A conversation yesterday with a close friend regarding essential oil safety during pregnancy helped me see how much misinformation is out there. I decided that you might benefit from knowing how the word “contraindication” became associated with pregnancy (and other conditions) and aromatherapy.
Early research regarding the therapeutic use of plant essences was carried out in France, a country in which aromatherapy is a regulated practice. A medical license is required in France to prescribe, dispense and use aromatherapy, because oils are introduced orally, vaginally and rectally. Studies were conducted by introducing the oils into the internal environment of the body, not from external application. It was this protocol that produced the results that classified some essential oils as contraindicated for certain conditions.
Those initial studies determined that essential oils should not be administered orally during any stage of a pregnancy (unless under the supervision of a qualified medical doctor trained in aromatherapy and with great caution), due to the small molecular size of oils allowing for passage of the oils across the placenta and the blood-brain barrier of the fetus. Rectal and vaginal administration is also discouraged, since these routes can deliver at least as much oil to the fetus as can oral administration.
In North America, we limit our professional use of essential oils to inhalation and external applications, so things are a little different here. (Oral delivery of essential oils would fall under the license of practicing medicine.) Topical delivery (as in massage lotions and creams) should be kept to a 1% or 2% dilution: 5 to 8 drops/oz of carrier or 10 to 12 drops/oz. Keep in mind also, that only a very few essential oils should be applied directly to the skin; most should be mixed in a carrier oil, lotion, cream or butter, so as to avoid potentially serious skin irritations.
Below is a list of essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy. There are a few others that I have not listed, since they are rather unfamiliar oils. To see the full list and read more about essential oil safety with pregnancy and other conditions, please refer to Essential Oil Safety – A Guide for Health Care Professionals, a definitive book written by Robert Tisserand and Tony Balacs. This book is a must if you want to add aromatherapy to your reflexology or massage business.
Basil, birch, camphor, cinnamon bark, elecampane, ho leaf, hyssop, parsley leaf, pennyroyal, sage, sassafras, tansy, tarragon, thuja, verbena, wintergreen, wormwood.
Safe to Use (1% or 2% dilution – external application only)
Cardamon, chamomile (German and Roman), clary sage, coriander seed, fennel, geranium, ginger, lavender, lavandin, mace, neroli, nutmeg, palmarosa, patchouli, petitgrain, rose, rosemary, rosewood, sandalwood, spike lavender, star anise, yarrow.
I hope this article clears up yet another myth regarding pregnancy. If you are interested in learning about the properties of some common essential oils, safety guidelines and how to make your own products, please refer to yesterday’s post, A Surprise Offer, for a last-minute class, with a one-time-only, very low price.