All Emily Smith did was turn off the essential oil diffuser.
The next morning, the skin on her face was red and blistered.
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As The Sun reported, the 24-year-old from London was enjoying a night at home, watching movies by the fire. She had also bought an electric diffuser, which let her enjoy the aroma from a mix of essential oils. As she wrote on Facebook, the problem started when she went to turn off the diffuser:
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.
Smith says she knew it could be dangerous to apply essential oils to the skin. What she didn’t realize was that it could also be hazardous to stand in the diluted, vaporized spray of the diffuser.
Hours later, Smith went to throw a log on the dying fire. She felt a slight, “stinging,” on her face at the moment but never made contact with the fire. When the stinging became more severe, she tried to treat it and called for medical advice:
The burning sensation increased, and I realized 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.
When Smith described her red skin and burning feeling to the operator of the help line, she was told to treat her first-degree burn with cold water and aloe or Vaseline. After following the advice, she went to bed, only to wake up in the middle of the night in significant pain. She wrote:
I was awakened at three am 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 aloevera, took painkillers and went back to bed, remembering a similar sensation with cooking burns in the past.
The next morning, her condition had gotten worse. Smith’s skin was red and blistered. Alarmingly, she was also having trouble seeing. She wrote:
I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize 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.
A trip to the hospital confirmed that Smith had a severe chemical burn. She was treated for the damage to her skin and sent to a specialist about her eyes, which doctors feared might be seriously damaged.
In the 12 hours it took to treat Smith for her injuries, she figured out what had happened. And it was all because of her electric oil diffuser. She wrote:
I discovered the real danger of these essential oils, and realized 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.’
Her injuries were aggravated by the way she had treated them. Because chemical burns are different from ordinary burns, Smith’s efforts to relieve the pain had only made things worse:
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.
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.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you believe you may have a chemical burn, you should immediately remove any jewelry or clothing that may have been contaminated by the chemical. Next, rinse off any remaining chemical with water, loosely cover the area with gauze or a bandage, and take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed. You may also want to update your tetanus shot.
Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if: the victim goes into shock, the burn is more than three inches in diameter, the burn has penetrated the first layer of skin, or the affected area involves the eyes, face, hands, feet, buttocks, groin, a major joint, or encircles a limb.
Smith wants others to know that essential oils can cause dangerous burns, even if you don’t apply the oil to your skin. She also worries that people may not understand the danger posed by the diffuser. She wrote:
Our popular electric diffuser says, ‘safe for use around children and pets.’ From my experience, I would say this is not necessarily true.
The “what ifs” involved with using the diffuser safely are numerous, and Smith worries that most people won’t read the instructions and don’t know that something as simple as lighting a candle or smoking after using the diffuser could put them at risk.
Though she isn’t advocating the oil or diffuser be banned, Smith is certain she never wants to use one again. And she hopes her story will inspire others to educate themselves about the dangers associated with essential oils. As she wrote, her injuries changed her life, but they could have been prevented: “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.”
Sara Vallone has been a writer and editor for the last four and a half years. A graduate of Ohio University, she enjoys celebrity news, sports, and articles that enhance people’s lives.