People just love scent. The candle, air freshener and essential oil industries are booming for this reason. Essential oils can be used to scent and clean the air and can have therapeutic benefits. Those who love essential oils are eager to share their benefits and pleasing aspects, but is it safe to diffuse in public spaces, offices and classrooms? To answer that question we need to understand some things about what essential oils are and how they work.
The use of essential oils for their therapeutic properties is Aromatherapy and the practice of Aromatherapy falls under the umbrella of Herbalism. Herbalism is the use of plants as medicine to support our health and wellbeing. When we use essential oils we are using one of the most potent and concentrated forms of plant medicine. We cannot separate the therapeutic effects of essential oils from their inherent scents. And this is the concept that needs to be understood when diffusing essential oils. When we release the volatile molecules into the air and smell them we are influencing our bodies in some way or other.
Not everyone reacts the same way to the components that make up essential oils. If you choose to diffuse essential oils in the office or classroom it is important to think about a few things beforehand. People can be allergic to essential oils because, though they don’t contain proteins, they do contain haptens which bind with proteins in the body where they can trigger an allergic response. Some folks are just very sensitive to scents and can suffer from headaches caused by exposure to natural and/or synthetic aromas. While some essential oils can be known for their particular effects, there are people who can have idiosyncratic reactions to a specific oil. For instance, lavender is considered to be a calming oil but for some it is a stimulant. And lastly, essential oils can interact with medications, making them more or less effective depending on the combination.
With those things in mind, now what? Well you can ask permission. If you are a classroom teacher you can ask for parental permission. You can ask your boss or co-workers if having a diffuser running would bother them. If people don’t want to partake then it is important to respect their wishes and know that you still have options. You may be able to wear aromatic jewelry, a scented oil or carry a personal inhaler. To clean classroom air you may be able to use the diffuser when children are not in the room.
Essential oils are vastly helpful to us for a variety of uses and purposes. Responsible and educated use can go a long way in furthering the effectiveness and acceptance of Aromatherapy. So, is it safe to diffuse essential oils in a public space? In my opinion, the answer is no, it isn’t safe nor is it appropriate to diffuse essential oils at therapeutic levels without prior consent or knowledge. For guidelines regarding safe use of an ultrasonic diffuser see my post called Using a Diffuser.