Essential Oil Use and Safety
Whether you are new to essential oils or you have been using them for some time, it is important that you know how to get the most out of your oils in the most effective and safest possible way. Essential oils when used properly are incredibly beneficial; they are often described as nature’s gift to our health and wellbeing. That doesn’t mean that they come without risks and it is vital that they are treated with caution in order to avoid potential problems.
Ways to use Essential oils
There are many different ways of using your essential oils and your chosen method will depend on personal preference as well as the complaint that you are trying to treat. For some complaints a combination of methods might prove more effective. Whatever your reason for using essential oils, the following are the most common methods of application.
Inhalation is probably the most simple and convenient method of use and can be effective in dealing with certain physical issues like respiratory conditions as well as emotional complaints like managing stress or relieving anxiety. It is a popular option because you can do it pretty much anywhere and anytime. All you really need is your bottle of essential oil and possibly a handkerchief.
- From the bottle: Whether you are looking for an emotional lift or you have a breathing issue to treat, you can simply pop off the top and breathe the oil directly from the bottle whenever you feel the need.
- From your palms: Palm inhalation is another popular way to make use of your essential oils. Simply add a drop or two of oil into your palms then cup them over your face and inhale deeply. Make sure that the oil you are using does not irritate your skin.
- From a handkerchief: If you are concerned about putting undiluted essential oil onto your palms, you can achieve much the same result by inhaling your chosen essential oils from a handkerchief instead.
Aromatherapy diffusers are a very safe and effective way to disperse the vapors around a larger area. Diffusers can enhance the fragrance of your home or office while purifying and humidifying the air. Diffusing your essential oils is a great way to deal with emotional problems as certain oils are known to enhance the mood.
There are several types of diffuser available, all of which have advantages and disadvantages. Nebulizing diffusers and ultrasonic diffusers are the most effective types but cheaper candle lit heat diffusers are also available in a variety of attractive styles.
There are certain conditions that benefit from a much more hands on approach and massage is an extremely effective and popular method of applying essential oils to the body. Massage is a pleasurable and nourishing experience in its own right but when essential oils are added to the mix, it can be an even more beneficial experience.
When essential oils are massaged into the body, the tiny molecules of the oils pass easily through the skin and into the muscles and bloodstream where they can really start to do their magic. Massage is the preferred method of use among professional aromatherapists who will often perform a full body massage on the patient. Oils are carefully chosen depending on the condition of the patient as well as other factors.
Always dilute your essential oils
This is vitally important; in their pure form essential oils are very strong and using them neat is never advisable. Essential oils are usually diluted with a suitable base oil like jojoba, grape seed, sweet almond or coconut oil. As a general rule of thumb, the massage blend should contain between 1 and 5% essential oil depending on the condition being treated.
Certain physical conditions such as rheumatism and indigestion require stronger concentrations than emotional complaints. A concentration of around 2.5% is considered to be more than adequate for most treatments.
4. Essential oil Baths
Another easy but very effective and pleasurable way to put your essential oils to good use is a luxurious essential oil bath. An aromatic bath is a great way to relax, relieve the day’s physical pains and pamper your tired skin. Baths are especially useful for treating muscular pains, respiratory and circulatory conditions and menstrual cramps.
All you have to do is add between 5 and 10 drops of your favorite essential oil to the tub; jump in and relax. Make sure that your water has finished running before you add your oils or you run the risk of losing them to evaporation.
You should make sure that you only use gentle oils that are unlikely to irritate the skin. Alternatively, you can dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil or milk before adding them to the bath.
5. Facial steam
A facial steam is a great way to deal with sinus and other respiratory complaints as well as treating headaches and skin problems like acne and psoriasis.
- Making your own steam bath could not be easier, simply fill a bowl or sink with hot water and add between 3 and 5 drops of your chosen oil.
- Cover your head, neck and shoulders with a towel and breathe in the vapors for 5 minutes or so being very careful not to burn yourself on the steam.
6. Hot or Cold Compress
A compress can be an extremely effective way of relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Making your own essential oil compress whether hot or cold is very easy.
- To make a hot compress, fill a bowl with hot water and add between 3 and 5 drops of your chosen essential oil.
- After that, dip a towel, flannel or cotton cloth in the water, ring out the excess liquid and apply it to the affected area.
- A hot compress is especially effective in treating backache, muscle strains, rheumatism and toothache.
In order to make a cold compress, follow the same procedure only this time use ice cold water instead of hot. A cold compress can be used for conditions caused by hot swelling, headaches and sprains.
7. Hair Care
Essential oils can also be used to treat and enhance the condition of your hair. You can add a few drops of essential oil into your regular shampoo or put a few drops in your final rinse. You can also add your essential oils to a suitable nourishing carrier oil to make a very effective conditioner.
Safe Use of Essential oils
Despite their strength, essential oils are generally regarded to be safe and beneficial to use so long as they are used properly and necessary caution is exercised. When they are used incorrectly, it is possible to cause serious harm to oneself and stories of physical problems caused by unsafe use are unfortunately not uncommon.
These guidelines are intended to help you get the most from your essential oils without the risk of doing harm.
- Never use essential oils internally. Despite being recommended by some sources, it is never advisable to consume essential oils. The risk of doing serious physical damage by taking essential oils internally is very real.
- Always make sure that your essential oils are out of the reach of children. Treat them in the same way that you would treat pharmaceutical medicines.
- Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. Essential oils are very highly concentrated and they must be diluted properly with a base oil first. See the guidelines for proper dilution below.
- Even after diluting your essential oil, it is good practice to do a spot test on a small discrete area of skin to make sure that you don’t suffer any reaction.
- Make sure that your essential oil does not come into contact with your eyes or mucous membranes.
- Certain citrus oils are phototoxic and can cause severe skin reactions when exposed to UV light. After using these oils you should avoid exposure to direct sunlight for a minimum of 12 to 24 hours.
- As a general rule, do not use essential oils on infants and very young children.
- Pregnant women should avoid using essential oils unless they confirm their safety with a medical expert first.
- People with serious health issues and the elderly should speak to their doctor before using essential oils.
- Make sure that you avoid prolonged use without adequate ventilation. Overexposure to essential oil in small confined areas may cause nausea, dizziness, headaches or irritability. Keep your room well ventilated and be sure to go out into the fresh air whenever you feel it is necessary.
- Store both your essential oils and any carrier oils properly to avoid adulteration and rancidity. Most essential oils are good for between one and three years with the citrus essential oils being most prone to degrade quickly.Certain essential oils like sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver improve as they age and can be used up to 3 years unlike the citrus oils that should be thrown away after a year. Fatty base oils should be stored in a refrigerator to keep them fresh.
Because they are so concentrated, essential oils must be diluted in either water or a base oil before being applied to the skin. There are certain rare exceptions to this rule and it might be possible to use very mild oils neat.
Lavender essential oil for example is considered to be sufficiently mild to apply without dilution but even mild oils like lavender might cause skin sensitization in some people and it is best practice to dilute all of your essential oils.
Essential oil dilutions are usually diluted to an essential oil content of between 1 and 5% depending on the condition being treated and factors like skin sensitization and the patient’s age.
- A 1% dilution is typically used for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with especially sensitive skin, weakened immune systems or other serious health issues.
- A 2% dilution is considered suitable for most adults in the majority of situations. It is considered to be a safe and suitable dilution for most conditions and for daily use and skin care.
- A stronger concentration of between 3 and 5% and sometimes higher is usually used to treat temporary health problems, muscular injuries, rheumatism and respiratory complaints.
To measure your concentration of essential oil, a 1% dilution can be achieved by adding a drop of essential oil to a teaspoon or 5ml of carrier oil. 2% would be 2 drops of essential oil per teaspoon and 3 drops would make a 3% dilution and so on.
A number of oils can be used as base oils for dilution purposes including the following:
• Sweet almond oil
• Sunflower oil
• Olive oil
• Jojoba oil
• Grape seed oil
• Canola oil
• Avocado oil
• Apricot kernel oil
• Calendula oil
The choice is yours but avoid common refined oils that you typically see in the grocery stores. Refined oils are likely to contain solvents and other chemical residues. Unprocessed oils are by far the most effective carrier oils as they are rich in nourishing vitamins and minerals.
Even after diluting your essential oils, skin reactions are still possible. You can minimize the risk of adverse reactions by following certain guidelines.
Essential oil quality
With so many essential oils on the market it is vitally important that you buy your oil from a trusted source. Adulterated essential oil increases the risk of adverse reactions and as more synthetic chemicals are used, there is more chance of your essential oil being adulterated. Try to ensure that your essential oils are genuine and pure.
Performing a patch test is always recommended if you want to be absolutely certain to avoid reaction. After properly diluting your essential oil, apply a drop to a small area of skin such as your forearm. Only after making certain that your skin does not react should you apply the full dose.
Inflamed, damaged or diseased skin is more permeable to essential oil and is likely to be more sensitive to adverse reactions. Never apply undiluted essential oil to damaged or diseased skin and be careful even after diluting the oil because damaged skin may absorb more of the essential oil than normal.
If you have very sensitive skin, make sure that you only use mild essential oils that are known to be ‘skin friendly’. Some essential oils are known to cause more reactions than others and should be avoided.
Avoid dermal irritants
If an essential oil is a dermal irritant it will cause the skin to react almost immediately. The skin might become red, blotchy and could cause pain in some people. The severity of any reaction depends on the concentration of essential oil applied. The following essential oils are known to be possible dermal irritants and should be treated with extra caution.
Certain citric essential oils are known to increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight when they are applied to your skin. Even after being properly diluted in a carrier oil, there is still a high degree of risk that exposure to sunlight or tanning bed lamps can cause problems for your skin.
The risk of reaction is strongest directly after the oil has been applied and it gradually decreases over the next 12 hours. To be extra safe, some experts recommend that you avoid exposure to direct sunlight for up to 24 hours after application. Photosensitizing essential oils can cause reactions ranging from moderate skin color changes to burning and deep weeping sores.
The following essential oils are considered to be phototoxic and those applying these oils to the skin should avoid sunlight and tanning beds for a minimum of 12 hours and preferably 24 hours after use.
• Angelica Root
• Expressed lemon
• Expressed lime
• Bitter orange
Contrary to popular belief, some citrus essential oils are not phototoxic including distilled lemon, distilled lime, mandarin, tangerine and sweet orange.
What to do if you suffer a reaction
Even after following all the necessary precautions, there is still a small possibility that you might suffer an adverse reaction.
If you suffer from any type of adverse skin reaction after applying your essential oil, the best treatment would be to apply a fatty type oil like coconut oil as soon as possible.
If you accidentally make contact with your eyes, do not rub your eyes.
- Wet a cotton ball in vegetable oil or milk then wipe it carefully over the affected area.
- If this does not prove sufficient, try washing the eye out with clean warm water for 10 minutes.