Oil diffusers are awesome. You've probably walked through the mall, about as unimpressed with your dippin' dots as Sean Spicer, when a scintillating aroma wafted your way, arresting the attention of your nostrils.
Sure some of them might look like alien hatchling pods, but when you put some scented oils in those bad boys, it could really add some pizzazz to a room.
Now there are all sorts of hipster sounding reasons to pump essential oils in the air of your home on top of "it smells good." The medical community hasn't really found any conclusive evidence that claims made by some diffuser-manufacturers are scientifically substantiated. At the end of the day though, there really isn't any harm coming from the diffusers, and it's just a cool aromatherapy tool.
Unless, of course, the diluted oil gets on your skin and causes a slow, painful burn. Which is allegedly what happened to Facebook user Emily Smith.
In a horrifying Facebook post, Smith detailed an unfortunate series of events involving her diffuser that resulted in some pretty serious burns. The long and short of it is that if the oil gets on your face it needs to be treated as a chemical burn and that trying to wash it off with water and everyday cleanser is not going to cut it. The oil slowly ate away at her skin, causing some nasty damage.
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 111 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.
In her post, Smith urges others to thoroughly read any literature packaged with their diffuser and have a contingency plan in case any of the diffused oil does get on their skin.
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.
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.
The saddest part of Smith's story is that had she known more about essential oil diffusers and the potential risks associated with them, she could've avoided lifelong damage to her face and eyes.
A life changing incident, that was preventable.
Here's hoping she makes a full recovery.