Essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds extracted from plants which carry the distinctive scent of the plant. 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 is in the form of anecdotal case reports, and opinion on essential oil safety in pregnancy has historically been based on unpublished experience.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 when used appropriately in accordance with the manufacturers guidelines are 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) is generally not recommended as a number of oils are thought to have abortifacient properties and safety of use in pregnancy has 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 systemic exposure, however a causal relationship to the essential oil remains unproven and these outcomes may reflect the effects of the associated 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 any 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 document is regularly reviewed and updated. Only use full UKTIS monographs downloaded directly from TOXBASE.org to be sure you are using the most up-to-date version. The summaries of these monographs are openly available on UKTIS.org.
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 health care professionals at www.toxbase.org.
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.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that this monograph was accurate and up-to-date at the time of writing, however it cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes of the measures recommended. The final decision regarding which treatment is used for an individual patient remains the clinical responsibility of the prescriber. This material may be freely reproduced for education and not for profit purposes within the UK National Health Service, however no linking to this website or reproduction by or for commercial organisations is permitted without the express written permission of this service. This document is regularly reviewed and updated. Only use UKTIS monographs downloaded directly from TOXBASE.org or UKTIS.org to ensure you are using the most up-to-date version.