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How to Safely Use Essential Oils

Updated: May 19, 2023

There has been a lot of misinformation surrounding essential oils all over the internet, resulting in preventable injuries. Much of this misinformation stems from MLM companies claiming that since essential oils are natural, they’re safe. The reality is experts, like certified aromatherapists, disagree.

rosemary essential oil

Yes, essential oils are natural, but they are also highly concentrated and can have substantial impacts. Naturopathic Pediatrics states that one drop of essential oil is equivalent to 15-40 cups of medicinal tea or up to 10 teaspoons of a tincture (1).


Remember that essential oils are isolated concentrations, so while they may have one of the constituents found in teas and tinctures, the substantial amounts aren't more effective as it's missing many other components that make herbs so beneficial. Nonetheless, teas, tinctures, and essential oils all have a place in our lives, so it is important to learn to use them safely!


With that said, although essential oils are a safer option than most medications and pharmaceuticals, they are still potent, so they should be used cautiously. It’s critical to understand which oils are safe for pregnancy, breastfeeding, children, and pets.


 

What is Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that has been around for thousands of years and has been used in many ancient cultures like China, India, Egypt, and more. Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts, also known as essential oils, to promote health and well-being while improving the health of the body, mind, and spirit (2).


There are hundreds of different types of essential oils, both pure and blended, and they can be used alone or in combination with other essential oils to provide even more health benefits.


Essential oils have been studied for quite some time. There is plenty of science to back up the known benefits of aromatherapy, including, but not limited to:

  • Pain management

  • Improving sleep quality

  • Reducing stress, agitation, and anxiety

  • Soothing sore joints

  • Treating headaches and migraines

  • Alleviating side effects of chemotherapy

  • Easing the discomforts of labor

  • Fighting bacteria, viruses, or fungus

  • Improving digestion

  • Boosting immunity

To treat an ailment with essential oils successfully, you must use them properly, so let’s discuss some dos and don’ts when it comes to essential oils.


DO dilute all essential oils as directed on the bottle.

DO NOT ingest essential oils.


DO use essential oils topically and always dilute them.

DO NOT apply directly on the skin.


DO use caution around pets and children

DO NOT disregard safety information


How to Safely Use Essential Oils

First and foremost, trusted aromatherapist Wendy Robbins recommends never using essential oils internally or undiluted (3). When using essential oils with children or those with sensitive skin, I personally recommend either diffusing or diluting essential oils in a mild carrier oil.


Second, consider finding a reputable brand of essential oils, such as Plant Therapy, Simply Earth, or Earthley Wellness. I highly recommend double and triple-checking all essential oil directions (even if you’ve used them before) before using them while pregnant, breastfeeding, or on your children or pets. I never recommend MLM brands as they often jack up the price to pay the entire pyramid. In my personal experience, they continually provide unsafe safety recommendations based on false claims.

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Understanding Pregnancy-Safe Essential Oils

Some have claimed essential oils are unsafe during pregnancy, but the reality is it depends on which essential oil you're looking at. Of course, essential oils, by nature, will cross the placental barrier and may affect the fetus (4); that's why practicing essential oil safety is so important. Many brands have pregnancy-safe essential oil lines, and as I said earlier, always double and triple-check all essential oil directions (even if you’ve used them before). Here are my top 5 pregnancy-safe essential oil must-haves:

  • Cardamom is great for struggles with carsickness, seasickness, and even pregnancy-associated nausea like morning sickness. Cardamom can also be used to help uplift and energize your mood, especially when dealing with stress, fatigue, or feelings of depression.

  • Frankincense Carterii has the ability to rejuvenate the look of mature skin and can be used in serums or creams for the face. It is also used as immune system support. Frankincense can be a dear friend during times of grief and sorrow.

  • Ginger is an excellent multi-tasker when it comes to overall well-being. It's great for digestive support, naturally tackling stomach concerns such as bloating, cramps, nausea, and gas. It can also settle upset due to traveling, motion sickness, and overeating.

  • Lemon has a fresh, zesty citrus scent that is refreshing, energizing, and uplifting; this scent is invigorating to the senses and wonderful to smell. This essential oil supports a healthy immune system, uplift and revitalize, and add a wonderful lemon scent to spray cleaners.

  • Peppermint has a cooling effect on the skin that is revitalizing and wonderful to the touch due to its menthol content. This scent is invigorating to the senses and helps promote energy and alertness.

Understanding Breastfeeding-Safe Essential Oils

Some have also claimed essential oils are unsafe while breastfeeding, but again the reality is it depends on which essential oil you're looking at. Of course, it's important to remember that they do have the potential to cross over into your milk supply, which is normally less than 1% of the amount of oil the mother absorbs (5), which is why it's important to practice essential oil safety. Many brands have breastfeeding-safe essential oil lines, and as I said earlier, always double and triple-check all essential oil directions (even if you’ve used them before). Additionally, I recommend sticking to essential oils that are kid and breastfeeding-safe. Here are my top 5 breastfeeding-safe essential oil must-haves:

  • Dill Weed is an essential oil that is a go-to when digestive upset arises. It not only eases digestive issues but also eases menstrual discomfort and is helpful during times of worry and tension.

  • Himalayan Cedarwood can help promote mental focus and calming of the mind while you take in the dry, woody, balsamic scent with slightly spicy undertones. It also helps balance oily skin and is a must-have for supporting and maintaining a healthy respiratory system.

  • Sea Fennel is known to improve skin tone and radiance while also helping to reduce the appearance of dimples and ripples in the skin. It is also a good choice for digestive issues while also being beneficial during times of seasonal illnesses and respiratory concerns.

  • Sweet Orange is most commonly known for its wonderful uplifting, and calming scent. It just feels like a “happy” oil! When diffused, it can help with nervous tension and sadness and can also improve the aroma of a stale room. It can also help support the normal function of the immune system.

  • Vetiver is known for its ability to promote relaxation and balance. Organic Vetiver is very popular to use before bedtime to help calm the mind. It has a very strong aroma that has an earthy, woodsy, smoky scent but is pleasant to the senses.

Understanding Kid-Safe Essential Oils

Choosing essential oils for children can be quite simple, especially considering many brands have kid-safe lines. Since I recommended Plant Therapy, and they are my favorite go-to brand, I want to start by saying Plant Therapy’s Kid-Safe Essential Oils are specifically formulated for children ages two and up (6). Here are my top 5 kid-safe essential oil must-haves:

  • Clary Sage is a go-to when it comes to women’s issues to help relieve symptoms brought on by a woman's menstrual cycle. This very soothing aroma is the key blend that helps create an atmosphere that is balancing and calming when emotions are rampant.

  • Lavender is best known for helping produce a calm, peaceful, tranquil environment. Diffuse Lavender essential oil into the air before bedtime to promote peaceful sleep, or add Lavender to your favorite lotion or carrier oil to soothe the skin and help unwind your senses.

  • Roman Chamomile is best known for its soothing and gentle effect that helps ease children and adults to sleep. Diffuse before bedtime, apply topically, or add to a warm nighttime bath to promote relaxation and a restful, refreshing night of sleep.

  • Spearmint, when diluted in carrier and applied to the abdomen, can help relieve a queasy stomach and bloating. When diffused, Spearmint is uplifting, reduces emotional agitation, improves concentration, and eases physical tension in the head and neck.

  • Tea Tree is best known for clearing blemishes, reducing skin redness, and supporting the immune system. It makes a wonderful addition to natural home-cleaning sprays, especially in steamy, musty areas like the bathroom.

Some of these essential oils, as well as others, may be safe to use on younger children. I recommend doing your own research and drawing your own conclusion to determine if you are comfortable using essential oils with children under two.


An excellent resource for practicing safety when using essential oils with babies and children is Valerie Ann Worwood's 300+ page book, Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child.


Understanding Pet-Safe Essential Oils

Essential oil safety with pets is a bit more complex, especially when it comes to cats. Thankfully, Plant Therapy's Pup & Pony Safe Essential Oils have taken a lot of the guesswork out of it for dog and horse owners, but there is still a lot of uncertainty for cat owners. Since I do not have a cat, I cannot confidently give recommendations, so I would recommend doing your own research before using any essential oils around your cat. When it comes to dogs, I got you covered, and so does Plant Therapy, but remember not to use essential oils if animals are pregnant or under 10 weeks old. Here are my top 5 pup and pony-safe essential oil must-haves:

  • Catnip can ward off those summer annoyances and help you sleep at night. When diluted in a carrier oil, Catnip can even help tension in muscles or headaches. It is also useful for helping to relieve gas pain. This essential oil is not safe for cats.

  • Confident K9 was formulated for dogs who struggle with being alone. This blend helps to promote relaxation, support confidence, and soothe worry. For behavioral issues ranging from excessive barking or shaking to chewing on belongings or clawing at your front door, Confident K9 can help. This essential oil is only available in the Man's Best friend Set.

  • Happy Trails was created to make traveling easier for your dogs and horses. Oftentimes, our four-legged friends can experience motion sickness during travel.

  • Show Ready was created to help maintain good health in your dogs and horses. Dogs and horses can become more susceptible to illness and disease during times of travel, stress, boarding for long periods of time, or exposure to unfamiliar animals.

  • Thyme Linalool is quite versatile and is an excellent component in facial toners and cleansers. Unlike some other germ-fighting oils, it will help soothe problem skin without causing irritation. It can also aid in respiration and digestion or help ward off seasonal illnesses.

For a full list of pup and pony-safe essential oils, click here.


Of course, there are many ways to achieve the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, like in a diffuser, personal inhaler, or humidifier, as well as topically and in the bath or shower, but first, let’s discuss proper dilution.


How to Dilute Essential Oils

As I said earlier, there has been a lot of misinformation surrounding essential oils all over the internet. One common assumption is that you don’t need to dilute essential oils, which comes back to the claim that since they are natural, they’re safe. The reality is that certified aromatherapists disagree. Trusted aromatherapist, Wendy Robbins states undiluted use of essential oils on the skin can be harmful and potentially cause severe irritation or sensitization (7).


Additionally, Wendy Robbins has an Essential Oil Topical Dilution Ratios for Babies and Children Chart, which suggests no essential oils for premature infants and a maximum dilution of 0.2% (up to 3 months old) to 5% (ages 15+). Wendy Robbins states:


Essential oils and essential oil blends for use with children must be used at significantly lower dilutions than when used by an adult. Additionally, many essential oils should not be used at all with children (8).”
essential oil dilution chart

In the end, the choice is yours, but either way, when using essential oils topically, dilution is critical. For a minimum dilution of 0.2%, you would add the following:

  • 0.5 drop of essential oil diluted into 10 ml of carrier oil

  • 1 drop of essential oil diluted into 30 ml (1 ounce) of carrier oil

  • 2 drops of essential oil diluted into 60 ml (2 ounces) of carrier oil

  • 4 drops of essential oil diluted into 120 ml (4 ounces) of carrier oil


For a maximum dilution of 5%, you would add the following:

  • 10 drops of essential oil diluted into 10 ml of carrier oil

  • 30 drops of essential oil diluted into 30 ml (1 ounce) of carrier oil

  • 60 drops of essential oil diluted into 60 ml (2 ounces) of carrier oil

  • 120 drops of essential oil diluted into 120 ml (4 ounces) of carrier oil


How to Use Essential Oils in a Diffuser

Diffusing essential oils is an easy and cost-effective way to achieve therapeutic benefits. A diffuser also allows you to use essential oils without directly applying them to your skin, so it’s generally the safer option, especially for children. These small appliances work by creating steam mixed with essential oils and water. The oils then disperse into the air in tiny doses.


When dispersed, the droplets, which are much smaller and diluted, are breathed in and may land on the skin. When diffusing an essential oil for the first time, watch for breathing problems, rashes, racing heartbeat, or mood changes. If you notice any of these, discontinue diffusing the essential oil. Although these cases are rare, it is important to know what to look for, just in case!


Based on the oils diffused, the benefits of essential oil aromatherapy may include:

  • Tackling sickness

  • Killing airborne germs

  • Lifting mood

  • Easing depression

  • Promoting restful sleep

  • and much more!


Of course, thousands of essential oil diffusers are on the market, so if you’re looking for a recommendation, I use Sierra Modern Home’s Wifi Ultrasonic Aromatherapy Humidifier.


How to use an essential oil diffuser:

  • Choose a location for the diffuser. Typically, placing a diffuser in the middle of an open room for even distribution is recommended.

  • Add water to the diffuser. Be sure not to fill above the max fill line to extend the life of your diffuser and ensure proper functionality.

  • Add essential oils to the water. Be sure to check the directions of your essential oil bottle. Typically speaking, you only need 2-10 drops of essential oil.

  • Turn on your essential oil diffuser. Some models have options for constant mist, while others have the option to mist on and off in time increments. Choose the option that works best for you.

Tips when using an essential oil diffuser:

  • Ensure you use high-quality essential oils.

  • When using a diffuser around kids and/or pets, always ensure the essential oil is kid and/or pet-safe.

  • Make sure you empty and dry out your diffuser between uses.

  • Clean your diffuser at least once per month.

Of course, you could achieve the same benefits by using essential oils in a personal inhaler or humidifier, but I recommend sticking to a diffuser, applying it topically, or properly adding it to a bath for children.


How to Use Essential Oils Topically

When using essential oils topically, never apply neat (without proper dilution), and avoid using essential oils near the genitals, mouth, nose, eyes, and ears (3).


Before using essential oils topically, always perform a patch test, especially when using essential oils on those with sensitive skin, such as children. To perform a patch test, simply apply a small (no larger than a dime) amount of diluted essential oil to the leg or arm and wait 24 hours to see if there is a reaction. If a reaction occurs, such as redness, inflammation, or being painful to the touch, immediately wash the area with soap and water, then apply carrier oil over it (this will dilute it). Never use just water, as water doesn’t properly dilute essential oils. If no reaction occurs, applying the essential oil is likely safe.


Earlier, I recommended diluting essential oils in a mild carrier oil. Carrier oils are fatty oils that consist primarily of fatty acids. Good quality carrier oils used within aromatherapy are typically cold or expeller-pressed. My recommendations are:

  • Argan Oil is beneficial for all skin types due to its rich fatty acid content. Argan oil adds shine to your hair and provides moisture for your skin, hair, scalp, and nail cuticles. It also helps to soothe, nourish, and protect skin from the elements and maintain a healthy skin pH balance.

  • Apricot Oil is a rejuvenating natural oil that’s ideal for softening fine lines and restoring a healthy glow to the skin. Rich in essential fatty acids, this gentle oil has excellent restorative properties that promote soft, radiant hair and help to soothe dry skin.

  • Coconut Oil is a versatile cosmetic oil that's pleasingly light and easily absorbed for comprehensive moisturization without clogged pores. Use it for dry skin, as a carrier oil for essential oils, for massage therapy, or as a base for handmade skin care products. Liquid Coconut Oil can also help to soften dry, damaged hair as well as add a healthy shine.

  • Hemp Seed Oil has a lightweight texture that instantly sinks into the skin to help improve tone and texture. It can be used alone or as a concentrated booster. Combine a pump of Sky Organics Organic Hemp Seed Oil with your favorite serum or moisturizer or our Organic Rosewater Facial Mist to boost its brightening and hydrating benefits.

  • Sweet Almond Oil is a natural oil that’s perfect for nourishing and reviving any skin type. It is a skin-nourishing oil that is ideal for the entire body as it's easily absorbed and won’t clog pores, promoting clear, soft, healthy-looking skin.

There are many other carrier oils available on the market, but these are my top recommendations as someone with very sensitive skin and an allergy to aloe vera.


How to Use Essential Oils in the Bath

Using essential oils in a bath is a bit tricky because essential oils do not stay mixed with water. Instead, the essential oil floats to the top, touching the skin at full strength, potentially causing severe irritation and even chemical burns. You must dilute the essential oil in a soluble, like vegetable glycerin, first and then add it to the bathwater (9). Carrier oils don’t work in this scenario because the carrier oil would also float in water. Contrarily, vegetable glycerin is water soluble, which allows the essential oil to emulsify before being added to the bathwater.


Additionally, essential oils at higher risk of causing irritation and sensitization should be avoided in the bath, even if you solubilize them. Learn more about essential oils that are more likely to cause irritation and skin sensitization here.


⚠️ Warning: The Holistic Hipppie is not a functional medicine practitioner. The FDA has not evaluated these statements. This content is not medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or replace medical guidance. The Holistic Hipppie assumes no liability for the application of the information discussed.


What's your favorite way to use essential oils?

Sarena-Rae Santos

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