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Safe Use of Essential Oils

The use of aromatic oils for health and wellbeing, as well as spiritual or religious ceremonies dates back thousands of years to 3500 BC. There appears to be no let-up in the popularity of essential oils today, with, in many cases, demand outstripping supply.

Whilst essential oils may be natural products, they are highly concentrated and need to be used carefully and considerately to avoid harmful side effects, such as allergic reactions, skin irritation and sun sensitivity. Particular care needs to be taken when using essential oils with infants and children or for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Certain essential oils are contraindicated for those with high (or low) blood pressure, or perhaps those taken certain medications.

The benefits of using essential oils can be amazing, their use just requires a little consideration, before leaping in with both feet!

How to use essential oils
Using Essential Oils

Using Essential Oils

There are a host of different ways that essential oils can be used, such as, in the bath, in a massage therapy, in cosmetic products (creams, lip balms, butters or gels) or simply used in a diffuser in the house. Here are a few tips when using essential oils:

In the Bath

Essential oils can be added to the running water in the bath to aid dispersion. To further improve dispersion readers can add essential oils to other 'carriers', such as a massage oil, carrier oil, dispersible bath oil, bubble bath or even milk.

Don't overdue the amount of essential oil added to the bath. 6 to 8 drops is all that is needed.

In Massage Therapy

Essential oils should always be blended with a carrier oil before applying to your skin. The percentage of essential oils used within the blend should be kept to a minimum to achieve the defined benefit and should never exceed the maximum amount specified.

A 1% essential oil dilution is generally considered safe for topical application, but this is dependent, on the specific oil in use.

In Cosmetic Products

As with massage oils, cosmetic products such as bath and shower products, creams, gels, butters and balms etc., the percentage of essential oil used within the finished product should be kept to a minimum and should never exceed the maximum amount specified in the IFRA Declaration.

Maximum limits of essential oil in any product can be found in IFRA Declarations for the oil.

A patch test can be used to check whether you are likely to have an allergic reaction to the finished product. Patch-tests involve applying a very small amount of the product to the inside of the elbow and waiting 24 hours to see whether any reaction occurs - if no reaction, then you can have confidence that the finished product is safe for use. The same applies to massage therapy.

If you do experience a reaction (irritation, redness, itching, or burning) to a product you could try applying a small amount of coconut oil or olive oil, or a natural vegetable based oil to the area to aid its repair.

Where cosmetic products are being produced for resale, there are strict 'legal' processes to follow, which include Product Safety Assessment, Stability Testing and Challenge Testing.

In a Diffuser

Diffusers vary in type and include electronic diffusers, steam diffusers, traditional oil burners and personal 'jewelry' diffusers, such as necklaces, broaches and bracelets. The two main things to consider when using essential oils in a diffuser are 'fire hazards' and 'over exposure'.

  • Fire hazard: Essential oils are volatile products, with many being flammable or highly flammable. Essential oils should never be applied directly to the heat source (particularly those with a low flash point). Electronic diffusers and steam diffusers are safer than traditional oil burners as they do not use a 'naked flame' as the heat source. Never leave a traditional oil burner unattended and turn off other electronic / steam diffusers when not in use or overnight.

  • Over Exposure: Using too much essential oil can lead to headaches and nausea. Always ensure there is adequate ventilation to disperse excess vapours. If you feel unwell remove yourself from exposure.

Aromatherapy Massage Oils
Aromatherapy Massage Oil

Diluting Essential Oils

Essential oils are Undiluted oils are too strong to use in their neat form, they must be diluted to use them safely. Products such as vegetable oils or creams or bath gels are used to 'carry' the essential oil onto the skin as a dilution. Exactly how essential oil can be used much can vary, but in general terms..... the higher the percentage of essential oil in the carrier, the more likely you are to have a reaction, so it’s important to mix them correctly.

Whichever dilution method you choose, the essential oil content should only account for between 0.5% to 2% of the total blend. This equates to 3 to 12 drops per ounce of finished product.

As a rule of thumb, 20 drops of essential oil equates to 1ml liquid volume. The following table (and link to the handy Dilution Calculator below) will hopefully aid you in achieving the right dilution percentage.

Dilution Ratio (%)

Healthy Adult



3 drops

3 to 6 drops for babies and children (max)