We live in an age of misinformation; starting a new blog is easier than ever and Google is at our fingertips. Aromatherapy and essential oils are heavily marketed and a hot topic in blogs, but oftentimes they’re discussed by untrained professionals. Furthermore, the proper way to use essential oils is an ongoing debate among aromatherapists and herbalists, so it can be hard to wade through all of the information out there and decipher fact from fiction. This article is here to help guide you in the right direction.

The truth is, essential oils are highly concentrated, potent medicines, and should be treated as such. They have a wide-range of benefits, both aromatic and topical, but it's important to understand how to use them correctly and safely to maximize their benefits and minimize potential harmful side-effects and injury. In this article, you will learn how to properly and safely dilute essential oils for topical use, as well as a few different methods of application you can easily try at home.

Essential Note About Essential Oils

We strongly recommend that you never ingest an essential oil without advanced aromatherapy training or the guidance of a fully-trained professional. Doing so can be highly dangerous and can compromise your health, often starting with your digestion. There are countless reports of people making themselves ill from orally administered essential oils, with the intention of becoming healthier. 

Some companies promote the ingestion of essential oils to the general public, but these are extremely potent medicines that can be irritating and even damaging to the sensitive lining of your digestive system, and other organ systems. Oral use is the most hazardous way of using essential oils and should be seldom prescribed for very serious health concerns by advanced or medically trained holistic aromatherapists. 

This article will outline diluting essential oils for topical use only. Additionally, be sure to do research to ensure you find the best high quality essential oils on the market.

Dilution Basics

Due to the highly concentrated nature of essential oils, they should rarely ever be applied “neat,” or directly to the skin. Doing so can cause possible allergic reactions, burns, inflammation, sensitization, and even poisoning. It is important for everyone to dilute an essential oil before topical application, but especially so for folks that have more sensitive skin, and for children and the elderly. 

The most common method of diluting an essential oil is mixing it with a carrier or base oil, which helps disperse it more evenly. Carrier oils are used to “carry” or deliver an essential oil to its intended destination, and sometimes even enhance their therapeutic benefits. Some of the most common carrier oils include olive, jojoba, coconut, sunflower, grape seed, and sweet almond, and each offers its own range of health benefits. To learn more about this subject, visit our article: “How Carrier Oils Do More Than Just Carry”.

Essential oils can also be diluted in other mediums, like alcohol or water, which is common when making non-topical or dispersed applications like cleaners, air/room sprays, bug sprays, etc. However, oil and water do not mix – they remain separate in a solution, so it’s important to remember to always shake the container before use and include an emulsifier or solubilizer. More on this later.

How to Dilute Essential Oils in Carrier Oil

Once you choose your preferred carrier oil, you can begin to dilute essential oils according to the dilution ratio you want (chart below). The ratio will depend on the method in which you choose to apply it and your desired outcome. The optimal dilution ratios depend on several factors: age, health conditions, current medications, skin and olfactory sensitivity. Generally, children, the elderly, and those with sensitive skin should use much smaller ratios than others.

Below you will find different common application recommendations of simple carrier oil and essential oil mixes. You will also find dilution ratios for beauty products if you make your own herbal creations and would like to incorporate the safe use of essential oils into them. The lowest numbers below are indicated for use with children, the elderly, and those with sensitive skin.

Diluting For Preparation Types

  • First Aid Use (wounds, bruising, pain, etc.): 5 - 20%
  • Localized Application or Massage for Severe Conditions: 4 - 10% 
  • General Massage for Emotional Healing and Relaxation: 0.5 - 3%
  • Beauty Products - Facial Application: 0.2 - 1.5%
  • Beauty Products - Body Application: 1 - 4%
  • Herbal Baths: 2 - 3%
  • How to Use This Chart:

    Left column indicates volumes of carrier oil in milliliters. Percentages at the top indicate ratios of essential oil. Droplets indicate number of essential oil drops. Find your volume and your desired percentage to locate how many drops you should use. Guidelines for dilutions should be taken as a starting point for further exploration and essential oil use should be discontinued if any irritation occurs.

    Aromatherapy Massage

    Massage is one of the most common treatments in aromatherapy. It can be used locally at a higher concentration of essential oil for more serious conditions such as pain, arthritis, and injuries, or over the whole body in a lower concentration of essential oils with a focus on relaxation and rejuvenation. 

    For a full body massage of a normal sized adult, about 15ml of carrier oil with added 0.5 - 3% essential oil, is the perfect amount to cover the entire body. Use a lower concentration of 0.5 - 1% essential oil for young children and the elderly. For a more localized medical-focused treatment on one or two parts of the body, use a smaller amount of carrier oil and a higher concentration of 4 - 10% essential oil - the lower percentage being for children and the elderly. 

    Be sure you are aware of any possible contraindications and are mindful of sensitive skin. After a massage, the client should not bathe or shower for at least 8 hours for the maximum absorption of essential oil. The essential oils will be effective in the body for up to 3 days before they are eliminated. 

    Diluting Essential Oils for Room or Body Sprays

    As mentioned earlier, essential oils are also commonly diluted in mediums other than oil to make topical or non-topical sprays. When diluting with water, keep in mind that oil and water do not mix, so it’s important to include an emulsifier or solubilizer to the mixture and shake well before every use. Common emulsifiers include aloe vera gel, apple cider vinegar, alcohol, glycerine, or liquid Castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s). 

    Generally, a ratio of equal parts emulsifier to equal parts essential oil is recommended, however, some essential oils will need more of an emulsifier and others will need less. To effectively blend, add the essential oil to the emulsifier, then shake or stir. Then you can add this mixture to the water. The dilution ratio may vary depending on the intended use of your solution, but generally a 1-2% dilution is used for sprays. 

    For example, if you want to make a simple essential oil room spray with ~1% dilution ratio, the recommended proportions of the solution are 90% water, 9% alcohol (Vodka, Everclear, or rubbing alcohol), and 1% essential oil(s). So for a 4 oz (120 mL) spray bottle, you would add 108 mL water, 11 mL alcohol, and 1 mL or ~30 drops of essential oil. Mix the alcohol and essential oil together first, then slowly add the water (warm or room temperature if possible) in stages, as you shake well. 

    Diluting Essential Oils for Baths

    It is important to not simply drop essential oils into your bath. Since we now know oil and water don’t mix, this could irritate your skin as you enter the bath water because the essential oil will remain highly concentrated on the water’s surface and could potentially coat your skin as you get in. 

    Taking an herbal bath is a highly therapeutic, relaxing experience that can be practiced safely with essential oil dilution. If you would like to add essential oils to your bath, it’s recommended to mix them in liquid Castile soap or a carrier oil, shake vigorously, then add to your bath water. This will create a natural bubble bath experience! Usually, 2-6 drops are added to baths. Refer to the Essential Oil Dilution Chart for the proper dilution ratio. 

    Aromatherapy Safety

    Essential oils are amazingly powerful types of aromatic medicine, but they should be used properly to unleash their full potential while avoiding harm. Aromatic plants have many gifts to offer us when used topically, from easing aches and pains to soothing stress, and can be included in many herbal applications, like first-aid treatments, baths, cleaning sprays, anti-aging serums, and so much more. If you or someone you know has ever had a bad experience using essential oils topically, and swore them off for good, hopefully this guide will help you reconsider.

    Article Written By Evan Sylliaasen and Melissa Szaro

     © 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.

    *The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.

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