Concerns for consumers as popularity of powerful essential oils increases

There are concerns the growing popularity of essential oils is having an impact on the health of some New Zealanders.

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The chemicals are up to 70 times the strength of the plant they’re derived from. Source: 1 NEWS

The products, which are diffused, used on the skin and even added to food and drink, are up to 70 times the strength of the plant they're derived from.

For example, 60 lemons have to be cold pressed, to make one drop of lemon essential oil.

The chemicals are believed to have several health benefits, but experts are warning consumers to take extra care when using them.

"Sadly, essential oils have become a trend and they've drifted off from their actual purpose, which is a natural health product that needs to be used as and when there is a purpose… not as a daily thing just because it's nice to do", said qualified aromatherapist Gillian Parkinson.

Neurologist Professor Gareth Parry, who's an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to neurology said "There is this perception that if a product is natural, that it will be safe, but that's simply not the case".

"These essential oils are pretty safe in the greater scheme of things, but I think people should be aware", he said.

Ms Parkinson's part of a community of aromatherapists, who are aware of at least 140 people in New Zealand who've experienced side effects in the last 18 months.

ACC told 1 News there were 11 essential oil claims lodged with them in the 2018-2019 financial year.

Ms Parkinson believes it's due to "overuse, undiluted use, ingesting".

That includes "making your own capsules, drinking them in water, in food and beverages... and also incorrect dilutions and species of essential oils in babies and children", she said.

"Adverse reactions can be headaches, migraines, nausea, gastric problems, irritability, watering eyes, unknown skin rashes, then it can go to kidney problems, gallbladder problems, liver damage."

Professor Parry said, "I think it's an underappreciated risk of taking these chemicals".

"Occasionally essential oils can cause neurological problems, specifically they can trigger seizures in susceptible people", he said.

Feilding mum Erin Evis was exposed to essential oils as part of her training to become a naturopath.

After a period, she started reacting.

"I would notice my nose would be burning, my throat would be burning, I'd get this awful strong headache… it would start to escalate the full-blown reactions which I would eventually develop which were things like brain fog, all my muscles would get so painful I could barely move", Mrs Evis said.

"I would have called what we were doing quite heavy exposure but when I see what a lot of people are doing these days it was basically nothing" she said.

Essential Oils have become popular through multi-level marketing companies like doTERRA and Young Living.

Young Living has over 35 thousand followers on it's New Zealand and Australian Facebook page, while doTERRA has over 18 thousand on it's New Zealand page.

Those who sell products for these companies don't need to be qualified.

In an interview with 1 News, doTERRA's New Zealand and Australia General Manager Adam Berry said "There's no formal accreditation we have for those that are called a wellness advocate".

Young Living said "Like all network marketing companies in the industry, there are no specific qualifications required".

Both companies stand by their products having health benefits and some of them being safe to ingest.

But Ms Parkinson said essential oils need to go through a deterpination process to be edible, following which, they wouldn't be termed 'essential'.

Young Living acknowledged, "they need to be treated with caution and respect when consumed".

Adding "If you have any concerns, especially if pregnant or if cooking for children, Young Living advises that you check with a health care professional prior to use"

Mr Berry said doTERRA ensures it's "compliant with all of the food safety for Australia and New Zealand".

"I'm confident that there are no issues with people who use [the essential oils] according to the way that we prescribe the products", he said.

"We're aware of a number of people in our industry that have different perspectives and views", he said.

Trading Standards said "consumers need to be wary about how they use [the products]"

It also suggests "consumers consider the qualifications of the persons recommending the use of such products so they can make an informed decision about how they use them".

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Health Ministry have told 1 News they're aware of concerns about overuse and ingestion of essential oils.

The Health Ministry says the products can cause health risks.

In a statement, Medsafe's Chris James said "The Government has work underway on a regulatory framework for natural health products and this would include health claims made for essential oils".

"It is too early in the process to say what these regulatory arrangements may be or how they would impact on essential oils."

Ms Parkinson said "I've been involved in a working group just talking about what's important and what needs to be looked at but it's really, really early stages".

She told 1 News safe use of essential oils includes using them topically, "but always, always diluted and diluted correctly for the age range you're treating".

"The other methods are by various inhalation methods and that is all, and that is all that is necessary for them to be an effective natural health product".

She also said "People won't realise that the ingestion of essential oils can change the way medications metabolize in the body, it can speed up, slow down or dilute the effects of medications treating acute or chronic health conditions".

Professor Parry said people "should not use [essential oils] to excess".

"I think they should consult with someone who knows about them, whether it's a physician or aromatherapist, someone who knows what the effects of these essential oils can be" he said.