Aromatherapy is everywhere.
Anyone that has gone online searching for a natural way to heal themselves has encountered sites touting essential oil ‘cures’ for anything you can think of.
If you have a headache, use peppermint.
If you have a cold, use eucalyptus.
If you can’t sleep, use lavender.
But, you’re probably wondering how to use essential oils correctly.
Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way.
Don’t worry. By the end of this article, you are going to know how to get started with essential oils and be using them like a champ in no time.
If you are a fan of the ‘dummies’ series of quick-fix instruction books, consider this the essential oils for dummies.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Why use essential oils in the first place?
It seems everywhere we turn we are bombarded with chemicals. They are in our cleaning products, shampoo, soap, medicines, and even our food.
Because of this, many people seek out healthier ways to clean their home, freshen the air, lift their mood, and treat small wounds or illnesses. Using oils can be a great and 100% organic way to do all of that.
What do you use essential oils for?
If you are new to essential oils, trying to figure out how to use them can quickly become overwhelming.
There is no single best way to use essential oils.
Sure, there are certain guidelines to follow to be sure you remain safe. But you are as unique as the oils themselves, and what works for one person may not work so well for another.
The more you get into them, the more you will realize that you gravitate towards certain ones.
For instance, if you get a cold, you may find that a form of eucalyptus is your go-to while your BFF turns to bay laurel (Laurus nobilis).
That’s ok! Don’t panic.
There are so many ways to use essential oils and there is no one oil fits all.
Some people love to diffuse them, while others cannot go anywhere without their favorite blend in a rollerball.
I love getting the benefits of them in the shower, but you might prefer a relaxing bath while soaking up all of their goodness through your pores.
Others might just use an essential oil diffuser in the bathroom, foregoing the drops in the shower or bath altogether.
You can use oils for a myriad of things for yourself and your home.
Deciding which essential oil to use is half the fun of using them.
But first things first: it’s important to know a few safety guidelines.
Safe and Effective Essential Oil Usage
There are a few things to keep in mind when getting started with essential oils. Here are some tips to help you make sure you get quality oils and know how to use them safely.
Purity is 100% important
Always check the botanical name of the oil you are looking for.
Many oils have similar sounding names, so you need to know you are getting the correct oil. Also, they may have different constituents based on where they were made, so it helps to check that too.
You cannot use anything labeled ‘fragrance oil’ for therapeutic purposes. And there are no regulations for ‘food-grade’ or ‘therapeutic-grade’ oils, so those really don’t mean anything.
Look for 100 percent pure oils from plants, not synthetic.
Watch out for adulteration, too. Many of the more expensive oils, like rose or sandalwood, are often diluted with lower-quality oils.
Almost always dilute your essential oils
Oils need to be diluted before using. There are very few oils that can be used neat, and those are only under certain conditions.
Oils that can be used topically without dilution because of mild chemistry.
A useful guide for essential oil dilution when starting out is between two to five drops of a single oil or blend per teaspoon (5 milliliters) of carrier oil.
Many oils can cause sensitization, irritation, allergies, or other issues. With any oil or blend, it is always wise to do a skin patch test first.
You can do this by applying one drop to the inside of your elbow and wait to see if there is any type of reaction.
A reaction will often be seen almost immediately. Nonetheless, it is safest to wait 1-2 hours to make sure there isn’t one before using the oil or blend on a large area.
Recommended Reading: How To Dilute Essential Oils Safely: The Complete A-Z Guide
Photosensitivity is no joke
Some oils, especially citrus oils, can irritate the skin and cause it to be more sensitive to sunlight.
Wait 24 hours after applying these oils or blends before going out in the sun.
And for the love of your skin, do not use a tanning bed after application.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is one of the worst, although a bergapten-free option is available (Amazon).
Many oils are irritating to mucous membranes like the inside of the mouth, the lining of the respiratory and digestive system, and the urinary and reproductive tract.
Do not use oils for these purposes and keep oils away from the eyes.
Rotation between oils
Sensitization can occur at any time, even with oils you have used for years. To help avoid this, do not use oils for an extended length of time, and rotate between various oils.
For instance, do not continuously use a specific oil-infused lotion daily for weeks.
Besides sensitization, there are chemicals in certain oils that can cause damage to the liver and kidneys if used too much. Overexposure can also cause issues like headaches, breathing difficulties, nausea, emotional distress, and more.
Take extra precautions
There are various conditions in which extra caution is warranted. Research the use of any oil you are considering for children or the elderly.
Anyone on multiple medications, with diseases/conditions like epilepsy, asthma, cancer, diabetes, or that is pregnant or nursing should be especially careful with the oils they use.
Many are unsafe for these conditions. Research a reputable source when in doubt.
Children and Pets – Always keep oils tightly capped and away from children and pets.
Storage – Oils should be kept in dark glass bottles away from the heat and sun. These cause deterioration and oxidation to occur much quicker in oils, rendering them useless for aromatherapeutic use.
You don’t have to start with a ton of oils.
Now that you know the guidelines, the next step is getting a few essential oils to get you going.
While there are hundreds of plants that volatile oils are extracted from, you don’t need nearly that much, especially when you are just learning how to use essential oils.
It might surprise you to learn that with just a handful of them, you can do everything from an aromatherapeutic massage to cleaning your house to yoga meditation, and everything in between.
Here is a list of 10 of the best starter essential oils to use in aromatherapy for beginners.
Top 10 Essential Oils for Beginners:
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
- Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Lemon (Citrus limon)
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis / C.aurantium var. sinensis)
Now that you have your oils and know how to use them safely, let’s get into all of the fantastic ways to use these essential oils.
There are many choices, but inhalation is the most popular use of aromatherapy oils. You may think this is reduced to just using a diffuser, but there are actually a lot of options besides that to choose from.
How to Use Essential Oil Diffusers
Since it is all the rage now, I’ll start with how to use essential oil diffusers before getting into everything else.
There are numerous types of diffusers on the market, so I cannot give you exact instructions on all of them. We’ll leave that to the manufacturer.
However, what I can do is give you a breakdown of the types of essential oil diffusers that are available so you can determine which ones would be best for your needs.
These use either a candle or electricity to heat the volatile oils, which releases the scent and beneficial molecules into the air. Because the oils are heated, the chemical composition is changed, so that is one thing to consider.
Humidity-based diffusers feature oils mixed with water. The mist is created through either ultrasonic energy waves, a fan, or heat. These are beneficial in that they add moisture to the air, so it can be great in the winter.
Not all humidifiers on the market can be used with essential oils because of residue, so please read the directions to make sure yours is suitable.
These are not ‘diffusers’ in the classical sense. They do not require heat and do not need water to be added.
In nebulizers, the oils are broken into small particles by a pressurized stream of air and released through a specialized nozzle. If you can picture a perfume atomizer, that is a general idea.
Because of this, the oils are not diluted, and their composition is not changed by the heat source. The particles that go into the air are therefore in the purest form of the oil, making nebulizing an excellent choice for therapeutic use.
This is why nebulizers are quite frequently used in clinical settings. Keep in mind; they may be hard to clean when switching between oils.
Remember, no matter which one you choose, you want a pure aromatherapy oil, not a fragranced incense oil. Beyond that, always consult the instructions, so you know how to use essential oils in your diffuser correctly.
Stick diffusers are usually reeds that are stuck into a bottle of some sort that have the fragrance in the bottom. The reeds soak up the oil, which travels up and is dispersed in the room.
These are useful when you want constant scent but don’t want to worry about a candle flame or something that is constantly running. You can also make your own using a non-porous container and a little creativity.
Other Ways to Inhale Essential Oils
Diffusers are great to make a room smell good or let everyone in the house enjoy the oils. There are times that you may want a more personal experience.
Here are a handful of ways you can do that.
Place a drop or two on a tissue or cotton ball, so you can inhale it whenever you want. To carry this with you, place it in a Ziploc bag.
You can purchase essential oil inhaler tubes (Amazon) from a variety of sources. Make your blend and fill the tube as instructed. This is usually accomplished by putting the blend on the tube insert.
These are an excellent way to get the benefits of essential oils and are great to carry around in your pocket or purse.
Steam vapors are not only a good way to inhale oils but to open your pores as well. In a heatproof bowl, add some steaming hot water and 3-5 drops of your chosen oil or blend.
We want to trap those vapors.
Place a towel over the back of your head that is large enough to go past the sides of the bowl. Lean over the top of the bowl with your face approximately 12 inches away from the water.
Shut your eyes, and breathe in for a couple seconds through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. Do this for 5-10 minutes. If you start to get dizzy or experience any discomfort, stop and get fresh air.
Diffusing on the stove
Another way to vaporize oils is to add 2-10 drops per pint of water on a low heat source like the stove or a radiator. Make sure to keep the bowl out of the reach of children and pets.
Placing a drop or two of oil on the underside or corner of your pillow is another way to inhale oils. Try lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) to help you sleep or eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) for a stuffy nose. Be sure to keep the oil away from your face and eyes.
If you do not want to place it directly on your pillowcase, add a couple drops to a cotton ball and insert that into the case.
While not always very therapeutic, room sprays will make your home smell wonderful. Add 8-10 drops per pint of water.
If you are looking to purify the air, try 10-20 drops of a purifying oil like tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). (Amazon)
To enjoy essential oils in the shower, place a couple drops on a washrag on the floor of the shower and away from the stream of water so that the steam releases the molecules into the air.
Alternatively, you can drop a few drops directly onto the floor of the shower, just drip them where they won’t immediately get washed down the drain.
Essential oils can be antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, air purifiers, and much more. This makes them excellent replacements for chemical-laden cleaning supplies. There are so many ways to use essential oils for the home it’s a whole other post!
The uses of essential oils on the skin are as varied as inhalation methods. You just need a few precautions when using oils topically.
How to Use Essential Oils on Skin
When using essential oils on skin, they should be diluted. There are some cases this may not be necessary, such as using tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) on acne or lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) on a bug bite.
Even those can cause a reaction though, so a skin test should always be done.
Below are some of the many ways to apply essential oils on the skin. There are recommendations for drops along with them, so you can refer to this as a general reference guide to essential oil dilutions, too.
For a therapeutic or even just a much deserved relaxing bath, add 4-8 drops of oil or your chosen blend to a carrier oil, Epsom salts, milk, or even an herbal powder before adding to the bath water.
For hands, use up to four drops in a bowl of water and soak for 10 minutes.
For feet, you can add up to eight drops.
For a sitz bath, add up to eight drops in a bowl that is large enough for you to sit in or lower down into. Make sure you dilute them well, so no large irritating globules end up on mucous membranes.
Proceed with caution. Read about this person’s experience who mixed orange and lavender essential oils in a bath.
For each ounce of fragrance-free lotion or cream you have, you can add up to 20 drops of oil or blend. Keep in mind the type of oil you are using and start low.
Depending on the problem, you can use either cold or hot water for an oil compress. Add up to 10 drops of essential oils to a cup of water. Swish them around and soak the towel or cloth you are using. Then, wring out and place on the area needed.
For a mask, you may add one or two drops of oil per two tablespoons of clay, charcoal, or pre-made mask.
For a face oil, add up to 15 drops in one fluid ounce of carrier oil.
Oils are not water soluble, so they may leave a film on these and could leave a residue on pipes. However, if you wish, you can add up to eight drops to the water.
In an ounce of carrier oil for general massage, you can add up to 20-30 drops of essential oil, depending on the types of oils you are using. Again, start low. Add a couple drops at a time until you reach the desired effect. Do not go over 30 unless advised by a professional.
This does not apply to known dermal irritants or ‘hot’ oils like cinnamon leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), black pepper (Piper nigrum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), etc.
They should not make up more than one percent of any blend.
One of the most fun uses of essential oil is coming up with your own personal perfumes or colognes. With a little knowledge about base notes and blending, you can come up with something truly unique and perfect for you.
Absolutes can be added as well. Depending on the strength you want, you should have between 15-30 percent of oils/absolutes and the rest would be a carrier oil (for a rollerball or spot use) or alcohol (for a spray).
Your hair loves oils, too! Try making your own shampoos and conditioners by adding up to 10 drops per 3.5 ounces of unscented base. Make sure they are well incorporated before using.
You can also make rinse waters, conditioning oils, and more. For example, a rejuvenating scalp oil could be made with three drops of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in a teaspoon of jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis).
As you can see, the possibilities for what to do with essential oils are only limited by your imagination.
Ingesting essential oils is not recommended for home practitioners unless under the direction of a qualified practitioner or medical doctor. There are many factors at play with this method, and many things can go wrong.
This method puts volatile oils in contact with mucous membranes, which are highly sensitive. They also go through your digestive system. On top of that, there are many contraindications for oils that could be easily missed by someone not trained.
For more information, we have a detailed post on ingesting essential oils that you can refer to.
Essential oil usage varies widely.
When trying to figure out what to do with essential oils, just start small.
I promise, you’ll learn as you go.
And I hope this starter guide for essential oils has gotten you excited about all of the possibilities.
Pssst…when you come up with great ways to use essential oils, will you come back to share them with me?
I love learning all the ways you guys use them!
And of course, if you have any questions about aromatherapy oils or recipes or anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.
Diane Guerrette says
I love reading your info on Essential Oils very interesting. I have worked with Bach Remedies for years. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Can essential oils used with a diffuser cause soot on the walls and ceilings in a confined area without ventilation? How long should you use them in a 24-hour. And can you use more than one?
I’m just learning about essential oils and wanting to make a treatment for my scalp. I’m thinking if I use an oil to soak into the skin prior to washing that would help with the itchiness & redness from all of my past surgeries on my head. I’ve read that using Aloe Vera along with Shea butter, evening primrose, jojoba, rosemary and camellia would help. Can I mix all of these items together to treat the skin? Beginners questions and lots of learning!
Thank you for your time!