB said the burn was still very raw and scheduled her to return after her burns had healed in order to perform a more thorough exam.

“The 30 day check the tissue had scabbed over and was partially healed. The 60-day exam, the scabs were all gone, but [the OB] noted I may have scars remaining and at the 90-day exam [the OB] told me scarring was present and would likely not completely heal,” (Feb 2015 Report, page 3, line 79).

My Opinion

This is upsetting. This poor woman suffered needlessly due to an MLM company rep being sadly uneducated in the safe use of essential oils or being misinformed about essential oils. What MLM companies don’t realize when trying to boost their product is that the majority of their reps are not informed. I have been unable to find any sort of datasheet explaining the use or danger of an essential oil.

As Aromatherapists or sellers of essential oils, we are in a position of trust. The advice we give about the use of an essential oil we’re selling or using on a client can be used exactly as we give it. The above is a prime example of this. The woman trusted the rep she bought the oil from. She trusted the medical advice the woman had given to her. I can safely say that she was very lucky she decided against soaking her tampon in Tea Tree oil.

Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia)

Tea Tree Oil comes mainly from Australia, but also from South Africa. It is steam distilled from leaves. The Evaporation Rate (Note) of this oil is a Top-Middle.

Tea Tree Oil belongs to the Myrtaceae botanical family. The main chemical families this oil belongs to are Monoterpenes, Sesquiterpenes, Monoterpenols, and Oxides. Because of these chemical families, the aroma is camphoraceous.

It is revered for its anti-microbial properties. The oil is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. All of which are truly amazing properties considering how often we get minor infections that can be solved simply. It is also a decongestant, an expectorant, an immunostimulant, and a vasodilator.

This oil is warming (vasodilation), so the rep was correct in saying that a warm sensation is normal. However, this oil, when applied to the skin without a carrier oil, can cause sensitization of the skin. Though this risk is considered by Robert Tisserand (4) low, it can still happen.

As for me, this oil is one of my favorites. I use it all the time. It is wonderful to use to combat microbial issues. I have found that Tea Tree oil works especially well with Baobab Seed carrier oil. Baobab Seed oil promotes cell regeneration and helps to ease the potential skin drying nature of Tea Tree.

Lora Cantele states that the oil “is a ‘first aid in a bottle’ treatment for abscesses, acne, athlete’s foot, blisters, boils, minor burns, and scalds, rashes, gingivitis, mouth ulcers, insect bites, lice, diaper rash, ringworm, and infected wounds.” It can also be used in “gargles, baths, massage blends, air sprays and diffusers to treat respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, catarrh, colds, coughs, influenza, fevers, sinusitis, tonsillitis, tuberculosis, and whooping cough,” (5).

I have used it as a mouthwash and have plans to try making a toothpaste with it. I would suggest using one drop of Tea Tree in an 8-ounce glass of warm water to swish around for the mouthwash. You can also place a little dab of oil onto acne (which I have done) and it goes away much faster than regular washing with soap and water.

Along with other essential oils, it is suggested by many experienced practitioners and scholars to dilute essential oils with a carrier. Because Tea Tree is warming on the skin and has the potential to dry out the skin, I highly recommend using a carrier when placing Tea Tree directly onto the skin for two reasons. One, the carrier oil will help keep the skin from drying out, along with reducing possible irritation. Two, using carrier oils can actually help the skin to absorb the essential oil with minimal dissipation.

The uses of this oil far outweigh the negatives – none of which I have had the misfortune of experiencing.

References

To clarify, the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy has collected this data and published it to their site. Aromatherapy United, where the links below go to, host the pages to provide these reports to a larger audience.

(*) Adverse Reaction Reporting web page – http://www.atlanticinstitute.com/injury-reporting

(1) April of 2014 Adverse Reaction Report – http://aromatherapyunited.org/injury-reports-2014/

(2) February of 2015 Adverse Reaction Report – http://aromatherapyunited.org/injury-reports-february-2015/

(3) October of 2015 Adverse Reaction Report – http://aromatherapyunited.org/oct2015/

(4) Tisserand, R. and Young, R. (2014) Essential Oil Safety. 2nd ed. London: Churchill Livingstone. p 440-445

(5) Purchon, N. and Cantele, L. (2014) The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness. Toronto: Robert Rose, Inc. p 112-113