Terpenes and essential oils have been around for a while, and are now starting to take the world by storm. In 2019, the global terpenes market was valued at USD 559.4 million. This number is expected to rise to USD 774.3 million by the end of 2026.
While the intake or application of terpenes may be generally considered safe, certain terpenes can potentially induce allergic reactions in some people. They can also trigger severe symptoms if used in the wrong concentration.
This infographic will help explain the facts behind terpene sensitivity and whether you should potentially be concerned.
What is Terpene Sensitivity?
Terpene sensitivity or allergy results when terpene is inhaled or applied to the skin. When this happens, antibodies are produced. This process then activates the production of chemicals that trigger allergic reactions like sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, inflammation, and coughing.
Terpenes themselves are not allergenic. They only cause allergies when oxidized or exposed to air. Some studies show that oxidized terpenes can trigger asthma and rhinitis in certain people. In particular, inhalation of pinene and linalool have been found to cause respiratory symptoms and nasal congestion.
However, further research has verified that exposure to oxidized terpenes do not actually inﬂame the lungs unless ingested at high concentrations and at low humidity conditions.
Specific Terpenes Posing a Potential Risk
There are certain terpenes that can potentially cause allergies in some people. They include the following:
Linalool is a terpene that has a fresh, floral, citrus-like scent. Due to its sweet smell, it is widely used in the formulation of perfumes. However, the same aroma can also trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Some studies have been conducted to test the allergenic activity of linalool. In one clinical trial, 25% of the patients showed allergic reactions to oxidized linalool found in fragrances. The researchers noted that the participants displayed specific sensitivity levels, and these varying results were dependent on their immunity and the ingredients contained in the perfumes.
Caryophyllene is another terpene used as a fragrance ingredient. Compared to linalool, research shows that caryophyllene has weaker allergenic activity. This indicates that, generally, inhalation of this terpene can cause only mild allergic reactions.
Scientific findings also suggest that cases of caryophyllene allergies are extremely rare. In one study, only 0.5% of the participants showed sensitivity to oxidized caryophyllene.
People who are allergic to orange peels are likely to have sensitivity to limonene, a terpene found in citrus fruits. Experts say that ingesting or even touching products containing limonene may cause watery eyes and a burning sensation in the nose. Research also suggests that prolonged exposure to this compound through perfume spray can trigger contact dermatitis or skin irritation.
Myrcene is a major component of most plants and fruits, including mango and basil.
For people prone to developing allergic reactions, inhalation or intake of this terpene can trigger allergy symptoms. These can manifest immediately after exposure to myrcene-containing products. In other cases, they may not begin to show until after an hour or more.
Based on studies, myrcene allergies are extremely rare. In one clinical trial involving 1,511 patients, results showed that only one of the participants displayed sensitivity to oxidized myrcene.
Pinene is abundant in pine needles. Although some people find delight in sniffing its forest-like scent, some avoid contact with this terpene due to its tendency to cause allergies.
People allergic to pinene usually experience abdominal discomfort, itchy throat, rashes, and sneezing. In severe cases, some individuals can develop anaphylaxis, a condition characterized by life-threatening symptoms such as tightness in the chest, shock, heart failure, and even coma.
How Terpenes Can Help Treat Allergies
Some terpenes can actually be used to treat people with allergies. Here are some of them:
While pinene can potentially cause sensitivity, it can also be used to treat allergies. This terpene has two forms, alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. In a 2014 study, researchers found that alpha-pinene may be able to help ease allergic reactions.
In the study, the mice models were made to ingest alpha-pinene. The findings showed decreased symptoms of allergic reactions in the rats. They also had lower levels of immunoglobulin E, which indicates that their immune system stabilized to normal conditions.
When using alpha-pinene oil to treat allergies, remember that it should be diluted first with a carrier oil before it can be applied to the skin. The isolated terpenes being sold aren’t intended to be used in their concentrated form, as they can be too harsh for direct consumption.
Also, keep in mind that essential oils are manufactured for inhalation and topical application only. They are not meant to be ingested, as they can become harmful when absorbed through the digestive system. Moreover, note that terpenes in general can be toxic when taken in high concentrations, so be sure to use the recommended dosage.
Menthol is a terpene found in mint oils. It has been traditionally applied as a natural remedy for respiratory diseases. Now, it is widely used in treating acute respiratory tract infection and certain allergies.
A study has found that menthol can help relieve nasal congestion associated with rhinitis. This terpene has also been shown to alleviate symptoms of allergen-induced dyspnea or shortness of breath.
The most common way of obtaining menthol’s therapeutic benefits is by inhaling menthol-based essential oils. For the steam method, add three to seven drops of essential oil to a large pot of hot water. Then, drape a towel over the back of your head and inhale deeply and slowly. Experts recommend doing the session for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce allergic reactions.
Menthol is also manufactured as a vapor rub, balm, cream, roll-on, and gel. These products can be applied topically to alleviate the symptoms of allergy.
Eucalyptol is a terpene found in eucalyptus oil. For centuries, this compound has been used as a natural remedy for asthma and nasal congestion due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects. Over the past decade, its ability to boost the body’s immune system has been extensively researched.
One study concluded that eucalyptus oil may help cure allergy-induced swelling by improving the body’s immune response. It also found that eucalyptol can suppress the degranulation of mast cells, a process that induces pain and inflammation.
As a treatment for allergies, eucalyptus oil can be inhaled through a diffuser. Eucalyptol-based products – such as lozenge, bath salt, salve, lotion, and soap – can also be used to alleviate allergic reactions.
Camphene is contained in most fruits, vegetables, and herbs, such as carrots, pepper, and thyme. When inhaled, it can help relieve cough caused by allergies. According to research, its antioxidant properties may also help strengthen the body’s immune response against allergies.
This terpene is commonly manufactured as a cream and ointment, which can be applied to the skin to reduce inflammation caused by allergies.
Know Your Terpene Sensitivity
Certain terpenes may trigger allergies in some people. When taken in high concentrations, they can become toxic, causing severe symptoms. However, with proper awareness of the right dosage for each type, serious allergic reactions can be avoided.
While they can cause sensitivity, terpenes can also treat certain allergies. In this instance, these compounds represent both the yin and the yang, and this is something that makes them all the more interesting.