Essences are highly concentrated extractions of plant oil. It takes nearly 220 pounds of lavender to produce only one pound of lavender oil. When dealing with high concentrations of liquids, understanding how to safely apply or these oils are important.

Most essential oils should not be ingested, regardless of concentration. Other oils are safe for inhalation, but not for direct use on skin. Some essences are safe topically, but only when diluted. Over-dilution can reduce the efficacy of oil’s healing properties.

A quick reference guide on the application methods for essential oils covers the following basics:

  • Topical treatments for direct use on skin
  • Inhalation of oil vapours, both directly and indirectly
  • Indirect inhalation through use of a diffuser
  • Baths and compresses

While essential oils are also studied and used in more complicated situations, such as for cancer patients, we will stick to the everyday uses and methods of application for oils instead.

Topical Application

Most essential oils are not recommended for undiluted, or “neat”, the application directly on the skin. The high concentration could cause irritation, mainly if you have sensitive skin or for the elderly and small children. Pregnant women are also more likely to be sensitive.

Wound Care

Oils such as lavender and tea tree are safe for direct treatment in small areas, such as a minor burn or cut. The antibacterial properties help stave off infection for irritated skin.

Use a cotton ball or swab to apply one or two drops to affected skin. For example, to treat a pimple, only put the oil directly on the irritated skin, not all over your face.


For treating sore muscles, menstrual cramps or arthritic pain, a compress is a great way to get direct contact without measuring or mess. Simply add a few drops of your favourite oil to a bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Place a washcloth into the solution and wring it out. Put the warm, essence-infused cloth onto the forehead, abdomen, or aching muscles.


Reducing the concentration of essential oils is referred to as diluting or dilution. When diluting an oil for topical use, the rule of thumb for a healthy adult is a 2% solution. How do you know when you’ve reached such a small amount? Simple. About one drop of oil for each teaspoon of carrier oil gives you a 1% dilution.

For elderly adults, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and children a 1% dilution is better. When dealing with babies, go even gentler with a 0.5% dilution.


Dilution for massage requires another substance before use – a carrier oil or lotion. Adding a few drops to creams or oils already designated for massage will pump up the aromatherapy aspect while enhancing your experience. Essential oils are not all equal in the world of massage. Lavender relaxes muscles and the mind while peppermint energizes instead.

Good carrier oils will not dilute the benefits of essential oil. Cocoa or shea butter have their moisturizing capabilities, and even though they are not volatile or active oils, will enhance the attributes for protecting and healing skin.

The most popular carrier oils for use in massage therapy are:

  • Coconut oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Almond oil

Carrier oils do not last forever, and usually, have a shelf life of one year at most. Keep them away from heat and direct sunlight to avoid breaking down the essence.

Direct Inhalation

Aromatherapy’s foundation is aromatic. Place the essence of a healing plant in hot, steaming water and directly inhale the vapours for maximum effect. Even when the plants are too toxic to eat, inhalation is considered a safe method of use.

Generally, about five drops of essential oil in hot water is enough to clear sinuses. After adding the drops, place a towel over your head creating a tent to trap the vapours. Take slow, even breaths as you inhale the healing vapours. Don’t stay under the towel for too long; five minutes is plenty of time to let the vapours get to work.

If you find the oil aggravates your asthma or starts to give you a headache, try decreasing the oil’s concentration by using fewer drops and spending less time in the tent inhaling the essence.

Indirect Inhalation

For a less intense experience, essential oils placed in diffusers or vaporizers can freshen the air, add a pleasing scent to the room, and combat seasonal allergies. These oils are even more diluted than direct inhalation since they disperse throughout the air.

A strongly scented oil, like eucalyptus, is great for opening nasal passages but too much can cause irritation instead of relief. Other useful oils for sinus issues include thyme, lavender and tea tree. These are much milder in fragrance than pine or lemon, and concentrations vary based on your preference.


Bathing is a unique way to use aromatherapy oils both topically and via inhalation at the same time. The warm water opens your pores and nasal passages. The steam of a hot bath diffuses the essence into the air. Only a few drops are needed for aromatic effects, but 10-15 drops can double down for skin absorption.

Keep in mind oil and water do not mix, so the oil sheen at the surface of the bath is where your skin will get the most contact. To better disperse the essential oil in your bath, add other substances such as bath milk or Epson salts.


Essential oils are not dangerous when used properly. Very few oils are safe for ingestion and taking oils by mouth is not recommended. Always keep your oils for their intended use and be creative with your treatments while remaining safe.

You can breathe in an oil, massage it into your skin, and add it to your cleaning products but rarely can you do all of these with the same oil. Pay attention to your body and its sensitivities. Let it determine which treatment methods work best and get the most out of your oils.

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