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Using essential oils while pregnant - why everything you've read is wrong

16 June 2018

Pregnant women have nourished their skin with essential oils for all of human history, despite what five minutes on Google would have you believe.

Encouraged by their mothers and their mothers before them, pregnant women in ancient India, Greece, Rome and Egypt are known to have used nourishing, aromatic plant extracts to help prepare them for childbirth and motherhood.

Egypt’s queen of seduction, Cleopatra, was famously devoted to her essential oils. She surely rubbed a little myrrh into her blossoming belly on the barge back up the Nile with Caesar.

Using essential oils during pregnancy is safe when using the normal therapeutic dose
Cleopatra and her blossoming belly

But these days, that ancient wisdom has been lost and in its place are a thousand oft-repeated myths about essential oils being harmful to an unborn baby.

Distorted facts flourish online

Misinformation abounds about safety of using essential oils in pregnancy.

Simplicité founder and clinical naturopath David Lyons is frustrated by the distorted facts that flourish online.

“After 30 years of reading published scientific journals, I’m disheartened at the ‘grain of truth’ that is often cherry-picked from various articles, and then quoted way out of context where it causes unnecessary concern,” he says.

“It’s a complete distraction from the most important issue in pregnancy, which is nutrition in the months prior and during pregnancy.”

Research is key

David, who treated cancer patients at the Royal Brisbane Hospital for seven years in his role as a naturopath, researches broadly before using ingredients in his products.

On the subject of essential oils and aromatherapy, he turns to the US Food and Drug Administration and specifically its GRAS list, which stands for the phrase “generally recognised as safe”.

These substances are ones that have been around for a long time with no record of causing ill health.

All the familiar aromatherapy oils – including sage, rosemary, ginger and peppermint – can be found on the FDA’s GRAS list.

“While the GRAS list doesn’t specifically mention miscarriage or birth defects or any of those specific concerns that trouble pregnant women, there isn’t a single study that gives any evidence that should worry them either,” David says.

“Despite internet conjecture, not one essential oil is said to have caused a pregnancy termination or a birth defect,” he says.

“The very few recorded instances of minor problems with essential oils worldwide are difficult to confirm as the patient was usually found to have ingested an adulterated essential oil, instead of inhaling it through aromatherapy or absorbing it through their skin.”

Another reputable place to search for peer-reviewed scientific studies is the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, one of the world’s foremost medical research centres.

If ever a study was published somewhere in the world, and it's reliable, it’s to be found here.

But David says it is usually pointless looking for studies that prove the safety of substances that have been in use for thousands of years.

“The studies probably don’t exist and it’s easy to understand why,” he says. “Studies to ‘prove’ safety are usually only instigated when enough anecdotal evidence begins to point to a possible problem.

Essential oils have never posed a problem.”

The dose makes the poison

David’s oft-repeated phrase “it’s the dose that makes the poison” applies here.

“Otherwise, why would women willingly pay to be injected with Botox, made from the most lethal toxin known to mankind: Botulinum toxin?” he asks.

“Botulinum toxin is 10,000 to 40,000 times more toxic than the venom of an eastern brown snake, the second most venomous land snake in the world. Nonetheless, no one is put at risk by using Botox because the dose injected is not the toxic dose.”

Use of essential oils during pregnancy is as safe as smelling roses

David warns against taking advice from non-scientific agencies such as the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

“Their ideas certainly don’t appear on any of the millions of NCBI pages, the world’s most reliable, scientific, peer-reviewed resource,” he says.

“I must admit to complete frustration whenever the issue of misinformation about essential oils and pregnancy arises.

“If these out-of-context warnings by the holistic association were applied across all low-dose exposures to essential oils, it would mean that pregnant women couldn’t stop and smell the roses in their garden each day because rose essence contains benzyl alcohol, which is known to be severely toxic in high doses.

“Nor could they clean their teeth, as peppermint oil is toxic in doses higher than 168 grams. Yet common sense tells us it is safe to use peppermint toothpaste twice daily.”

Mother knows best about using essential oils during pregnancy

David absolutely recommends using aromatherapy essences and specially formulated massage oils to aid with growth and transformation during pregnancy.

“Since 1992, we have sold tens of thousands of our products to mums-to-be, without any issue arising,” he says.

“This includes my wife Robin and the other mums who have worked here at Simplicité.”

Essential oils safety in pregnancy
Pregnancy Massage Oil restores elasticity to stretched skin

After all, many of the essential oils in question derive from common fruits and herbs like lemon, oregano, thyme and rosemary.

“And over how many centuries have Italian women had basil and pesto in their diet during pregnancy?” David asks.

“I think that perspective needs to be maintained when it comes to discussing health risks during pregnancy.”

Our pregnancy products

At Simplicité, we are meticulous in creating the concentrated, medicinal-grade plant extracts that go into our certified organic products. Our products handcrafted from plant extracts that are easily absorbed, high in quality, and in concentrations designed to produce the desired effect. 

We are a cruelty-free and vegan brand accredited by both PETA Beauty without Bunnies and Choose Cruelty Free.

Simplicité’s Pregnancy Massage Oil is designed to restore elasticity to areas at risk of stretch marks when applied twice daily after showering. It features nourishing ingredients such as Apricot Kernel, Avocado, Wheatgerm, Hazelnut, Calendula and Rosehip oils along with the calming aromatic properties of Orange, Neroli, Mandarin, Ginger, Patchouli and Sandalwood.

We also recommend our Toning Invigorating Body Oil, which can be rubbed into the tummy, breasts, thighs and buttocks to improve the appearance of stretch marks. It features Basil to tone and revitalise the skin, Rosemary to reduce fluid retention and Jojoba to improve suppleness, tone and texture.

Did you use essential oils during pregnancy?

We would love to hear your stories. Please leave your comment below.

References

https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/

National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

Comments (1)

Meredith on June 20, 2018

Thanks for the excellent article! During my pregnancy, I found a lot of information available on essential oils was confusing, lacking evidence and written by dubious “experts”. I used lavender, clary sage and evening primrose essential oils at various stages and for various purposes, along with your lovely Pregnancy Massage Oil on my belly every day :)

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