Are you intrigued with essential oils but don’t know how they work? Do you wonder about safety concerns when putting essential oils in your products? Would you like to understand what constitutes a “good quality” essential oil? You’ve come to the right place!
Whether you are brand new to the world of essential oils or have a professional certification, I know you’ll find nuggets of information and inspiration in this column that can help move you to a new level of understanding of aromatherapy. I'm very excited to add my voice to Handmade Magazine!
Now, let’s get down to business!
As much as I want to jump right into the fun stuff like blending, I wouldn’t be a responsible educator if I didn’t start with a few of the basics, including some safety information. Each month I’ll build on this foundation.
What are Essential Oils?
Many plants have a specialized gland that creates an aromatic liquid that is designed to help the plant survive. When this liquid is extracted from the plant and bottled, it is called an essential oil. Despite being called essential “oils” they are not oily at all, but rather watery.
Here’s a fun way to get acquainted with essential oils, first hand. Take a thin slice of orange or lemon rind and hold it up to the light. Now bend it in half and squeeze. Watch as the aromatic liquid that sits deep inside the citrus rind begins to shoot out. That, my friends, is pure essential oil being expressed from glands inside the peel. These types of glands are found in a variety of plant parts like flower petals, leaves, conifer needles, tree wood, seeds and roots.
How Do Essential Oils Enter the Body?
There are lots of ways essential oils can enter the body, but for those who are new to the practice of aromatherapy, I recommend you focus on the two primary routes: Inhalation and skin absorption.
Inhalation: When inhaled, the molecules of the oil enter your nose and travel into the lungs where they enter the bloodstream. They also stimulate our limbic system, a section of the brain that affects our emotions and moods. Broadly speaking, essential oils will be either stimulating or calming to the central nervous system, ranging from a gentle antidepressant action to increasing mental and physical energy.
Skin Absorption: Essential oils are fat-soluble which allows them to penetrate the skin quickly. When used topically, such as in a massage oil or lotion, they are absorbed through the skin and carried by blood and lymph to help relieve issues from our various body systems like the circulatory, muscular and nervous systems. One beautiful fact is that all essential oils are antibacterial which makes them wonderful skin healers for issues like burns, infections, wounds and fungal conditions.
Essential oils are not the same as perfume or fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are synthetic substances created in a laboratory and don’t offer therapeutic benefits. Because they are a form of plant medicine, essential oils can offer tremendous benefits to your health and wellness once you understand how to use them properly.
How Can You Use Essential Oils?
Once you begin to use essential oils, you’ll soon find your imagination coming to life with a ton of ways to incorporate them into your daily life, as well as giving birth to beautiful aromatic product creations. Below are just a few methods of application to get you started. I will be discussing these methods more in depth in future issues of Handmade Magazine.
Nasal inhaler: If you’re not already addicted to these colorful aromatic tools, you will be as soon as you’ve made one! A nasal inhaler is a small tube that has a cotton wick inside, soaked with essential oils. This is an inexpensive, quick and non-messy way to inhale essential oils. You can make inhalers for congestion, headache, stress, anxiety and so much more. Carry one in your pocket and whip it out for a quick sniff.
Massage oil: There are many vegetable oils that are nourishing to the skin and increase the therapeutic effectiveness of the essential oils you add to them. An aromatic massage oil can be healing for skin issues or for deeper problems such as muscle pain and joint inflammation.
Diffuser: This is my favorite method of use. You simply add essential oil to a device that mists the oil throughout the room.
Room spray: By simply adding essential oil to water (shake well beforehand – remember oil and water don’t mix) you can make rooms sprays to clear the air and add a lovely aroma to your space.
Bath: Who doesn’t love to soak in a tub of fragrant warm water? An aromatic bath with essential oils is great to reduce stress and soothe sore muscles as well lift your mood.
Dilution Guidelines for Blending
When designing a skin care formula, what percentage of essential oil is effective? When blending for a child, how much essential oil is considered safe? When can I use essential oil straight from the bottle onto the skin? Once you begin blending your own creations, you should be able to answer these and other dilution-related questions.
It’s important that you use essential oils with care and respect for their potency. They are highly concentrated and can irritate the skin when used “neat” (undiluted), therefore, understanding dilution guidelines is the first step when making safe products that will be applied topically.
Dilute, Dilute, Dilute
When using essential oils on the skin, please dilute them in a carrier. A carrier can be any vegetable oil or lotion that will help disperse the essential oil evenly throughout the product and will protect your skin from irritation. Water is not an acceptable carrier for essential oils since oil and water don’t mix. If you rubbed a mixture of essential oil and water into your skin, the oil would separate from the water and absorb directly into your skin and could cause skin irritation. Once in awhile, using essential oils undiluted is appropriate, such a drop of Lavender on a bee sting to reduce pain and inflammation. However, the best and safest practice is to dilute your chosen essential oil in a lipid (fat) based carrier.
Below is a simple dilution chart you can print out and keep at your blending table for easy reference. When in doubt, use less. You can always go back later and add more.
How to Use Each of the Dilutions:
1% Dilution: This dilution is used for children under 12, and seniors over 65, pregnant women and people with long-term illness or immune disorders. This is also a safe place to start with individuals who are sensitive to fragrances.
2% Dilution: This dilution is what you’ll use most often. It’s great for adults in good health for blends that support skin care, for natural perfumes, bath oils and blends you use everyday.
3% Dilution: This dilution is pretty strong. I save 3% for formulas made to address an acute injury or pain relief. Blends made at this dilution are used only for up to two weeks.
Neat: Using essential oils “neat” (undiluted) is not a good idea except in very specific situations. Many essential oils are too irritating to use without dilution and you could also develop a sensitivity to the oils. I only recommend using undiluted essential oils in a small area for a specific situation like a bee sting or burn and only using the highest quality, non-oxidized essential oils.
Was that helpful? Do you feel you learned something new? Are you ready to dig deeper?
As you can guess, aromatherapy is a vast modality and can become a lifelong study. However, you can easily begin to incorporate essential oils into your life and reap the many benefits immediately. Just remember to use the correct dilutions and follow some of the basic safety guidelines that I will share in the next issue of Handmade Magazine.
Be Happy. Be Well.