Are There Disadvantages to Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is an alternative healing technique that promotes the healing power of essentials oils that are extracted from plants. The application methods vary, with some practitioners heating the oil to inhale it, while others massage it into the skin. The practice is used to relieve stress and treat ailments such as swelling and fungal infections, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While there are many benefits to aromatherapy, there are some disadvantages as well.

Aromatherapy (Image: botamochi/iStock/Getty Images)

Allergic Reactions

A small number of people experience an allergic reaction to the essential oils used in aromatherapy. Reactions vary in intensity and can occur by both touching the oil or inhaling it. Those who have spring or fall allergies due to weeds or suffer from asthma may have an increased reaction to some essential oils. Allergic reactions are typically mild, with only mild irritation, redness and other allergy symptoms.


Some essential oils make you more sensitive to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. This makes you photosensitive and causes sunburns to develop faster and more severely than normal. According to the University of Minnesota, citrus-based oils applied to the skin are most likely to cause this. Avoid sun exposure after using these oils and apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30.

Headaches, Lightheadedness and Nausea

Some people experience nausea, mild or severe headaches or lightheadedness when undergoing aromatherapy treatments. These typically resolve themselves once the person washes off the oil or leaves the area.

Some Oils Mimic Estrogen

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, oils like fennel, aniseed, sage and clary-sage, have estrogen-like compounds that mimic natural estrogen in the body. Other oils such as lavender and tea-tree oils also have estrogen-like properties. For this reason, those with breast or ovarian cancer should not use these oils, as these cancers are hormone based. Small children and those undergoing puberty should also avoid these oils, as they can cause excessive breast growth in boys, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Avoid Aromatherapy During Pregnancy

While there have been no studies to prove that aromatherapy is harmful to pregnant women, most doctors still advise avoiding it for the duration of the pregnancy. Breastfeeding mothers should also avoid aromatherapy. Essential oils do have the ability to pass from the mother's body through the placenta to the baby. Midwives have used aromatherapy during labor and delivery successfully, but women should consult with their physicians carefully before starting.

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