"Make sure you read your labels:" Woman burned after essential oils react with UV rays

Her advice to others: "Read your labels"
Posted at 6:58 PM, May 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-04 23:42:08-04
A Wisconsin woman was trying to avoid a sun burn on her island getaway by hitting the tanning salon before she left.
Her plan backfired as she had an adverse reaction when her essential oils she used during a hot yoga session, had a severe reaction to the UV rays. 
"I went to yoga and one of my friends offered me some oils to use, which is safe to use on your skin," Elise Nguyen said. "I used it and had a really hard class which was great. I didn't think anything of the oil after that."
After she woke up in the morning, she noticed she had redness and hives, but nothing crazy.
"My husband got a new laundry detergent the day before so I thought, oh, maybe it's an allergic reaction," Nguyen said. "I took Benadryl, all the stuff you should take for an allergic reaction and went though my day at work. That night or the next morning, I woke up with some pretty nice blisters. I had finally realized with talking to some of my friends that it was from the oils."
The blisters were all over her neck, wrists and legs, causing severe pain. Nguyen says it was about an eight out of ten. 
"I would lay in bed, trembling and crying because it hurt so bad," Nguyen said. 
She says she has done hot yoga for two years and frequently uses essential oils. However, she missed a small warning on the bottle saying to avoid UV exposure for at least 12 hours after using it. 
She wasn't the only one either. Elise shared her experience on her Facebook page. The photos of the blisters and burns were jarring and the story along with it was eye opening.
"I posted for my friends and then one of my friends was like, hey, are you willing to turn this into a public post so I can share it with my friends?" Nguyen said. "I'm like yeah, fine. No problem. And it completely took off."
Facebook did what it does best and more than 141,000 shares later, Nguyen's story made international headlines. 
"I've gotten hundreds of Facebook messages as well, stating, I've used essential oils for years and I had no idea this could happen," Nguyen said. "Thank you so much for sharing this. I've told everyone I know that uses essential oils that this could happen. The information is getting out there which is really all I wanted to do." 
Of course, the internet does what it does as well and Nguyen got plenty of negative comments about using a tanning booth. She says, it's not something she does regularly and she was only trying to make her trip to Jamaica more enjoyable. Also, tanning booth UV rays aren't the only kind that could make this happen. The sun's rays could have as well.
"If someone were to go out in the sun, whether it's Wisconsin in the summer or a lovely trip somewhere, you don't want to be applying and taking that risk," Becky Schultz, an Integrative & Holistic Family Nurse Practitioner with Auora Health Care said.
However, Nguyen is finding a bright side in the number of people who didn't know this could happen. 
"I'm an essential oil user myself," Tanya Weltzin, an instructor at Hot Yoga Milwaukee said. "It was kind of shocking. I've never heard of something like that happening to someone."
Weltzin says they don't give out essential oils to their participants but they are encouraged to use them. Even Nguyen says she will continue to use them, but more responsibly. 
"Not on my skin," Nguyen said. "I won't ever use them directly on my skin anymore. Diluted with wash cloths is fine. I've done it since then. I'm going tonight."
As frustrating as this has been, Nguyen knows there's only one person to point the finger at. 
"I'm an adult and I take responsibility for my own mistakes," Nguyen said. "It was my fault. I didn't read the cautions and readings before use. You screw up and you have to either blame someone or be an adult and take the blame. I was an adult and took the blame. Why? Why did you do that? Why did you not read instructions? Well it won't happen again. I won't make that mistake again."
The essential oil brand, doTERRA reached out to Nguyen after hearing about her reaction and released the following statement: 
We were saddened to see the ordeal Elise Nguyen has endured due to a combined use of essential oils, a tanning bed, hot yoga, and perhaps other factors. Since learning of this incident, doTERRA has attempted to reach out to Ms. Nguyen to find out more about her experience.
Safety is a top priority for doTERRA, and we collect a record of all adverse reactions. We take each incident very seriously, and are grateful that our adverse reaction rate is almost negligible at .0072 percent. doTERRA labels its products to help customers avoid any potential issues, no matter how rare, and provides a great deal of education on our website. We also provide extensive trainings at doTERRA events, and through our Wellness Advocates. doTERRA encourages all who have product questions to call our product support number at 1 (800) 411-8151 or via email at
Some comments on the post discuss the chemistry of doTERRA’s Wild Orange essential oil. Using GCMS and specifically SIM (selective ion monitoring), our scientists can confirm that no furanocoumarins are present in our Wild Orange oil. This analysis is in line with published findings (Essential Oil Safety) for Citrus Sinsensis.
As a reminder, we recommend that everyone use properly-diluted application techniques and, as Ms. Nguyen noted, doTERRA cautions users to avoid contact with the sun (or tanning beds) for up to 12 hours after applying cold pressed oils, including citrus oils. We have posted an #askdoTERRA episode featuring Dr. Hill that more thoroughly addresses safe oil usage and other sensitivity-related issues. doTERRA has also posted condensed versions of the episode that address adverse events and safe essential oil usage.
Schultz says this incident should serve as a warning but shouldn't deter anyone from using essential oils. 
"Essential oils are a wonderful gift from the plants if you like botanical medicine," Schultz said. "They need to be used safely. But there are a lot of people who have access to it. Just like with over the counter medications, people need to know how to use them safely."
And Nguyen hopes her story will help those avoid her pain.
"Make sure you read your labels," Nguyen said. "Read your labels on anything you put on or in your body. Skin is the largest organ and if you damage it, you can do some big time damage and have long term issues. I don't want that for anyone. Be safe. Be safe with what you do and what you use."
Nguyen says she doesn't have nearly as much pain any more, though she will still feel it if she bumps some areas the wrong way. Her neck is almost completely healed, though her wrists still show some scarring and skin discoloration. 
According to Schultz, this could go away or it could last longer. She advises anyone who uses essential oils to wash them off afterwards to ensure UV rays don't affect you.
"Wash it off with soap and water or dilute it with milk," Schultz said. "Maybe applying some other carrier oil that may help dilute it a little more."
But with the painful sores, Schultz says to use a cool compress on the area since it will likely feel hot. She also says patients can use ibuprofen or naproxen as an over the counter pain reliever and, depending how bad it is, a topical ointment. 
Nguyen doesn't want it to get that far for anyone else.
"Hopefully someone else won't get hurt because of a mistake."
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