How to Use Essential Oils Safely and Effectively

Everyone has a different “essential oil style.” Some people use essential oils as natural remedies while others use them to fragrance the air. Some use them to replace toxic personal care products. Finally, other people use essential oils for everything—it becomes part of their cleaning products, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, deodorant and used as first aid remedies.

The three of us (Josh Axe, Jordan Rubin, Ty Bollinger) have our own essential own styles that are unique to our families.

Jordan has seen his life transformed by the use of essential oils every day. His essential oil style might be called “ancient healing.” As he anoints his family with oils each morning, he is reminded of the wondrous power within the oils as he thanks the Great Physician who created them.

Ty’s essential oil style is one of “soothing air.” He prefers to diffuse his oils because he believes that is the best way for his entire family to experience the immune boosting, restorative, energizing abilities of essential oils each and every day.

Dr. Josh enjoys finding new ways to use essential oils. His essential oil style is “infinite possibilities” because he and his wife use it to clean their air, care for their dogs, improve their sleep, stop headaches, improve concentration and countless other uses.

What’s your essential oil style? Everybody has one—even those who are just beginning to explore the world of essential oils. The good news is that there are so many oils and so many ways to use them that the options for use are virtually limitless. There are, however, a finite number of ways essential oils may be used when it comes to our bodies. The ways in which they are used are dependent upon the needs or desired outcome of the individual using the oil. This article will describe the three main methods of essential oil use: 1) aromatherapy applications (direct inhalation and diffusing), 2) topical use and 3) internal use.

The Fragrant World of Aromatherapy

The aromatic nature of essential oils stimulates powerful mental, emotional and physiologic responses. Not only does the aroma of the natural essential oil stimulate the brain to trigger a reaction, but also when inhaled into the lungs, the naturally occurring chemicals can supply therapeutic benefits. For example, diffusing eucalyptus essential oil is an effective way to help ease congestion.

When a person simply breathes in the aroma of an essential oil, this is called direct inhalation. Here are some methods of direct inhalation:

  • Open an essential oil bottle and breathe in the aroma.
  • Place a drop or two of oil or a blend of oils in the hands, rub them together, make a cup around the nose and mouth and breathe in. (Note: Use caution when practicing this method. Some essential oils require prior mixing with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, to dilute the concentration and prevent skin irritation.)
  • Place a drop or two of oil or a blend of oils on a piece of cloth or tissue, hold it close to the face and inhale.

Another popular method of aromatherapy is diffusing essential oils into a room. When using a diffuser, the essential oil is evaporated into the surrounding environment.

Diffusing essential oils can alter your mood by relaxing or stimulating the mind. It can also kill airborne pathogens and treat a respiratory condition. Here are some ways to diffuse essential oils:

  • To clean the air, add a blend of lemon, clove, orange, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary oils to a diffuser.
  • To improve energy, add peppermint to a diffuser.
  • To reduce stress or combat a headache, or just to relax, add lavender to a diffuser.

There are 4 Types of Diffusers

  1. Atomizing: No water is involved when using atomizing diffusers—the essential oil bottle is connected to the diffuser to create a pure vapor that is extremely powerful and therapeutic.
  2. Vaporizing: These diffusers use water with the essential oil; ultrasonic waves are used to emit the oil and water particles into the air. Vaporizing diffusers are very quiet, so they are popular with therapists, yoga instructors and other professionals who are looking to achieve a peaceful environment.
  3. Fan or evaporative: Evaporative diffusers are usually lower in cost and used in a smaller area. A fan blows air from the room through a pad or filter that has essential oils on it. The air blowing through the pad causes the oils to evaporate more quickly than with other diffusers, and the air with the evaporated oil is blown into the room.
  4. Heat: Like evaporative diffusers, heat diffusers also cause the essential oils to evaporate quickly; these diffusers use heat instead of blowing air to accomplish diffusion.

Another way to diffuse a room with essential oils is by using a spray bottle. Oils can be mixed with water or alcohol and then sprayed in the air, on surfaces or on the body. This will create a refreshing and energizing environment.

Let’s Get Topical

When essential oils are applied directly to the skin, they are absorbed and enter the bloodstream (this is because the oils are fat-soluble). When an oil is applied to the skin with no carrier oil, this is called a “neat” application. The soles of the feet is one area of the body that is sometimes exposed to a neat application. It is also one of the most popular places to apply oils. There are several reasons for this:

  • Less irritation. When oils are administered on the soles of the feet, there is a lower risk of skin irritation. The skin there is less sensitive than the skin on the rest of the body.
  • No sebum. The soles of the feet and the palms of the hands are the only sites on our body without sebaceous glands. Sebum is an oily substance that helps lubricate and waterproof the skin. Since the palms and the soles do not secrete sebum, they are more ready to absorb oil.
  • Bypass the liver. When you apply oils to the soles of the feet, the oils bypass the liver and will not accumulate there. Instead of being processed by the liver, the oils reach the lower bronchial capillaries via the circulatory system and the entire organism unprocessed.

Other key points of application on the body include behind the ears, neck, abdomen, upper back, temples and along the spine. When applying essential oils, sensitive skin areas should be avoided, such as the eyes, inner ears, genitals and open skin.

Essential oils are commonly combined with a carrier oil, which not only dilutes the essential oil but also prevents easy evaporation. Because using a carrier oil dilutes the potency of the essential oil being used, the chances of experiencing an irritation or skin reaction are reduced. Some of the best carrier oils include coconut oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, almond oil, pomegranate seed oil and avocado oil:

  • Coconut oil—The best all-purpose oil to use in personal care products, from making homemade body care products like lotion, deodorant and toothpaste to diluting for topical use. When used topically, fractionated coconut oil works best due to its liquid state at room
  • temperature.
  • Jojoba oil—Ideal for both very dry and oily skin to help bring balance back. Use it with geranium, lavender and tea tree for tough skin conditions.
  • Magnesium oil—Known as the ultimate relaxer. Blend it with Roman chamomile and lavender to reduce stress and improve sleep.
  • Arnica oil—Best for treating bruises, pain and skin inflammation.
  • Shea butter—The best carrier oil for moisturizing very dry and aged skin. It’s also great for making a homemade body butter recipe.
  • Argan oil—Known to firm and tighten skin, which is great for anti-aging effects. Mix it with frankincense, myrrh and geranium to improve skin tone. It’s also packed with vitamin E.
  • Evening primrose oil—Great for hormone balance because it contains high levels of GLA (gamma linoleic acid), which produces hormone-regulating prostaglandin. Mix it with clary sage, thyme and ylang ylang to support healthy hormones.

There are many other beneficial carrier oils such as olive, rosehip, hemp, sea buckthorn, black cumin, almond, apricot and pomegranate. For a more complete list of carrier oils, including their key benefits, please refer to The Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils.

*Topical Use Recommendations: The appropriate dosage for topical use of essential oils is different for each oil and individual—taking into consideration the individual’s personal circumstances and health conditions.

When determining an appropriate topical dose, age and size are the biggest factors. The younger and smaller the person, the less essential oil is needed. It is safest to start with a small amount and repeat the application 20 minutes later if necessary. In most cases, essential oils should be diluted with a carrier oil for use on the skin.

Here are Some Other Ways to Use Essential Oils Topically

  • Baths. Adding oils to bath water is a mix of aromatic and topical applications. In order to disperse the oil throughout the bath water, add 5 to 15 drops of essential oils to bath salts or Epsom salts, which will dissolve in the water. This can help improve circulation, relieve sore muscles, soothe skin, open airways, relax the body and improve sleep. Soothing oils like eucalyptus and lavender are especially beneficial when added to an aromatherapy bath.
  • Compresses. Using a warm compress will increase the absorption of essential oils. Add 10 drops of oil per 4 ounces of water. Soak the cloth with the oil and water mixture and apply it to bruises, infections, aches and pains. (Peppermint is one of the best oils for muscle aches, while lavender is great for treating infections.)
  • Salves. A salve is an ointment that is used to soothe the surface of the body. You can make salves by adding 15 drops of essential oils to 1 ounce of a carrier oil (2.5 percent dilution). Salves can be stored in a metal or glass container and used on cuts, scrapes and sore muscles.
  • Personal Care. Essential oils can be used in common home remedies like homemade toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, perfume, cologne, lip balm and body lotion. To make homemade teeth- and gum-supporting toothpaste, mix 1/4 cup coconut oil, 3 tablespoons bentonite clay and 10 drops of peppermint or clove essential oil together and put the mixture into a rubber tube or sealed glass container.

Taking Essential Oils Internally

Essential oils are more potent than whole plant material. Remember that a single drop of rose oil contains the chemical constituents present in 60 roses. That is why when essential oils are used internally, it should be in small amounts only. However, research does show that many oils can be safe and effective when taken orally, so it may be worth the necessary preparation and caution for certain conditions and for short periods of time.

When an essential oil is consumed in high doses, it can result in overuse or toxicity. That is because essential oils are fat-soluble, meaning they are not easily eliminated from the body and must travel through the liver and then the gut. To avoid ingesting toxic concentrations of essential oils, labels should be read carefully and professional guidelines should be followed.

When we get the question, “Are essential oils safe to use internally?” our answer is always, “It depends upon which oil and the person taking the oil.”

There is a sub-population of therapists who believe that essential oils should not be taken internally unless recommended by a physician. They recommend only topical or aromatic use. It’s important to remember that a large amount of published articles and studies have demonstrated that many essential oils provide tremendous benefits when used internally, and traditional practitioners of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have used essential oils therapeutically for thousands of years.

It’s all about using wisdom, applying common sense and remembering that following product usage directions is key in all supplement use—and when in doubt, use the oil topically. The three of us have personally used essential oils for ourselves and our families, clients and patients.

Some oils, like peppermint and lemon oil, can be consumed in small doses at 1 to 2 drops, two to three times a day. Other oils like oregano should only be consumed for a maximum of 10 days and under the guidance of a health care professional. Wintergreen should only be used topically or aromatically (diffused) and should never be used internally. People with liver disease and those who have higher levels of sensitivities need to be cautious. All essential oils should be taken with food or a beverage and not on an empty stomach.

If you’re someone who purchases and consumes organic foods, you should do your best to consume essential oil products that are certified organic.

When it comes to using oils on your body (topically) or taking them internally, safety is based on the properties of the oil itself, not the “quality” of the brand. Some oils are simply not safe to take internally. It is not wise to believe a company statement that asserts, “All of our oils are safe for internal use.”

A bottle label may say “safe for supplemental use,” but even then that doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe when taken internally. Some oils that are not safe for ingestion include oils from the needles of trees such as pine essential oil and some bark oils such as cypress. Some essential oils are only suitable for external use because they have been linked to liver toxicity. These oils include aniseed, bay and tarragon.

Always consult with a doctor or healthcare practitioner before using essential oils internally. When in doubt, remember that with most essential oils, benefits can be found from topical and aromatherapy use.

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