Essential oils are scented volatile aromatic compounds extracted from plants. They are used in perfumes, cosmetics, flavourings, and in aromatherapy. There are no epidemiological or evidence-based studies on the safety of essential oils during pregnancy. The only available published data are a small number of anecdotal case reports, and opinion on essential oil safety in pregnancy has historically been based on unpublished experience.
Commercially available toiletry products usually contain a low concentration of essential oils (typically <0.01%) and use according to the manufacturer’s instructions is not thought to increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Although no specific adverse effects on the fetus have been documented, topical exposure to higher concentrations of oils (e.g. during a massage) may be associated with a theoretical risk as a number of oils are thought to have abortifacient properties when ingested and pregnancy outcomes following use have not been studied.
Ingestion of essential oils in pregnancy confers a risk of maternal and therefore fetal toxicity. Case reports have documented onset of intrauterine contractions and spontaneous abortion following maternal ingestion, however a causal relationship to the essential oil remains unproven and these outcomes may reflect secondary effects of maternal toxicity.
Women who have ingested an essential oil in pregnancy should be managed as for the non-pregnant patient. For current guidelines on the management of essential oil poisoning the reader should consult TOXBASE or contact UKTIS. If maternal toxicity occurs, enhanced fetal monitoring may be warranted.
Inadvertent topical exposure to an essential oil during pregnancy would not usually be regarded as medical grounds for termination of pregnancy or additional fetal monitoring. However, other risk factors may be present in individual cases which may independently increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcome. Clinicians are reminded of the importance of consideration of such factors when performing case-specific risk assessments.
This is a summary of the full UKTIS monograph for health care professionals and should not be used in isolation. The full UKTIS monograph and access to any hyperlinked related documents is available to NHS health care professionals who are logged in.
If you have a patient with exposure to a drug or chemical and require assistance in making a patient-specific risk assessment, please telephone UKTIS on 0344 892 0909 to discuss the case with a teratology specialist.
If you would like to report a pregnancy to UKTIS please click here to download our pregnancy reporting form. Please encourage all women to complete an online reporting form.