Don’t try this at home…
By Ron Guba
I find often that when essential oil safety issues are discussed, people generally make the mistake of equating the ingestion of a large dose of an essential oil with a specific toxicity (like Wintergreen) with the topical application of much lower dosages.
In the case of uncovered applications, it can be said that most of the applied essential oil will simply evaporate off the skin. How much of the essential oil will penetrate into the general blood circulation will vary from compound to compound, but a rough average of perhaps only 10% of the applied dose.
However, if the application is covered or occluded, the situation changes dramatically. If an impermeable dressing as used, as in ‘patch’ medications, we can expect that a great majority of the essential oil dose will now be absorbed.
Hence, I have always said that common aromatherapy preparations for topical use will represent a small fraction of any toxic dose for commonly available essential oils.
However, the following report finally sees someone ‘pushing the envelope’ far enough to create problems. It does grieve me to see it was an Australian couple!
Topical eucalyptus oil poisoning.
Author: Darben T, Cominos B, Lee C T
“Abstract: A case report of a 6 year old girl who had developed generalised pruritic urticaria. The child’s parents had heard of a remedy reported on the radio using a blend of vinegar, olive oil, methylated spirits and (high 1,8 cineole) eucalyptus essential oil. They applied this formula topically to a small area of skin with apparently good results(certainly not my idea of an eczema treatment!). They then used the solution as a generalised application using soaked bandages under (mostly impermeable) Gladwrap occlusion to the limbs and trunk. The treatment was repeated every 2-4 hours during the day and left on overnight. Each application contained 25 ml of eucalyptus oil. After two days the urticaria had not resolved thus a double-strength blend containing 50ml eucalyptus oil was applied. Within 15 minutes the child appeared intoxicated and eventually lost consciousness. Removal of the bandages and sponging down with water improved her conscious state but she remained drowsy with nausea and vomiting. Hospital examination revealed that she had decreased deep tension reflexes, hypotonia and hypotension. The child markedly improved over a six hour period and was later discharged.”
Now, this is a massive dose of Eucalyptus oil! In Australia, the oil was most likely to have been rectified Eucalyptus polybractea with a 1,8 cineole content of 90% +.
How much the child actually absorbed is difficult to say, but even at
only 20% absorption, that is 10mL.The data on deaths caused by consumption
of high cineole eucalyptus oil in humans are not consistent - death has
occurred after consumption of supposedly as little as 4-5 ml, while other
people have become ill and recovered after consuming 60mL and more of
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