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Home Page > Aromatherapy Articles & Guides > Guide to Diluting Essential Oils

Guide to Diluting Essential Oils

Undiluted Use of Essential Oils On the Skin Can Be Harmful and Potentially Cause Severe Irritation or Sensitization.

I routinely discover aromatherapy authors and educators that pass along the rule of thumb that it is safe to use some essential oils on the skin, most particularly lavender and tea tree, without first diluting them in a carrier oil. Using essential oils on the skin without diluting them is referred to as applying them "neat."

Never Put Undiluted Essential Oils On Your Skin.
Not even lavender or tea tree.

Diluting Essential OilsThere are instances when experienced aromatherapy practitioners make exceptions to this precaution. Only once significant essential oil knowledge is gained should you ever attempt to apply any undiluted essential oil on the skin.

I have been a part of the aromatherapy community for over 13 years. Occasionally, I hear from or hear about those that have used undiluted essential oils and have developed permanent sensitization, even by only using a single drop of lavender essential oil per use. It's really not worth the risk. Diluting your essential oils not only helps to protect your wellbeing, it can also save you money.

Recently, while reading Marge Clark's book Essential Oils and Aromatics, I read her personal experiences and her unfortunate long term consequences for having used lavender essential oil neat:

"One of my mentors reminds me 'sensitization is forever.' And I know she is right. Years ago I read the books saying that lavender oil could be used neat (undiluted). I very unwisely used undiluted lavender on broken skin, and consequently set up a sensitivity reaction. Today, almost two decades later, if I come in contact with lavender in any form, I will immediately start a new round of contact dermatitis that can take months to heal." [Marge Clark, Essential Oils and Aromatics (Sandy, UT: Silverleaf Press, 2008), 32.]

What is Sensitization?

The symptoms of sensitization can vary from individual to individual, but think of it like a skin allergy that results in a severe and/or itchy rash. More severe cases of sensitization can potentially lead to respiratory issues or apparently even anaphylactic shock. Once you develop sensitization to an essential oil, you are likely to remain permanently sensitized to that essential oil, even if you begin to adequately dilute it. You may also develop a reaction to other essential oils as well and will also experience reactions to products that contain these oils.

Treat Essential Oils With Respect

Treat essential oils with the same care that you treat medicines. You don't need to be afraid or avoid essential oils and I'm certainly not trying to scare anyone out of enjoying all the benefits that aromatherapy offers. They can be an amazing blessing within a holistic lifestyle. Do remember, however, that when working with essential oils, less is more.

Dilute your essential oils prior to use on the skin and avoid the oils that are more likely to cause irritation and sensitization. When using an essential oil for the first time, do a skin patch test. You can learn how to do a skin patch test by reading AromaWeb's Aromatherapy Safety article.

Essential Oils More Likely To Cause Dermal Irritation:
This is not necessarily a complete list...
Essential Oils Appearing On the Hazardous Essential Oil List and...
Allspice | Bay Laurel | Benzoin | Cassia | Cinnamon (Bark and Leaves) |
| Fennel | Fir Needle | Oregano | Parsley |
(Dalmatian) | Spruce | Tagetes | Thyme
Essential Oils More Likely To Cause Sensitization:
This is not necessarily a complete list...
Essential Oils Appearing On the Hazardous Essential Oil List and...
Anise | Bay Laurel | Benzoin | Cassia | Catnip | Cinnamon (Bark and Leaves)
Citronella | Clove | Fennel | Lemongrass | Litsea Cubeba (May Chang)
Melissa | Oakmoss | Peru Balsam | Pine | Star Anise | Tagetes

How to Dilute Your Essential Oils for Topical Use

Using a 2% essential oil dilution is considered a safe guideline for topical application of essential oils on adults. For children or elderly, reduce the dilution down to 1%. With children, use only essential oils regarded as safe for children unless you have educated yourself very well on aromatherapy for children.

Avoid using essential oils that are known to cause skin irritation or sensitization. Refer to the individual essential oil profiles within AromaWeb's Essential Oil Properties & Profile section for greater detail on each essential oil.

Many individuals have become accustomed to heavily scented commercial fragrances, lotions, cosmetics, soaps and room fresheners fragranced primarily with synthetics. The aroma of a 2% dilution can seem very weak or barely aromatic at first. If you're used to strongly scented products, be assured that over time, you will begin to adjust and savor the nuances of your diluted blends.

Carrier Oils
Adding essential oil, drop by drop, to carrier oil.  

The Easiest Way to Make a 2% Dilution

A good rule of thumb when seeking to make a 2% dilution is to add 12 drops of essential oil to each fl. ounce (30 ml) of cold pressed carrier oil, lotion, vegetable butter or other natural lipid/moisturizer.

On average, 600 drops of essential oil equals 30ml or 1 fl. ounce. 2% of 600 drops equals 12 drops (600x.02).

To easily approximate a 2% dilution, add 12 drops of your chosen essential oil to 1 fl. oz (30ml) of carrier oil. Technically, this method of measurement is not entirely precise — 2% essential oil should be added to only 98/100th of an ounce of carrier, but adding it to a full ounce makes this so much easier for most individuals to measure.

When working with small quantities of essential oils, the easiest way to measure is by the drop. Unfortunately, one drop of one essential oil may be bigger or smaller than another because of the viscosity and temperature of the oil and the size of the dropper or orifice reducer. As such, measuring by the drop is not the most accurate method of measuring essential or carrier oils, but it is acceptable for creating small topical blends.

Beware: Some Companies and Therapists Promote Using Essential Oils On the Skin At Full Strength

One essential oil company in particular has a strong reputation for promoting the neat use of essential oils on the skin. I'm not going to give this company any added attention by elaborating, but I will make this comment: By actively promoting the use of undiluted essential oils on the skin, they stand to make a lot more money because consumers will need to purchase greater quantities of essential oils than if they dilute them. Think about it.

A concerning practice known as Raindrop Therapy focuses upon applying pure, undiluted essential oils directly onto the skin somewhat in a dripping ("raindrop") fashion. The burning and pain that is felt is considered by these practitioners to be the body releasing toxins. This is a crude generalization, but the point of this article is not to detail the specifics of this practice but merely point out that it is not regarded as safe.

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