Essential Oils: A Cautionary Tale

The following story is a personal experience and is in no way, shape, or form medical advice or instruction.

There is no doubt that essential oils (EOs) are officially in the mainstream and mass market. The fact that you can purchase essential oils at almost any store, including gas stations, speaks to the prevalence and availability of them today. And while they may be easy to get, that doesn’t mean they are safe. Yes, brands, blends, and plants will have varying intensity but at their core, essential oils are highly concentrated volatile oils that can have damaging effects when not used properly.

No matter how you choose to use and utilize essential oils, it is absolutely critical to have as much information as possible to ensure you are maintaining your health and safety at all times. Whether you are diffusing essential oils for their aromatherapy properties or utilizing them topically, essential oils can he a helpful aid when used correctly, carefully, and with caution. While I would like to go in to how essential oils are not sustainable for plants, have no oversight, and are often imitations with no disclosed ingredient list, that feels like a post for another day.

Let me pause here to say this:
I am aware that in the following story I did not treat essential oils with the respect and caution I should have. There are so many things I should have done differently and simply didn’t. In fact, this is why I am sharing this story. So many of us do not understand the power and potency of essential oils or how they can cause extremely painful injuries. Heed my cautionary tale:

Our Story Begins

For many years I have had a small cluster of Plantar warts on the underside of one of my feet. While they are fairly benign, there did come a point where they were a nuisance and it was feeling like I was constantly walking with a pebble in my shoe. In an effort or get rid of the Plantar warts, I started to try the spectrum of options available to me. Over the course of about a year and a half I went to my primary care physician to have them frozen, used over the counter wart removers (liquids, gels, and pads), soaked bandages in apple cider vinegar and taped them on, used duct tape to create a seal, applied fresh herb poultices, and whatever else I could find on the internet and in herbal reference books. Needless to say, nothing worked.

It was at this point I decided to give essential oils a try. I started with Lemon EO and then moved on to Clove Bud EO. It was the Clove EO that got me into trouble.

My first mistake was I should have been using the Clove Bud EO diluted with a carrier oil such as grapeseed, olive, or coconut oil.

Like most nights, I sat on the edge of my bed and patiently waited for a single drop of Clove Bud EO to release from the bottle and land on my foot. Because I was using the Clove Bud EO ‘neat’ (that is, straight from the bottle without any dilution) it was in its most potent form.

Yes, there is a very short list of essential oils that can be used neat, but that does not mean it is not without risk. All essential oils are highly concentrated which means any sensitivity will solicit a very intense and swift reaction. If you are using essential oils, always dilute them for topical use and absolutely never ingest them (they are many helpful guidelines and best practices available). Keep in mind there is no safety regulation or independent certifying agency for essential oils which means every company makes up their own rules and often do not disclose the concentration, extraction method, or additional ingredients. Always research every company, every product, and consult with a professional; this is how to stay safe and informed.

My second mistake was when the Clove Bud EO missed the mark and I used my finger to get it into place and spread it where I wanted it.

Without even thinking (cleary), I swiped the oil into place and left my foot to hang over the side of the bed to dry a bit. I should have been using a reasonable applicator to begin with and when the spill occurred, I should have immediately washed my hands with dish soap to cut through and remove the oil. Had I have gotten up, I presumably would have tracked the Clove Bud EO through my house as I walked to my kitchen sink. With no little ones or pets, this may not be critical but those with kids and pets should be aware of the contact your EOs make with your home and surfaces.

Side note: Some EOs are toxic to our pets and should never be used, stored, or diffused in the home with them. Children are especially sensitive to topical application of anything and any application should always be vetted with their pediatrician. Again, knowledge is power, do your research, stay safe!

My final mistake came when I touched my ear with my finger that had the Clove Bud EO on it.

I have had tinnitus since childhood and often touch my ears instinctively when they start to ring. I never realize I’m doing it but I know it is a habit I have. Well, on this faithful night, my ears started to ring. While I laid in bed waiting for my foot to try, I touched my face and ear, and my my whole head suddenly felt like it was on fire. My ear was burning from the inside out and I knew I fucked up. This was my fault and I was potentially giving myself a significant injury in my own ear.

Amidst the pain and panic, I remembered reading a story on Instagram of a mother who’s child had dome something similar and inadvertently applied essential oils to their ears. Her story covered how water (most of our first instincts) just spread out the oil and it covered more area and went deeper into her child’s ear. It was applying oil (olive in her case, I believe) that began to dilute the essential oil.

I jumped out of bed (tracking Clove Bud EO all across my floors) and grabbed a cotton swab and a bottle of olive oil. I drenched the cotton swab in the olive oil and applied it as if I was cleaning out my ears. It didn’t help. I switched to the other end with fresh oil and swabbed my ear again. Everything is still on fire and now I was really panicking. I grabbed another cotton swab and kept going.

At this point my husband is with me in the kitchen and looking absolutely terrified as I whimper and tell him my ear is burning. Many more cotton swabs with olive oil and I’m finally back to as close to normal as seems possible. The burning fire has been reduced to smoldering embers but still feels like it could reignite at any moment.

My heart has stopped racing, my bedtime exhaustion is creeping back in, and I feel so dumb in this moment. I caused this awful reaction and now I’m trying desperately to reverse the consequences. I should have known better. Hell, I had already read of someone else’s experience with something very similar happening.

I can’t explain why I did such a careless thing. Maybe I was too comfortable with using the essential oil, maybe I thought It wouldn’t be me that does something reckless, maybe I just wasn’t thinking. Whatever brought me to this terrible accident cannot happen again.

The Aftermath

Thankfully I did not cause any permanent damage to my skin, ear, or internal workings. I am very lucky and recognize this as my difficult teacher regarding how I interact with essential oils, care for myself, and how you cannot let your guard down when it comes to your health and safety.

This story easily could have had a very different ending. I could have given myself permanent ear damage. Just 3 inches to the left and I could have rubbed it in my eye. It makes my stomach tight to think of how bad this could have truly been.

I decided to share this story with you in hopes that my mistakes will not be repeated. It was an easy mistake that happened so fast. I ask you to always be informed, air on the side of caution, and seek professional advice, help, and assistance. Just like with all prescriptions and over the counter medications, essential oils should be treated with caution and respect.

In health & safety, Kristen

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