by Emily Smith
Please share this post with your friends.
As much as I feel self conscious about sharing my photos, and my story, I know it’s the right thing to do. If reading this post prevents one person from experiencing the pain that I have, then my accident won’t have been in vain.
Do you know the potential danger of diffusing essential oils?
If you asked me four days ago whether I thought I would be a victim of chemical burns on my face and eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.
You always think ‘this won’t happen to me’. But this time it did.
It’s even more ridiculous as my fiancé was in an accident ten weeks ago and broke nearly all the bones in his body, so I’ve been full time caring for him in his sick bed and wheelchair (between going to work) and I’ve barely left the house.
As I write this post through blurred eyes, I realise how I thought I was safe at home. Little did I know that the dangers were right in front of me, masquerading as apparatus to make you feel more ‘relaxed’.
I know that aromatherapy, and the use of essential oils, candles etc. has become very much in vogue and widespread in the past couple years. I’ve seen numerous articles on social media insisting that diffusers are a necessity in the home for relaxation, meditation, and ‘healing properties’ such as ‘18 Reasons – Why Every Home Needs An Essential Oil Diffuser’ and ‘10 Reasons Every Home Should Have An Essential Oil Diffuser’.
But I’ve not seen a single one about potential hazards. And what’s less relaxing than having your face chemically burned, and your eyes permanently scarred? Or going blind?
I wasn’t aware of the true risks of essential oils, and diffusing. I wasn’t knowledgeable about how a few ordinary actions could change my life.
On Saturday evening, a popular electric diffuser we had purchased was scenting our home with a mix of patchouli oil and others. It was bonfire night and as we are unable to leave the house, we had a cosy fire lit in our living room whilst we watched a film.
I walked over to the diffuser and held the button down for a number of seconds (as this is the way to shut it off). In the process of turning the appliance off, some of the vapor from the diffuser must have sprayed onto my face. But I didn’t think anything of this. Whilst I was somewhat aware of the danger of getting essential oils directly on my skin, I was unaware that the vaporised ‘diluted’ oil from my diffuser could also be dangerous.
A few hours later, the fire was waning, so I got up to put a log on it. Immediately, I felt a stinging sensation on my face but due to the fact that my body never came into direct contact with the flames, combined with my ignorance about the nature and danger of the oils my skin had come into contact with, I didn’t put two and two together.
The burning sensation increased, and I realised that I had been burned, although extremely confused and unsure about how it could have happened. I ran my face under a tap for ten minutes, then soaked it in cold water for twenty minutes whilst I rang 111 for medical guidance. I described the red, unblistered burn to the operator, who affirmed that I had only suffered first degree burns, and that professional medical attention would not be necessary. First degree burns are treated at home, with cold water and aloe vera/Vaseline. I followed the advice given, and went to bed.
I was awakened at 3am as it felt as if my face and eyes were burning. I went to look into the bathroom mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and misted due to tears, and my face looked a little inflamed, but nothing too awful. I applied more aloe vera, took painkillers and went back to bed, remembering a similar sensation with cooking burns in the past.
In the morning I decided to call 911 again when I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognise myself. My face had swollen, my eyes were blurred and continually watering and my skin looked pus-y. My face and eyes burned and I was unsure whether this transition was normal for a burn. By the time I spoke to the health advisers, my face looked considerably worse, and I was in more pain. I was told that as my condition had worsened and to attend the emergency room.
I was received at Brighton Accident & Emergency, where I waited for a couple of hours before being referred to East Grinstead Hospital, where they have a burns department. I waited there for another few hours, before being seen by a nurse, who peeled off my blisters and my skin. I then waited another hour to be seen by the burns staff.
After my burns were assessed and treated, a chemical burn was diagnosed, and I was sent back to Brighton to be seen at the Eye A&E as the burn doctors were worried that my eyes were chemically damaged.
All in all, the process took over 12 hours and in that time I was able to do some reflection and research. By then I had realised the link between the diffuser spraying on my face and what had happened. I discovered the real danger of these essential oils, and realised that when the diffuser had sprayed onto me, essential oils had soaked onto my face and eyes and remained there. When exposed to the fire, these had a chemical reaction and ‘ignited’. Had I realised this earlier, I might have been given priority at the hospital, and treated faster.
Whilst I treated my ‘burn’ symptoms correctly, had I been aware about the true dangers of these oils coming into contact with my skin even through water vapor from the diffuser, I would have sought medical treatment immediately and my face would not have continued to burn.
When I followed the instructions given by medical professionals and ran my burns under the tap, I was not removing the oil. Oil does not just ‘wash’ off. When I soaked my face in a bowl of water, I was not really relieving my burn. I was marinating my face in the cause of my troubles.
On the NHS website, first degree burns are described as treatable at home, but any form of ‘chemical burn’ needs to be seen immediately.
I’m left wondering how many people realise the danger they are potentially putting before them.
Our popular electric diffuser says ‘safe for use around children and pets’. From my experience, I would say this is not necessarily true.
We bought ours online, alongside the oils and there was no age verification needed. How many teenagers, or young people have bought them for themselves, or their friends seeing how trendy they are? I probably might have had one as a teen, and smoked a cigarette out of the window, not realising the implications…
How many people read through the manual cover to cover? Do the public know of the dangers of essential oils so they can assess and decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Can they prevent themselves from coming into harm by ensuring they moderate their usage?
How many people with these diffusers have left them on all day? All night? Unattended? Forgot to clean them for a while? Used more oil than recommended for a stronger scent?
Are people aware that if the vapor sprays onto their skin, it stays there?
If they later light a candle or cigarette, approach a fire, do some cooking, do they know that they could be putting themselves in harm’s way?
I have so many more questions. The way to turn our diffuser off (holding the button on the side), put me in direct risk of coming into direct contact with the vapor. It has a light which also turns on and off on the side, another potential hazardous feature. Is this safe?
I’m not saying that people should stop buying and using diffusers, or essential oils, although I personally will not be around them again. I’m not saying that there is a likelihood of this happening to you. But there is a risk and you need to know about it. If you’ve read this post, you know to be cautious.
I’m not even going to go down the line of the numerous other articles and research I’ve stumbled across stating that these oils are dangerous when inhaled. But I’m keen for my story to help raise awareness, and for people to realise that they do come with a risk, and to negate that risk as much as possible.
In 2011 there were news articles about how house fires had increased, due to women buying ‘essential oils’. Nearly seven years later, and considering the increased popularity, I wonder what the statistics are now. Essential oils can be combustible, poisonous, corrosive and flammable. They are oils in every sense of the word, and not just the scents that they are marketed to be. I’ve found articles about people burning to death from contact with them, and fires caused by them. Even without a fire source, essential oils can spontaneously combust…
In the past month I turned 24 and got engaged. My face and eyes were chemically burned. I’m extremely fortunate to have my sight at all, and lucky that the burn wasn’t worse, but I have suffered permanent eye damage and am potentially facially scarred for life.
A life changing incident, that was preventable.