Essential Oils: How Can I Use Them?

An essential oil is defined as a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or source from which it is extracted.

A cabinet full of essential oils from around the world

An essential oil might be extracted from any part of a plant: bark, flowers, roots, stems, leaves. The oils in a plant play a protective role for that plant and have been found to have healing qualities for people as well.

The harvesting of the plants, the process of distillation, and several other factors will influence the quality of the oil. Essential oils are powerful substances. A single small bottle of an essential oil is the equivalent of many, many leaves, roots, flowers, berries or seeds. One should always be cautious when self-treating with plants and it is especially true when they are highly concentrated. Please remember this and use only very small amounts at a time. Unless you are talking about love, MORE is not better.

ESSENTIAL OILS CAN BE USED IN A VARIETY OF WAYS:

  • Any oil can be used alone.
  • Oils can be combined.
  • Some oils can be applied to the skin undiluted.
  • Most oils must be diluted with a “carrier” oil in order to use topically. The diluting oil can be olive, coconut or jojoba for example.
  • A few drops of diluted oil can be added to a bath. Dilute in a carrier oil or in milk first.
  • Oil can be added to a nebulizer or a diffuser so that the user inhales the fumes.
  • Drops can be applied to a tissue or the palm of the hand and inhaled.
  • Oils can be added to water and applied from a spray bottle.
  • Apply oil to a basin of water and soak a towel in the solution for a compress.
  • Add oils to shampoo or moisturizers.
  • Use small amounts of oils in cooking (very, very small).
  • Add very small amounts to liquids for drinking (very, very small).
  • Add a drop to your favorite salve.

CAN ESSENTIAL OILS BE INGESTED?

The following natural, food-grade, organic oils are considered safe for consumption in small amounts (by the FDA). For a complete list, please consult the FDA website by searching for CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Note that by small, we mean a single drop in a liquid or marinade and even then, used rarely. Many Aromatherapists believe that EO’s should never be ingested.

  • Alfalfa
  • Allspice
  • Angelica root, seed, stem
  • Anise
  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Capsicum
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom seed
  • Carrot
  • Cassia bark; Chinese, Batavia, Saigan
  • Celery seed
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Citrus peels
  • Clary sage
  • Clove
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Dandelion
  • Dandelion root
  • Dill
  • English Chamomile flowers
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Hops
  • Hungarian chamomile flowers
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Mandarin
  • Marjoram, sweet
  • Myrtle
  • Neroli, bigarade
  • Nutmeg
  • Orange
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Pepper, black
  • Pepper, white
  • Peppermint
  • Pomegranate
  • Roman Chamomile flowers
  • Rose
  • Rose geranium
  • Saffron
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Spearmint
  • Tangerine
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric
  • Ylang Ylang

USING OILS TOPICALLY

Some oils are commonly used on skin without dilution. Anyone can be allergic to anything, so proceed with caution. Try it out first with a 1 to 1 dilution with an oil like coconut or jojoba because there is less risk of a reaction and it may be just as effective. There is widespread disagreement about the use of undiluted oils on human skin, so I advocate extreme caution. The following are generally safe for topical use, but it’s always good to do a patch test first.

  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Ginger
  • Helichrysm
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Roman chamomile
  • Sandalwood
  • Spearmint
  • Tea tree
  • Ylang Ylang

Other skin-friendly oils to use WITH dilution

  • Bergamot
  • Carrot seed
  • Cedarwood
  • Cistus
  • Cypress
  • Elemi
  • Geranium (not for sensitive skin)
  • Jasmine
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Myrrh
  • Orange
  • Palmarosa
  • Patchouli
  • Rose absolute
  • Sandalwood
  • Tangerine
  • Vetiver
  • Yarrow

CONTRAINDICATIONS

Some oils have cautions for some conditions. The following are some of those oils and the conditions, but beware that this list is not exhaustive. You must do your research! Having said that, this is like any other area of opinion—positions vary widely and supporting evidence is lacking; they may or may not be dangerous at all.

Don’t use these if you are pregnant:

  • Basil
  • Cedarwood
  • Chamomile, Roman
  • Cinnamon
  • Clary sage
  • Coriander
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Hyssop
  • Jasmine
  • Juniper
  • Lemon
  • Marjoram
  • Melissa
  • Myrrh
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Rockrose
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Scotch pine
  • Thyme

Don’t use these oils if you have seizures:

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Don’t use these oils if you have high blood pressure:

  • Black Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Nutmeg
  • Pine
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Don’t use these oils if you have low blood pressure:

  • Marjoram
  • Ylang Ylang

Don’t use these oils if you have insomnia:

  • Basil
  • Lemon verbena
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary

Don’t sue these oils if you have digestive problems

  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Oregano

Don’t use these oils if you have heart problems:

  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary

Don’t use these oils if you have kidney or urinary problems:

  • Black pepper
  • Coriander
  • Eucalyptus
  • Juniper berry
  • Sandalwood

Don’t use these oils if you have photosensitivity or if you are going to sunbathe:

  • Angelica root
  • Bergamot
  • Cumin
  • Dill
  • Fig leaf absolute
  • Geranium
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Mandarin
  • Orange
  • Rue
  • Tagetes
  • Tangerine
  • Yuzu

Don’t use these oils if you have sensitive skin (or use them in low doses and dilute them well after doing a patch test):

  • Allspice
  • Basil
  • Bay laurel
  • Benzoin
  • Cajeput
  • Cardamom
  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon
  • Fennel
  • Fir needle
  • Geranium
  • German chamomile
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peppermint
  • Sage
  • Scotch pine
  • Spruce
  • Tagetes
  • Tea tree
  • Thyme

HOW TO DO A PATCH TEST

  • Mix a small amount of essential oil with a carrier; make it twice as strong as you intend to use elsewhere.
  • Put a couple drops on a cotton ball and apply with tape to the inside of the forearm (alternatively you can just rub it in and let it dry)
  • Don’t wash or remove for 24-48 hours and look for signs of a reaction. If you notice a reaction at any time, wash the area immediately and avoid using that oil again.

CAUTIONS

  • A review article published by the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa suggests that the practice of adding subinhibitory (not medicinal concentrations) of oils to shampoos, cosmetics and even food will cause people to become resistant so that the substances will be less effective in medicinal doses.
  • Don’t use essential oils for infants and young children unless cleared by a doctor.
  • Don’t use undiluted oils in any quantity on broken skin, like a cold sore.
  • Ingestion of oils should be in small amounts and not regularly for long period; treat like medicine.
  • Keep oils out of your eyes and ears and nose (keep it away from all tender tissue and mucus membranes). If you get oil into your eyes, flush with water and call a doctor.
  • Like any plant-based remedy, EO’s can interfere with prescription medications, so if you are planning to combine treatments, ask your doctor first.
  • Long-term topical use of any essential oil is not recommended, even if diluted.
  • Pregnant women should always consult with a doctor before using EO’s.
  • Store oils away from sunlight with caps tightly screwed. Shelf life of a good EO is about 2 years if stored properly. Throw them away if they are older. Some will last longer with less efficacy but 2 years is a general rule.
  • Use undiluted oils only when the treatment area is very small, like an insect bite or a blemish.
  • Some oils are considered dangerous. We try to leave those oils out of our lists but I believe garlic and arnica oils may appear, so proceed with caution.
  • When handling essential oils that are not safe for skin in their undiluted state, wear gloves (like when you are combining oils or mixing them into a salve or shampoo).
  • There is scientific evidence that EO’s can disrupt hormones. Prolonged use of tea tree oil and lavender (et al.) for young boys may interfere with testosterone levels and cause abnormal breast growth. Read more here
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