Essential oils are beneficial for treating a variety of ailments. Topical is probably the most practical aromatherapy method. However, like any other concentrated substance, essential oils are not meant to be used “as is.” All essential oils must be diluted.
Due to the volatile and highly-concentrated nature of essential oils, proper dilution guidelines are critical to ensuring safety. We must always dilute essential oils in another substance, which is what we are going to discuss in this post.
Why Dilute Essential Oils?
We need to dilute for two primary reasons:
This is my top priority. Therefore, before using an essential oil, I always consult the book “Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals-, 2e written by Robert Tisserand” and his co-author Rodney Young. It is considered the most evidence-based available resource on essential oil safety.
According to Robert Tisserand, the dilution of essential oils has two main reasons for safety, as indicated here:
“One, to avoid skin reactions: irritation, sensitization, and phototoxicity. Two, to avoid systemic toxicity, such as fetotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, carcinogenicity, and neurotoxicity. Adverse skin reactions are obvious when they happen, but systemic toxicities may not be. Skin reactions are totally dilution-dependent, and safety guidelines exist to minimize risk. This does not mean, of course, that every time a person uses an undiluted oil, there will be an adverse reaction. Many times there won’t. But more is not always better, and minimizing risk is always a good idea.”
We dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin to minimize adverse reactions and systemic toxicity.
Essential oils are extraordinarily beneficial plant compounds when used safely and properly. Their use on the skin undiluted, also known as “clean” application, may cause short or long-term adverse reactions such as topical irritation, sensitivity, photosensitivity or phototoxicity, and sensitization.
Evaporation and Absorption
Undiluted essential oils evaporate very quickly. In fact, this is one of their characteristics. This means that much of the oil will evaporate into the air before it has a chance to act on the skin.
Diluting the essential oil reduces its volatility, and this means:
- More of the therapeutic properties of the oil can be absorbed into the skin
- Absorption can be increased by spreading the oil over a larger area
- A lesser quantity of essential oil will be used, which will save a lot of money
Should I Dilute All Essential Oils?
The Tisserand Institute of Robert Tisserand indicates clearly:
Do not apply undiluted essential oils on the skin. It’s that easy.
You’ve probably heard that some essential oils, like lavender oil, tea tree oil, or frankincense oil, are safe to use on your skin undiluted. While it is true that they are much less irritating to the skin than others, they can still cause allergic reactions or skin sensitization over time.
Even if essential oils have been used undiluted and no problems were encountered, this does not guarantee that you will not develop sensitization through repeated exposure. It’s not worth the risk, especially when these oils have powerful therapeutic properties, even when diluted.
Of course, you should only use high-quality essential oils from a reputable supplier. Oils that have been adulterated in any way pose additional safety concerns.
If you want to know more, here is a complete list of essential oils that may interest you:
Which Substances Should I Use to Dilute Essential Oils?
When you dilute essential oils, you mix them into a substance known as a carrier. Let’s see what you can use to dilute them:
Vegetable Oils and Butters
These are by far the most common type of essential oil carriers. They are extracted from the nuts, seeds, and grains of plants. They mainly contain unsaturated fatty acids (antioxidants) and saturated fatty acids (emollients), and by themselves, are very effective. They allow essential oils to absorb more slowly into the skin and make their therapeutic effects last longer.
The list of vegetable oils that can be used as carriers or base oils is very extensive. Among them, the ones that are ideal for diluting are coconut oil, almond oil, extra virgin olive oil, argan seed oil, or grapeseed oil. Hazelnut oil, apricot oil, sunflower seed oil, or jojoba oil are also recommended.
Vegetable butters are dense and prevent essential oils from evaporating even more slowly than vegetable oils. Their solid texture works best as an ingredient in creams, balms, or ointments.
Shea nut butter, mango butter, avocado butter, and cocoa butter are the best options for diluting an essential oil.
Carrier oils and butters have their unique scents, feel different on the skin, are absorbed at different rates, and have different benefits for the skin. I recommend using those that are 100% pure and organic or bio.
Oil-Based Creams and Lotions
Oil-based creams and lotions are emulsions of oil and water. To know if your cream or lotion has an oily compound, you should read the label. In the ingredient list, it has to indicate that it contains “triglycerides,” or specifically a vegetable oil such as coconut oil or olive oil.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe Vera gel is a good carrier for essential oils. By itself, Aloe Vera has benefits for the skin and is a perfect carrier for topical aromatherapy applications.
Do not confuse it with aloe vera extract, which is mainly water and will do little to dilute your essential oils. Emulsifiers and thickeners have been added to the Aloe Vera gel (such as carbomer or xanthan gum.)
Alcohols used are either perfumer’s alcohol, typically the carrier used for essential oils in perfume, and 91% isopropyl alcohol.
The essential oil must be added to these alcohols first, mixed very well, and, afterward, it can be added gently to an aqueous substance such as water or hydrosol. Similarly, you can add an aqueous substance directly to your solubilized mixture. The important part is to follow the order I have just indicated.
Alcohol enables the essential oil to be dissolved in a substance in which it would not be diluted directly, thus helping create a solution. In this way, you could dilute your essential oils to make sprays (a ratio of alcohol and water at least 1:4 would also guarantee better conservation and longer shelf life.)
Substances with surfactant properties such as liquid soap allow essential oils to be combined with another liquid such as water. In this case, you have to create an emulsion to force the oil to blend with something it normally would not.
Here, it is also imperative that you first add the essential oil to your surfactant and make sure it is sufficiently blended with it before attempting to add it to the other liquid.
For example, if you want to mix the essential oil in your bath water safely, add it to some liquid soap and mix thoroughly. Then, add the mixture to your bathwater.
What Not to Use to Dilute Essential Oils
Essential oils are not soluble in water. If you add a drop of essential oil in water and shake it vigorously, it will only blend temporarily, and then separate into a few smaller drops. In a few minutes, the essential oil will rise to the top, and it will become a drop again. Remember that we don’t want fully-concentrated essential oil to be used on topical applications!
Honey is basically a mixture of sugar and water. Being thick and viscous, it will keep essential oil droplets separate better than water, but it will not dissolve them. Consequently, it is not a suitable carrier for topical applications.
- Witch hazel
- Hydrolates, hydrosols, or floral waters
- Sea or table salt
- Epsom salts
- Magnesium oil
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Aloe Vera juice
- Aloe Vera pure gel
- Hydrogen peroxide
The chemical properties of these substances do not match those of essential oils. If you don’t incorporate a surfactant, as I mentioned earlier, diluting essential oils in them won’t be effective.
So, How Much Do I Dilute? Guidelines for the Safe Dilution of Essential Oils
Once you have your essential oils and your carrier, the dilution ratio or amount to dilute depends on several factors, including, but not limited to:
- The general toxicity of the essential oil itself, including its photosensitivity
- Health problems (bleeding disorders, compromised immune system, etc.)
- What is it going to be applied for (is it a treatment for inflammation, pain, acne, etc.)
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Skin sensitivity
- Medication currently being used or taken.
Here is a breakdown by age taken from the book “Essential Oil Safety”:
|Age||Recommended dilution (%)||Maximum dilution (%)|
|Under 3 months||0.1||0.2|
|3 – 24 months||0.25||0.5|
|2 – 6 years||1.0||2.0|
|6 – 15 years||1.5||3.0|
|Over 15 years||2.5||5.0|
With this information, we can establish some general guidelines to dilute essential oils safely. Keep in mind that “drops” are not an exact measurement, as they depend on the size of the hole of the dropper and the viscosity and temperature of the oil.
Also, it does not imply that each of these dilutions is safe for all essential oils in all situations.
If you want to elaborate your recipes or home remedies with more precision and safety for adding these oils, I recommend buying a precision digital scale or a jeweler’s scale. You can easily buy one on Amazon.
0.25% dilution (1 drop per 20 ml of carrier oil)
Children from 3 months to 24 months, but use with care.
1% dilution (1 drop per 5 ml of carrier oil)
Children from two to six years old, pregnant women (only with oils considered safe during pregnancy), and people over 65 years old. It is also suitable for people with immune system disorders and long-term health problems. It is also recommended for sensitive skin, facial applications, and body massages.
1.5% dilution (1.5 drops per 5 ml of carrier oil)
Children from 6 to 15 years old. Since it is difficult to measure, you can increase the amount of carrier oil or apply a 1% dilution.
2.5% dilution (2.5 drops per 5 ml of carrier oil)
Children over 15 years old. It is ideal for most adults and in most cases. It is good for daily body care, bath products, regular daily use, and massage. Like the dilution above, as half a drop is difficult to measure, increase the amount of carrier oil or apply this dilution at 2% (2 drops per 5 ml of carrier oil).
3 to 20% dilution (3-20 drops per 5 ml of carrier oil)
It is used short-term for temporary health problems such as muscle injuries or acute illness (like respiratory congestion). The dilution ratio depends on the situation, the age of the individual, and the type of oil used.
25% dilution (25 drops per 5 ml of carrier oil)
Used rarely for acute problems such as relieving cramps, muscle spasms, bruises, etc.
As you can see, a very small amount of essential oil is needed to make a recommended dilution, especially for younger children. As a general rule, it is best to start with the lower percentage of the dilution recommendations, and then adjust as needed.
However, some essential oils require extra dilution to stay within the safety guidelines.
Additional Dilution Essential Oils
I have selected the essential oils that are used most frequently, based on the essential oil profiles included in “Essential Oil Safety”:
|Essential oil||Latin name||Maximum dilution|
|Anise (star)||Illicium verum||1.75%|
|Sweet basil||Ocimum basilicum||0.1%|
|Basil||Ocimum gratissimum, Ocimum viride||0.2%|
|Bergamot||Citrus bergamia, Citrus aurantium||0.4%|
|Cinnamon cassia||Cinnamomum Cassia, Cinnamomum Aromaticum||0.05%|
|Cinnamon bark||Cinnamomum Verum, Cinnamomum Zeylanicum||0.07%|
|Cinnamon leaf||Cinnamomum Verum, Cinnamomum Zeylanicum||0.6%|
|Clove||Syzygium Aromaticum, Eugenia Caryophyllata||0.5%|
|Clove stem||Syzyphlata Aromaticum, Eugenia Caryumaticum||0,6%|
|Dill seed||Anethum Sowa||1.4%|
|Absolute Jasmine||Jasminum grandiflorum, Jasminum Officinale||0.7%|
|Leaf of laurel||Laurus Nobilis||0.5%|
|Thyme or French Lavender||Lavandula Stoechas||8.0%|
|Lemon||Citrus limon, Citrus Limonum||2.0%|
|Bitter Orange||Citrus x Aurantium||1.25%|
|Oregano||Origanum onites, Origanum vulgare, Thymbra Capitata||1.1%|
|Ravensara bark||Ravensara Aromatica, Ravensara Anisata||0.1%|
|Ravensara leaf||Ravensara Aromatica, Ravensara Anisata||1.0%|
|Rosa Absoluta||Rosa Centifolia, Rosa Gallica var. Centifolia||2.5%|
|Mint||Mentha Cardiaca, Mentha Crispa, Mentha Viridis or Spicata||1.7%|
|Tea tree||Melaleuca Alternifolia||15.0%|
|Thyme||Thymus Serpyllum, Thymus vulgaris, Thymus Zygis||1.3%|
|Wintergreen||Gaultheria Fragrantissima, Gaultheria procumbens||2.4%|
Essential oils are very potent active principles and recommended doses must be respected. Their safe use requires that they be treated with care and respect. In other words, you must learn their properties and actions before any use. Most applications only need a few drops.
When using essential oils, keep the following additional considerations in mind:
- Consult a healthcare professional before use if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any medical conditions or are currently taking medication.
- Before using essential oils on children or babies, it is better to consult with your pediatrician.
- In damaged skin, absorption is higher.
- Test diluted essential oils before general use. Apply a drop of essential oil diluted in vegetable oil on the inside of the elbow.
- Use photosensitive essential oils with caution, avoiding sun exposure after an application.
- Some essential oils are dermo-caustic (cinnamon, cloves, etc.)
- As I have already mentioned, essential oils are not water-soluble, so you will have to dilute them before taking a bath. Otherwise, they will float to the surface of the water, and the resulting droplets will touch the skin with their full concentration. Mix 2 to 12 drops in a tablespoon of carrier oil and add the mixture to your bathwater.
- Never apply essential oils in the eyes, or on the ear, nasal, or anal-genital mucosa.
- In the case of contact with the eyes, clean the area with a cotton ball and vegetable oil. Then rinse with water.
- Do not abuse essential oils.
- Don’t use oxidized or spoiled essential oils. A substantial change in their aroma and consistency (thickening or cloudiness) is an indication that they have expired.
- Keep essential oils out of the reach of children and pets.
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