AromatherapyAsthma/AllergyBalneotherapyClove Oil

The risk of contact allergy to essential oils

They’re used in perfumes and in products for aromatherapy or balneotherapy. Previous studies have shown some to be important contact sensitizers.

Researchers at the University of Erlangen/Nürnberg, in Germany, reviewed the records of more than 15,000 patients in order to estimate the risk.

First, the details.

  • 15,682 patients were skin (patch) tested with at least 1 essential oil.
    • Patch testing identifies whether a substance that comes in contact with the skin is causing inflammation of the skin (contact dermatitis).

And, the results.

  • 637 people reacted positively to at least one of the essential oils.
  • Most commonly…
    • Yang-ylang oil (I and II) (3%)
    • Lemongrass oil (2%)
    • Jasmine absolute (2%)
    • Sandalwood oil and clove oil (1.5% each)

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Patch testing the important essential oils should be considered in patients with a suggestive history.”

They also recommend testing anything a patient with possible allergy might be exposed to.

The risk isn’t confined to casual or recreational contact to essential oils. Researchers from Rabin Medical Center, in Israel have reported 5 case of contact dermatitis from occupational exposure.

3/15/11 19:13 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.