MJ asks: “Some of my friends have taken up the habit of vaping essential oils, claiming it’s safer than cigarettes or e-cigarettes. But is this really true?”
Vaping essential oils through what’s known as a “personal diffuser” or “diffuser stick” is all the rage these days. The sticks look like plastic cigarettes and are filled with a mixture of essential oils, vegetable glycerin and water. A heating element inside is activated by the suction caused by inhalation. The mix is heated, which emits a white cloud of aromatic vapor.
“The vapor may look like smoke at first glance, but its composition is mostly water, and the ingredients are similar to those found in mood-setting hazes found at haunted houses, concerts, and sporting events,” FoxNews.com reports.
People claim it helps them with everything from giving up cigarettes to combating stress and relieving menstrual cramps, but is this habit safe?
“The truth is, we just don’t know what’s happening to the essential oils when you heat them,” says Amy Kreydin, Certified Clinical Aromatherapy Practitioner and owner of The Barefoot Dragonfly. “We know the chemistry of essential oils changes when they’re heated. The big question is, ‘What is the heat changing the oils into?’”
One thing we do know is that when vegetable glycerin is heated to more than 536 degrees Fahrenheit, a substance known as acrolein is produced, which is a known respiratory irritant and carcinogen.
This could be why Plastic Surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon said inhaling substances like this “could be potentially irritating, if not caustic to your upper airway and your lungs.”
ER physician Dr. Travis Stork adds: “I think that whenever we glorify anything that involves smoking and say it’s good for you I think you run the risk … Even if there was some proof that these worked, (and I’m not saying there is!), I’m going to inhale this thing to make me happy.”
He’s concerned that this is just one step away from smoking cigarettes, which many people also claim to do because it makes them feel good.
The two biggest suppliers of personal aromatherapy diffusers, VitaStik and Monq, both have different ways of heating their oils.
VitaStik devices heat up to between 110 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which falls far short of the 536 degrees required to product acrolein.
However, VitaStik CEO Al Santos says some products on the market today are heating the mix up to 800 degrees with some of the flavors made with propylene glycol – which can turn in to formaldehyde when heated.
“God only knows what that’s doing to people. I’ve tested our formulas extensively and looked at them through a spectrometer, and I can tell you exactly what’s happening to them—you end up with exactly what you start with.”
VitaStik’s competitor, Monq, tells its customers not to inhale the vapor, but to simply breathe it in through the mouth and then exhale it through the nose which allows the oil blends to pass along the olfactory glands. Brand Strategy manager Carlie Russell says this method gives a more “enhanced aromatherapy experience” than if it is inhaled into the lungs. Monq also claims that its device doesn’t heat to 536 degrees but tops off at 437.
The bottom line is that no one really knows the risks of vaping essential oils.
As Fox reports: “For now, until FDA testing is performed, there’s no way to be sure exactly what compounds are being inhaled once the mixture of glycerin, water, and oils is heated.”
Until more study is done, individuals will have to decide for themselves just how much of a risk they’re willing to take.