When it comes to scenting your home, or just plain unwinding, an oil diffuser is a hot ticket home item that typically means comfort and relaxation. That wasn’t the case for 24 year old Emily Smith, from London, who took to Facebook to share her harrowing experience with a popular electric essential oil diffuser.
Smith describes a normal evening at home, blending some patchouli and other oils into her diffuser before sitting by the fire and watching a film. When she decided to turn the diffuser off, some mist sprayed back towards her face, but she thought nothing of it. The oils, after all, were diluted with water. As the fireplace waned, she went to put a log in it. It was then that she noticed a burning sensation on her skin. Confused, she ran her face under the tap with cold water and called for medical assistance when the burning sensation increased.
“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,” she wrote.
Unfortunately for Smith, the severity of the situation was much worse. By morning, her face was swollen and filled with pus, and her eyes were blurry and watery. She went to the hospital and was treated for a chemical burn. The essential oils on her face, plus exposure to the fire caused a chemical reaction. “Had I realised this earlier, I might have been given priority at the hospital, and treated faster…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,” she continued.
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, offered up some other insight to Refinery29. “Patchouli oil is notorious for causing what is known as a phototoxic reaction,” Zeicher said. “If you are exposed to sunlight and that oil is on the skin, a severe burn-like reaction may occur. People commonly develop redness, burning, stinging, peeling, and even blistering.”
If we can take anything positive away from this horrible situation, it’s that Smith was thoughtful enough to share her story to warn others about the potential dangers of diffusers and essential oils.
“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. A life changing incident, that was preventable.”