Smoke has turned our sky hazy, and our local weather station has issued an air quality warning. My back yard is being affected by fires in British Colombia, Alberta, and Ontario Canada. I don’t usually suffer from seasonal allergies and for the most part my lungs seem pretty healthy. But this haze of smoke is an environmental stress and it is taking its toll.
It seemed like a good opportunity to examine the evidence behind one of the more popular uses of essential oils: air purification.
The theory is that if one diffuses essential oils with anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, or anti-bacterial properties it will act as a sponge and pull impurities out of the air we breathe. The idea that “more is better” is usually coupled with this idea and diffuses are set on maximum output and run continuously through the day and/or night.
Lets apply some logic to this thought process. Essential oils are Volatile Organic Compounds, a classification that the American Lung Association treats as potentially hazardous. Many essential oils do have anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial properties BUT if their lab tests were based on direct surface contact we can’t automatically apply the results to airborne pathogens.
Lets use the process of cooking spaghetti as an example. The water in the pot will represent our air. While its on the boil, its pretty clean and clear. Once the spaghetti noodles go in (the noodles are the fire generating smoke), the water starts to get cloudy because of the starch (smoke) released as the noodles cook. Adding additional components to the pot – such as salt – won’t return the water to its original clean state. You have to drain the water through a colander (remove the source of the contamination), and then run the water through a filter that has been specifically designed for water filtration to remove the cloudy starch.
Air needs to be run through specifically designed filters (or a plethora of plants) to removed airborne pathogens.
Pretending that essential oils will improve air quality is a myth. They might work on relaxing or calming the lungs, but they won’t make the air any cleaner. In fact, diffusing them as a way to cover up the problem might do more harm than good by allowing us to ignore the problem and stay in a harmful environment longer than we should.
Based on common sense, this myth is busted.