A lot of people new to using essential oils may ask, is aromatherapy safe?
Aromatherapy is generally considered safe when done properly. There are two main ways you’ll use essential oils: topically & through inhalation. We go into more detail about these methods here & also discuss how each method works differently in the body.
When using essential oils topically they need to be properly diluted in a carrier oil. Carrier oils act as your base for a topical blend & ‘carry’ the essential oils to your skin. Common carrier oils are olive oil, jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, & many more. They are typically unscented, or lightly scented. Carrier oils also come from plants & many have their own benefits to add to the mix. If you’re looking for a quality supplier of carrier oils I highly recommend Bulk Apothecary. They have a wide range of carrier oils for reasonable prices.
You should never apply essential oils undiluted to your skin. Also known as ‘neat application’, undiluted essential oils can cause serious irritation to the skin. Essential oils are potent extracts comprised of hundreds, possibly thousands, of chemical constituents that give essential oils their amazing therapeutic properties.
Even if you don’t have a reaction immediately to an undiluted essential oil they will begin to trigger your immune system & lead to an immune response known as sensitization. Sensitization, which is also known as allergic contact dermatitis, can lead to redness, irritation, hives, & even respiratory distress like shortness of breath & a tightening in the chest. It may happen at the site of application – or else where on the body. It is NOT a sign that your body is detoxing. Rather, it is a sign that your body is saying “enough is enough”. You should always note the max dermal rates for essential oils listed on the product information or on the bottle.
When I make a blend, I follow the Tisserand Institute’s recommended dilution ratios. Robert Tisserand has been at the forefront of aromatherapy research and is one of the world’s leading experts in aromatherapy. If you are serious about creating your own safe aromatherapy blends at home, I highly recommend the book he co-authored Essential Oil Safety. It is a must have in my personal library!
Plant Therapy, an essential oil company that sells single essential oils, blends, and supplies, also has a dilution chart. Plant Therapy is a great source for purchasing essential oils, especially if you’re a beginner. They staff certified aromatherapists and have worked with Robert Tisserand personally on crafting some of their blends.
They also have clear safety guidelines for each of their individual essential oils & their in -house essential oil blends. Their bottles also come with the max dermal rate listed right on the label.
When talking about the max dermal rate, this is the maximum amount of essential oil you can use in a single blend. This is not a single rate for every essential oil either. Each essential oil has its own max dermal rate. Did you know that clove bud essential oil, & other ‘hot’ essential oils like cinnamon & oregano, should only account for 0.5% of an entire blend? That’s only a single drop in 10mL of carrier oil! Yet an essential oil like lavender could be used at upwards of 5% for short term use. That’s a LOT of lavender! I recommend most people stick with a 1-2% dilution in their at-home topical blends. Less can be more when it comes to essential oils. This is especially true in the case of children (who have their own safety concerns to be aware of, including essential oils you shouldn’t use for them), pregnant & nursing mothers, & the elderly.
It bears repeating that essential oils are the volatile chemical components of their plant parent. Even a seemingly benign oil from a familiar source, like lemon & other citrus-derived essential oils, can lead to complications if diluted improperly. Lemon is an amazing antibacterial essential oil & has such an uplifting, refreshing scent but it can lead to a temporary, severe skin sensitivity in the sun (known as phototoxicity) if diluted improperly. Lemon essential oil that is cold-pressed should never be used above a 2% dilution ratio. Steam distilled lemon is typically non-phototoxic.
After reading all of that you might be asking, “Then, how can I learn how to use essential oils safely?”
Taking classes is a great way to learn how to use essential oils safely for you and your family. The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists has a list of schools that are vetted for providing accurate information on the safe use of essential oils. You can check it out here. Many aromatherapists, myself included, will also happily conduct consultations based solely around education purposes. There are many of us who also go out into our local communities to conduct small, one-day workshops on essential oil blending and DIY help all while providing great information for beginners. Check out your local community boards for local DIY classes or see if a certified aromatherapist is hosting online workshops.
If you don’t want to dedicate time to a class, look for reliable resources on the internet. AromaWeb is a fantastic resource for those just starting out to find reliable information from essential oil profiles to recipes & blends. AromaWeb is run by Wendy Robbins, a certified aromatherapist and fellow American College of Healthcare Sciences alumna. You can also search for essential oils on PubMed Central (PMC). PubMed Central is an open access database that contains a wide array of essential oil research articles that are free to the public. Lastly, professional aromatherapy organizations such as NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy) and AIA (Alliance of International Aromatherapists) will often have educational resources such as books, seminars, and more. They also both have a database of certified aromatherapists if you decide to use one.
Using essential oils safely at home doesn’t have to be a scary feat! You just need to do your due diligence in learning about the essential oils you choose to work with from a reputable source. Once you feel confident in using your essential oils your journey into aromatherapy at home will feel much less daunting.