Essential oils are natural, concentrated home remedies for many everyday health problems. Use them in massage, in baths, in oil burners and vaporizers, in compresses, in steam inhalations, and in homemade beauty products.
If you are just starting out with essential oils, get one or two oils and build up your collection as you get used to using and blending the oils. Try these three to start with:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia/officinalis/vera): one of the most versatile and safest oils used in aromatherapy. See some home uses for this excellent oil in Three Home Uses for Lavender Oil.
- Eucalyptus (globulus, radiata or the lemon-scented citriodora) is an antiviral, antibacterial and decongestant oil that is good to have around during the cold and flu season. Find out some common uses for this oil in 3 Ways to Use Eucalyptus Oil at Home.
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal: read more in Five Home Uses for Tea Tree Oil.
The Basics of Blending Essential Oils
Essential oils are almost always blended into carrier oil (base oil). A typical blend contains 3% of essential oil, which means 3 drops of essential oil into each 5 ml (approximately a teaspoon) of base oil. A milder 1% blend is recommended for pregnant women, children and for very sensitive skin. 1% blend means 1 drop into 5 ml of carrier oil.
Should You Ever Use Essential Oils Undiluted?
Some oils are thought to be gentle enough to use undiluted, but only in certain occasions and very sparingly: just one drop! Lavender and Tea-Tree are usually ok: carefully apply a drop of Tea tree essential oil on an acne spot or a wart, or apply a drop of Lavender oil on a mosquito bite to relieve itching. Don’t splash them all over the skin!
Remember that everyone is an individual and you can get an allergic reaction to any oil. Whenever using essential oils (even diluted) for the first time, especially if your skin is sensitive, do a patch test on a small area of skin.
Essential Oils: Safety Considerations
If you have any health concerns (such as high blood pressure, allergies, epilepsy) always check for possible contraindications before using any essential oil. Some oils are contraindicated in certain conditions, but most of the time you can find a safer alternative.
If using essential oils on children, always dilute to 1% and only use oils that are safe for children. A drop of Lavender or Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) or Tangerine/Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), diluted into base oil, is enough for a baby’s bath and a couple of drops (diluted) for a toddler. Make sure the child does not get any oil into the eyes or the mouth.
Which oils are safe during pregnancy? Even aromatherapists disagree on this one. Some say most oils are, if you use them after the first trimester and in low dilutions. Some say you should stick to only a few safe oils. I generally say better safe than sorry, but here are a few general guidelines:
- avoid most oils during the first trimester or if there is a history of miscarriage
- oils generally deemed safe during pregnancy include Neroli (Citrus aurantium), Mandarin/Tangerine and Lavender from the 2nd trimester onwards
- a blend of Neroli and Mandarin is great for preventing stretch marks
- use a 1% blend instead of the usual 3%.
Buying Essential Oils
Unfortunately, there are poor quality essential oils on the market: some are diluted with cheap, low grade oils or substituted with cheaper oils or even synthetic fragrances. Buy your oils from reputable aromatherapy suppliers.
Should You Ever Take Essential Oils Internally?
Some aromatherapy books talk about taking essential oils internally. My own aromatherapy tutors always discouraged the internal use of essential oils. They also pointed out that if you need to get a large amount of essential oil into your body, for example in case of a cold or a flu, it is much more effective to give regular massages with a 3% blend of antiviral essential oils, which means you can get quite a lot of oil into the body, than to take the oil internally since you would only be able to take a drop or two. However I have received feedback from others who take a drop or two of some essential oils (usually added into food or drink), so the discussion is ongoing!
A few recommended books:
Julia Lawless: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Oils in Aromatherapy & Herbalism (Element Books, 1995)
Patricia Davis: Aromatherapy, an A-Z (Random House, UK, 2004)
Valerie Ann Worwood: The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy (New World Library, 1991)