How to Use Essential Oils
with Four Applications Methods
Learning how to use essential oils does NOT have to be overwhelming. This handy little PDF has been created to demystify the ways in which to use essential oils.
What you'll find is as many different opinions on essential oils as you'll find ways to use them. You'll also find lots of differing benefits, properties or oils, and experiences within the field of essential oils. This is partially because of the differences between different oils (different brands or varieties come with different properties and even precautions), and partially because of a divide in philosophies and training.
It's important to understand that each oil can NOT be used in the same way! Do your research carefully on each oil, use your judgement, and start small.
In this article I want to describe to you the four basic applications of essential oil uses and a few very simple guidelines that can make your incorporation of these incredible oils easy and safe.
Whether you're new to essential oils or not, this Application Guide will hopefully help you learn some new ways to incorporate the oils into your life to support the health and wellness of your entire home in safe and effective ways.
Learning how to use essential oils does NOT have to be overwhelming. It just takes a little knowledge, the desire to learn as you go and some guidelines.
First, those guidelines:
- Personal judgment matters. Your judgment (and your nose) is usually one of the best guides to learning how to use essential oils. Trust yourself and your medical practitioner. You know more than you think you do about what's right and wrong for your body, and with very little trial and error you'll get better at discerning between your intuition, your needs, and everything else./li>
- Safe doesn't mean foolproof. Even drinking water used the wrong way can be harmful. And the oils we use and recommend are very potent. Know your body, your sensitivities, the properties, and the precautions of the oil you're about to use, and ease yourself in to what you use by diluting, patch testing, and starting with smaller amounts and more conservative uses, especially if your immune system or health is compromised.
- Follow precautions wisely. The techniques and recommendations on essential oil uses below are there to both give you knowledge on the precautions necessary to use these oils wisely, as well as inspiration on ways you may try. Learning the art of how to use essential oils takes time and common sense, but can be implemented easily when done so wisely. Again, start conservatively, use less first, and don't overdo it. :)
None of these health benefits, nor the ideas below, have been evaluated or approved by the FDA, should be used in place of personal judgment or medical treatment when needed, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. (Only your doctor can diagnose and treat disease. Only your body can prevent or cure it.) Read our full disclaimer.
Four Applications (and Dozens of Ideas) for Using Essential Oils
Essential oils are usually used in four ways:
- Externally (around the home)
Below I've used a simple symbol for each to recognize quickly how to use essential oils (except for "external").
- The green symbol means "generally safe to use without dilution as directed".
- The orange symbol means "generally safe to use with moderate dilution".
- The red symbol means "safe to use with heavier dilution, but consult your physician if pregnant or ill".
You'll see each of those as I go through each application below.
Important: Not every oil can be used in each way!
Some oils, such as lemon or peppermint, have many more application methods. But then there are oils like wintergreen (including blends containing wintergreen), which is a topical oil. Taking this one internally has the potential to make you very sick. It's important to research each oil to know which application is indicated for it. You can do that with the essential oil list here.
It's also urgent that I let you know that the recommendations for usage are based only on very high quality essential oils. The research done on these highly pure and potent oils vary greatly from research done on cheaper brands. Those cheaper brands surprisingly often have contaminants or fillers which would affect not only the properties of the oils, but also the ways in which it would be safe to use them.
So it's important to research individual oils to know which application is indicated for it, and also to know your brand of oils and the uses they recommend. If they don't stand behind certain uses of their oils, especially internally, don't use them in that way!
We personally use and recommend doTERRA essential oils. Please do your own research before deciding which essential oils to invest in.
Below I'll go through each application, give you the guidelines and offer some inspiration on how to use essential oils in four main applications.
How to Use Essential Oils Aromatically
The aromatic application is the most widely known and used. Most of us understand that essential oils smell good and can be used as deodorizer or to freshen up the home.
But there is more to aromatic applications than just smelling good.
In the same way that harmful compounds, such as chemical cleaners or gases can be absorbed into our blood stream through inhalation, so can the positive properties of essential oils. Essential oils are also processed by the olfactory bulb and the limbic system, the same system that processes thoughts, memories, and emotions.
Aromatic application can:
- Be nurturing to the respiratory system, including the sinuses.
- Have a supportive affect on moods, the hormonal system, tension, etc.
- Increase indoor air quality or help protect against airborne contaminants.
- And the positive compounds and their properties, once within our blood stream, can encourage our immune system response or promote well-being in a multitude of ways.
This is because the "aroma" you breathe is actually a fine mist or vapor of the oil, containing all the same properties of the oil itself. And it is due to the fact that the olfactory system is closely connected to the limbic system of the brain that essential oils have such a positive affect on the physical and psychological systems of the body.
Here's how to use essential oils with aromatic applications:
- Diffusing: A good diffuser should use cool or room temperature air or ultrasonic vibrations to diffuse the oil into the air, which help the oil molecules remain air-bound for several more hours and do not affect the structure of the oil through heat, which can diminish the quality of the oil.
- Direct Inhalation: Directly inhaling the oil can be done by holding the bottle of essential oil a few inches from the nose and breathing in the aroma, or by adding a drop the the hands and cupping them over the mouth and nose. (For example, using this technique can be used with grounding or calming oils.) It is important to note that constantly opening and closing your bottle does exposure it to air and increase the oxidation rate, so diffusing is not only better for your bottle of oil, but you would likely use less throughout the day too. Some oils should also be diluted before direct inhalation.
- Indirect Inhalation: Adding a drop to a handkerchief, cotton ball, small square of fabric, shirt collar, hair, pillow case, etc can all be beneficial. (Try this with vetiver when you want to promote deeper sleep!)
- Hot Water Vapor: Heat a pot of water (not boiling), add 1-3 drops of essential oil, place a towel over your head while leaning over the water, and inhale the steam. (For example, try this with eucalyptus for respiratory health.)
- Humidifier: Just like a diffuser, cool air humidifiers are best. Be aware that essential oils can damage plastic components over time, so choosing one made for essential oils is best. (Try a purifying oil to clean the air.)
- Fan, Vent, Etc: Just like with the indirect inhalation, you can add the oil to cloth and place it in a vent or even in front of a fan. (A good use for this is peppermint and ginger in the car to diminish motion sickness.)
- Perfume or Cologne Smells good and is safer and healthier for your body (unlike normal chemical-based perfumes or antiperspirants). For perfume or cologne, add a 1 drop or a small dab to the wrists, behind the ears, or dissolve 10 drops to 1-3 tsp of distilled water or alcohol to mist on the body or clothing.
- Natural Room Deodorizer: Instead of harsh chemicals to cover up odors you can add essential oils to your odor removing efforts. For instance, you can create a room deodorizer by mixing a half cup of alcohol (such as vodka) with a half cup of distilled water, and 20-40 drops of your favorite essential oils in a decorative jar. Then add 10 or so bamboo skewers (like the ones you use for kebobs) to the mixture so that they are sticking out of the bottle. They will soak up the aroma and spread it throughout a bathroom easily. You can also create a spray.
Even though learning how to use essential oils aromatically is probably the easiest and safest, it's still important to know your body, and pay attention to how it responds to the oils. Aromatic is still a potent use of essential oils. Too much can overwhelm your system, give you a headache, or even cause an allergic reaction if you're allergic to the oil.
How to Use Essential Oils Topically
Learning how to use essential oils topically is a little more delicate, but still fairly simple. Please remember that although most essential oils can be used topically, HOW they are used will vary from oil to oil. Some come with precautions for dilution, but even those that don't can still affect some skin types, causing itchiness or a rash if not used with mindfulness.
Know your skin type! Do you tend to have sensitive skin? Then always dilute. Are you not sure? Do a patch test an area of your inner arm first. Start with one drop, then increase slowly. And use one oil at a time, so that if you have a negative reaction, you know what you reacted to.
All the essential oils I talk about include a simple visual guide to help you know how to use essential oils:
- NEAT - NEAT means you can generally apply the oil in question directly to the skin without any dilution. However, it's always a good idea to patch test your own skin first, just in case, or follow sensitivity guidelines if you know you have sensitive skin.
- Sensitive - "Sensitive" means that although some can apply the oil without any dilution, directly to the skin, those with sensitive skin should do a patch test or dilute before use. With these oils follow the dilution listed for the oil, use a guideline of 1 drop per 1-4 oz of carrier oil, such as coconut oil, or at minimum a 1:3 ratio (1 drop of essential oil to every 3 drops of carrier.
- DILUTE - These oils are very potent. Some oils, such as oregano, are very potent. It's important that you dilute these at least 1:3 or more depending on age and skin sensitivity, as they can cause irritation to any skin type when applied directly.
Here are some other topical precautions to consider:
- Citrus oils can cause a sensitivity to the sun. It's usually recommended to avoid sunlight within 12 hours of applying topically, but bergamot in particular can cause issues for up to 3 days. We usually will apply these in the evening, or to an area of the body that won't be exposed to the sun, or we avoid topical use altogether.
- Everyone is different and even the most gentle oils can still cause a reaction. If you know you're prone to sensitive skin or skin reactions, always test the oils highly diluted first, then with a lighter dilution, before trying undiluted if it's an oil that is generally recognize as one you can use "neat".
- Even if you've used an oil before without problems or don't consider yourself to have sensitive skin, you can still develop a reaction to it with excessive use over the same area of the body. Try to mix it up when possible and dilute as necessary. Diluting never hurts. It doesn't negatively impact potency, and in fact, might increase the amount of oil absorbed (the carrier oil helps to prevent evaporation). And because you may not know you have a sensitivity, this is why many say you should ALWAYS dilute. You may feel comfortable not diluting some "neat" oils, but when in doubt, dilute.
- It's usually better to "layer" oils than to blend them. What this means is that if you're using 2 or more oils topically, apply one, then wait between 5-30 minutes and apply the other over it (instead of mixing a drop of each in your hand and then rubbing this into the skin). Mixing the oils is as much an art as it is a science, which is why we tend to stick to the blends doTERRA has already created, since we know they are safe and effective.
Here are the most popular topical applications:
- In a Massage: Massage is one of the most enjoyable ways to use essential oils topically. Massaging the oils into joints, muscles, and tissues is relaxing and beneficial. Always move toward the heart when working on the arms and legs and avoid a heavy hand, or moving over the spine or other sensitive areas, with too much pressure.
- Over the Area of Concern: The next option is to apply the oils to the chest, the abdomen, back of the neck, or directly over the area of concern (diluted as indicated). You can also apply to the energy centers of the body.
- Over the Reflex Points: But probably the best, most effective, and yet gentlest option for using essential oils, especially for sensitive skin, children, or elderly, is to apply the oils to the reflex points of the feet, hands, and even ears. The feet especially are beneficial because of the large pores that will allow the oil to absorb quickly into the blood stream, but are tough enough to make the likelihood of irritation much less if your skin is prone to reactions. The reflex points of the hands and feet also correspond to the different areas of the body by way of the nervous system. Learning how to use essential oils is made easier with visual guides to reflexology to understand which reflex points to massage the oil into based on the area of the body you wish to support.
How to use essential oils with topical applications might include:
- Auricular Therapy: Similar to acupuncture, acupressure, or reflexology, auricular therapy stimulates small reflex points on and around the ears by massaging the essential oil into the area. (Try some lavender to help calm an upset child.)
- Hot or Cold Compresses: Soak a cloth or towel in cool water with drops of your favorite essential oil to place over the area of concern. Or wrap the cloth/towel in a hot water bottle to use as a warm compress. (A muscle and joint blend and a cool or warm compress on the muscles is amazing.)
- Bathing, Foot Baths, Etc: You can add essential oils to your bathwater, to your bath salts, or to a foot bath to soak in. (Melaleuca in a foot bath helps soothe itchy feet.) When using it in these ways, it's often a good idea to mix with a carrier oil to help disperse the oil and protect your skin from getting multiple drops all in one (potentially very sensitive) area!
- Personal Care: You can use essential oils as a natural deodorant (applied "neat", diluted, or in a homemade deodorant recipe, depending on your needs and the oil in question), as part of a skin care regimen, added to lotion or moisturizers, and so on. (An anti-aging blend might be a wonderful oil for skin care, from fine lines to irritated skin.)
How to Use Essential Oils Internally
Important: Not all essential oils can be used internally, nor should all people use them in this way. The FDA has listed certain essential oils as "Generally Recognized as Safe" for internal use.
Even so, there is a large divide in the essential oil world on the internal use of oils. Some say they should not be used internally under any circumstances, some say they can be used internally in all circumstances, and as usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
There are more precautions for learning how to use essential oils internally than any other application. Remember, essential oils are potent...and the more potent they are, the more you should use them wisely and with education. Even though some oils are generally benign (you could zest a lemon and get more oils than you would normally want to use internally a day), some require more care. This doesn't mean if you accidentally ingest an oil, that you're going to die. In most cases, you would have to drink a whole bottle (or many bottles) to see any real negative effects. But it is important to keep oils out of the reach of children, especially ones that might smell like food to them. And it's important to know some precautions:
- Less is More: Instead of using multiple drops of an oil internally, such as in a veggie capsule, start off with one to see how it works.
- Increase Frequency Before Drops: Your liver can only tolerate certain oils in small doses. It's a better idea to use one drop 30-90 minutes apart, rather than 3-4 drops all at once.
- There's a Time and Place: Not all needs will respond to internal use. And sometimes topically works just as well (such as digestive oils massaged over the belly). I like to save my internal use for when I really feel I need it.
- Limit Your Daily Drops: The general consensus is to consume no more than 10-25 drops of all essential oils per day. You might be able to push this limit with citrus oils, but I stick to the lower end should I ever have a need for a stronger oil.
- Certain Oils = More Caution: Oils high in phenols (such as oregano, cinnamon, thyme, etc) are generally more likely to accumulate in the liver. Use these with care.
- Dilute: Even if you're putting your oil in a veggie capsule, it may not always be necessary, but it's still a good idea to dilute with an edible carrier oil, such as raw coconut oil, olive oil, etc.
- Some People Should Just Avoid It: If you are pregnant, nursing, or have a major health concern or a compromised immune system or liver, I would recommend avoiding internal use of most oils until you speak with your doctor.
Each essential oil on this list will say whether or not it can be used internally, and by whom. You should also find a "Supplement Facts" on any bottle of essential oil that have internal uses. If you are using an oil internally, read the following possible ways on how to use essential oils internally as inspiration.
- Cooking: Many oils, such as oregano, can be used in cooking or baking. Usually one drop (or less!) is enough, although certain recipes may call for more. Start small at first. (We made a wonderful butternut squash soup with rosemary essential oil - I added two drops which was perfect for my hubby but a little too strong for my tastes.) Even though something like oregano is an oil to use internally in moderation, using it in cooking is much safer; you get less than a drop in your meal portion, and some of those properties may be diminished with the heat.
- Drinking: We love to add peppermint or lemon to our water to help support digestion or energy, respectively. For single uses you can add one drop to a minimum 4 oz of rice milk, almond milk, water, etc and drink as needed. Remember: Water and oil don't mix. Your oil will float to the top and you can get too much at once. Mix careful and avoid mixing with non-oil based liquids for strong oils that may irritate the skin. (For instance, I'm never going to add undiluted cinnamon to my water.)
- Supplemental: Add a drop to 1 tsp of honey to take as a supplement or you can even purchase empty veggie capsules from doTERRA, and add the oils indicated to take daily. (Don't make these in advance as they can dissolve the capsules.) You can also purchase specially formulated essential oil supplements for supporting digestion, energy, immunity, or to supplement your fatty acids, give your children chewables, and more.
- Vaginal or Rectal Insertion: I would consider these more advanced techniques, and one to use more caution with. You do NOT want to find out that you're sensitive to an oil this way! ;) Normally the oil is diluted first, and I would recommend working with a naturopath before going this route. For a more beginner's route, you can try adding to a bath instead.
Again, know your brand and use careful consideration with internal application.
How To Use Essential Oils Around the Home
Learning how to use essential oils around the home is last and doesn't come with its own little symbol. Below are many ideas to get you started.
- We add 1 drop of an immune support blend to the sink when we're washing dishes.
- We also add a few drops of our favorite essential oils to the washing machine, to the wet clothes before they go in the dryer, or misted on fabric before they are dried on a clothes lines. (I would recommend avoid citruses sprayed directly on clothes before they go out in the sun as this may result in fading.)
- Household essential oil uses include oils like lemon that will remove many stains, and lime will remove gum, stickers and other residue from most surfaces.
- Many oils have natural antiviral or natural antifungal properties and can be added to natural household cleaners, such as sprays, carpet deodorizers, furniture polish (lemon specifically), and so on. Try mixing your favorite aroma with baking soda for a carpet powder before vacuuming. Find more recipes for green cleaning here.
- And you can even add oils or oil blends to household paint, craft paint or supplies, children's dough, etc to create a more pleasant aroma. The ratio will vary depending on what you're using it for, anything from 2-3 drops for dough to a whole bottle for a gallon of paint.
- Peppermint will easily repel ants and many other crawling insects that like to invade the home. Place a few drops on a cotton ball and hide around the entrances of your home, windows, behind the fridge, etc.
- And some insect repelling essential oils are AMAZING for mosquitos, "No See'ums", and other biting insects. They can also be used to repel household insects, too.
Do you have more ideas on how to use essential oils? Share them in the comments below!
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