General Guidelines for Using Essential Oils - Our Top 10 Tips for Use
Over the next couple weeks, we're going to be sharing several blog posts that are part of a mini series surrounding the topic of safe essential oil use. Today we begin the series with a quick list of our top 10 tips for use. While this post is by no means a comprehensive guide, we do hope this list will be a helpful reference.
10 Tips for Using Essential Oils
- Use only pure, 100% certified organic essential oils from companies you trust that do batch-specific testing on all of their oils.
- Use the proper dilution.
To dilute an essential oil is to add a little bit of the essential oil to a larger amount of a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a fatty oil or vegetable oil. Examples of carrier oils include olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, jojoba, argan oil, Rose hip seed oil, or even unscented lotion.
Appropriate dilution rates are as follows:
1% dilution (5-6 drops per ounce of carrier oil) - used for those who may have a compromised immune system, elders, children, and for pregnant or breastfeeding women (We will be posting an article on essential oil use for pregnant and breastfeeding women later this month. Not all essential oils are suitable for use when pregnant or breastfeeding.)
2% dilution (10-12 drops per ounce of carrier oil) - the standard dilution used for every day products, massage applications, etc.
3-10% dilution (15-60 drops per ounce of carrier oil) - used short-term to treat specific, acute situations. For most issues, you would not need to go higher than 3-4%.
Neat / Undiluted - There are very few essential oils that can safely be used neat, or undiluted, on the skin. Such use is typically only used short-term for local, acute situations (like a drop of Lavender for a bug bite or a bee sting).
For most applications, a 2% dilution is appropriate. This may sound like a small amount of essential oil, but when you consider how much plant material goes into every drop of essential oil, you will realize how potent even just one drop of these precious oils can be! (i.e. 30 roses in each drop of Rose essential oil)
Please refer to Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young's book, Essential Oil Safety for oil-specific dilution guidelines. The book is a bit of an investment, but if you are a certified aromatherapist, would like to become one, or are using essential oils regularly and blending your own products, it is a worthwhile investment.
- Use phototoxic essential oils with care.
There are several essential oils that contain chemical constituents that, when exposed to UV rays or sunlight, can cause burning, blistering, or other damage to the skin. These reactions can occur up to 18 hours after applying the essential oil to the skin (some experts are now saying 24 hours). This does not mean that you should not use these oils at all. Just dilute them properly and be aware of the sun - if you know that you'll be outside, apply them to skin that will not be exposed to the sun, like your belly.
Some essential oils with phototoxic components are: Lemon (cold-pressed), Bergamot, Grapefruit, and Lime (cold-pressed).
Sweet Orange and our distilled Lime here at VB are not phototoxic, but do still need to be diluted properly.
- Keep essential oils and related products out of reach of children.
- Keep learning.
As with anything you are going to use in your home, practice, or lifestyle, it is important to educate yourself on the safe, proper use of essential oils. Not all resources for learning more about essential oils are reputable. We have listed our two favorite books for learning more about them over in this post.
- For Inhalation -
Because it is simple and effective, inhalation is one of the most common methods of application when using essential oils. By inhaling an essential oil, we can quickly deliver the therapeutic properties of the oil to the bloodstream (and therefore, the whole body) via the lungs.
Methods of inhalation include: using a diffuser, an aromatherapy inhaler, or any other method used for inhaling the aroma of an essential oil.
Not all essential oils are suitable for inhalation. Some of the oils contain chemical constituents called phenols, aldehydes, and (some) monoterpenes that can be irritating to the lungs and/or mucous membranes when inhaled, or can be contraindicated for those people who may have asthma or allergies. Make sure you check your safety references before using a specific oil. You must also be sure to use the appropriate amount of an oil when using the inhalation method of application - too much of an essential oil, even a safe one, can cause a headache, dizziness, or other adverse reactions.
- For Topical Application -
Applying essential oils to the skin when they are properly diluted in a carrier can be one of the most luxurious, nourishing ways to use them. When applied topically, the rate of absorption into the bloodstream is a little slower so we can smell their aroma lingering on our skin longer. We also experience their skin-nourishing benefits when we use them this way!
When working with skin-irritating oils, be sure to use them appropriately - some of them can be used topically when diluted properly and combined with other skin-nourishing oils (check their dilution rates in Tisserand/Young's book), while other skin-irritating oils should not be used on the skin at all.
- For Babies, Use Hydrosols Instead.
Babies rarely need something so strong and potent as an essential oil to support their little systems. Hydrosols are much more gentle and appropriate for use with these precious little ones and they still provide many therapeutic benefits. When you feel that a baby-safe essential oil is necessary, apply it, properly diluted, to your own back instead of to the baby's skin. This way, they'll still be able to inhale the aroma, but it will be indirect and will not be touching their skin. Avoid applying essential oil directly to the skin for babies under 2 years.
- Use Essential Oils Appropriately With Children.
We'll be posting a full article on this topic later in the month, but for now, please be sure to use essential oils appropriately with children.
- For children under 2, direct skin application should be avoided. See point above.
- For healthy children ages 2-5, kid-safe oils may be appropriate for diffusion or for short-term first aid use, such as a bit of diluted Lavender for a bug bite or bee sting.
- For healthy children ages 5-12, diffusion, inhalation, or topical application at a 1% dilution may be appropriate.
You are responsible for using essential oils safely and for knowing the safety considerations of each essential oil you use.
- Have fun.
Overall, using essential oils to support your health or your family should be fun! Yes, there are safety considerations to follow and there is a lot to learn, but using essential oils can and should be an enjoyable experience. These powerful allies are here to be used for our benefit and to enrich our lives. Have fun getting to know each of them and learning how they can help you individually. The more you learn, the more you'll love them. Don't let all the details along the way take the fun out of using them. =) Enjoy!
For even more fun info, check our our Chemistry card here.