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Exercise Safety When Using Aromatherapy

Armen Hareyan's picture

Aromatherapy is used by many cancer patients as a soothing complement to cancer treatment. But not all patients should use it, and those who do should know how to use it safely, experts say.

Aromatherapy should be discussed with doctor

Cancer patients should always talk to their physicians before using aromatherapy essential oils as a complementary therapy.

Some oils may be toxic when combined with common cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, says Cherie Perez, a supervising research nurse in M. D. Anderson's Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. Perez teaches aromatherapy to cancer patients through the cancer center's Place... of wellness.

Essential oils have chemical properties that can affect the brain and enter the bloodstream, Perez says.

Who should avoid essential oils?

Chemotherapy or radiation may make skin more sensitive. Because oils may irritate sensitive skin, a patch test is recommended 12 to 24 hours before use. Bergamot and citrus-type oils should be avoided.

Pediatric cancer patients can use aromatherapy essential oils in very low concentrations, Perez says.

Patients with certain conditions should avoid specific oils:

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1. Diabetes (angelica oil)

2. Uncontrolled high blood pressure

  • Hyssop
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

3. Pregnancy or lactation

  • Star anise
  • Basil
  • Juniper
  • Peppermint
  • Rose
  • Rosemary

4. Uncontrolled epilepsy or high risk for seizures

  • Hyssop
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet fennel
  • Sage

How to use essential oils

Some oils, like lavender, ylang-ylang and sandalwood, can be applied directly to the skin. Others are too concentrated and need to be diluted with massage oils, bath soaps or lotions.

Most typically, Perez advises patients to put a few drops of oil or a combination of oils onto a handkerchief and "fan themselves like Scarlett O'Hara." Burning oils or incense is not recommended because they may give off unhealthy fumes and soot.

Tips for buying essential oils

Essential oils from bath or general stores may be of questionable quality. Perez recommends shopping in specialty stores staffed by salespeople with aromatherapy training.

Shoppers should look for:

  • Colored glass